Sound of silence

Can you remember the last time you heard birdsong, or the wind blowing?

If like me you live in the city or near a busy road, you might be struggling to remember.

I’m hugely thankful for the roof over my head, but a bit less thankful for the freeway that runs past it. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve become used to the sound of traffic - used to talking in a raised voice when the windows are open, used to closing them at night for a bit of peace.

As a teenager growing up in the countryside I couldn’t wait to plot my escape to the bright lights of the city and away from the quiet town.

But now, having lived in various cities and now San Francisco, I find myself desperate to spend my weekends away from those bright lights and the sheer, constant amount of noise.

I’m nostalgic for the days when I’d wake up and hear birdsong instead of traffic. In fact, I’m not sure I can remember the last time I actually heard a bird where I live. I know they’re out there, I’ve seen a few, but as for hearing them? Nope.


I’ve just persuaded my city-loving husband that we should move out of our downtown home and across the city to an apartment next to the Presidio. Green, open space! Birds you can hear!

I’m definitely coming full circle and imagine it’s only a matter of time before I set my sights on moving to a remote cottage, which is why I’m really looking forward to three films at this year’s Festival which tackle this very issue:

In Pursuit of Silence is an exploration of our relationship with silence, sound and the impact of noise on our lives. There’s an exclusive pre-screening show which includes a reading by beat poet Anne Waldman and a performance of John Cage’s seminal silent composition 4’33’’. See it at the Little Roxie on Saturday, Apr 16 at 1:30pm and buy tickets here.


Nature's Orchestra (even the title is soothing!) is a trip through the nature soundscapes we’re missing. Musician and acoustic scientist Bernie Krause wants us to stop and listen. Since the 1960s, Krause has traveled the world, recording over 15,000 species. In Nature's Orchestra follow him on a soundscape expedition in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Hear the barking of a fox, and a Grizzly's sniff.

Watch the film (24 mins) in YBCA's screening room and then join our Soundscape Ecology Walk to record nature sounds in Yerba Buena Gardens, in the heart of San Francisco. After the walk, see the recordings come to life back in the YBCA grand lobby as they're transferred onto a spectrogram. It’s showing at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) on Saturday, Apr 16 at 4:00pm and you can buy tickets here.


And it's not just here on land that's getting noisier... 

Sonic Sea is the story of Ken Balcomb, a former U.S. Navy officer who solved a tragic mystery involving a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas, and changed the way we understand our impact on the ocean. In the darkness of the sea, whales depend on sound to mate, find food, migrate, raise their young and defend against predators.

Over the last century, however, human activity has radically transformed the ocean's delicate acoustic habitat, challenging the ability of whales and other marine life to prosper, and ultimately to survive. Sonic Sea offers solutions and hope for a quieter ocean, and underscores that the ocean's destiny is inextricably bound with our own. See this film for free at Koret Auditorium, SF Public Library - Main Branch, on Tuesday, April 19 midday, no ticket required. 


Find out more about this year’s Green Film Fest.