News / Science & Technology

Going Deaf, Sound Expert Races to Finish His Life's Work

Gordon Hempton at Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park. (Copyright 2013 Christopher Malarca Photography)
Gordon Hempton at Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park. (Copyright 2013 Christopher Malarca Photography)
Tom Banse
In a busy world filled with the sounds of traffic, airplanes, construction equipment and crowds, noise pollution has emerged as a leading environmental nuisance.

However, quiet places remain...if you know where to look.

Eight years ago, audio engineer Gordon Hempton identified the quietest place in the continental United States, a place he calls the "One Square Inch of Silence." Via this symbolic spot in a northwestern rain forest, Hempton has campaigned against noise pollution.

But the self-described "Sound Tracker" is now going deaf, and is in a race to edit his life's work before losing more of his hearing.   

Higher stakes

For Hempton, it started with an experience familiar to many people, having to keep asking, "What? What did you say?"

LISTEN: Going Deaf, Sound Expert Races to Finish Life's Work
Going Deaf, Sound Expert Races to Finish Life's Worki
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Then the stakes got higher.

"I was laying in bed in the springtime about a year ago. The sun was shining. The birds could be singing," Hempton said. "They should be singing and I was hearing none."

Hempton leaned over to his partner at their home in a wooded, rural neighborhood on Washington’s Puget Sound.

"And I said, 'Kate, do you hear birdsong?' She said 'Yes.' I knew my life was going to be different," he said.

Hempton's eyes get watery as he describes the cruel irony. More than two decades ago, he trademarked his "The Sound Tracker" nickname. Keen ears drove his career as an Emmy award winning sound recordist and spurred his activism against noise pollution.  

Pristine sounds

He has literally circled the globe three times in pursuit of the sounds of pristine nature...from howler monkeys in a tropical forest in Belize, to a coyote chorus in an eastern Washington canyon.

Gordon Hempton edits his Gordon Hempton edits his "greatest hits" at his home studio in Indianola, WA. (VOA/T. Banse)
x
Gordon Hempton edits his
Gordon Hempton edits his "greatest hits" at his home studio in Indianola, WA. (VOA/T. Banse)
He also found places so quiet he could isolate the soft sound of a hummingbird's wings.

Hempton's hearing loss is accelerating, which lends real urgency to a culminating project.
 
"It is a race, very much," he said. "I'm not totally deaf, but I have lost most of my hearing in my left ear and my right ear is quickly disappearing. So I am running a race to finish the Quiet Planet collection."

That's the title of a planned 19-volume set of nature recordings. The sound tracks could be licensed for use in movies, video games, exhibits and plays.

Volunteer assistants now help Hempton review and edit sound files and identify imperfections.

"I miss the sounds, I miss it," he said. "I feel so connected when I can listen to the place I am. The difference between hearing where you are and not is like the difference being awake and not."

Health insurance limits

The 60 year old says the exact cause of his hearing loss is unclear. Doctors tell him it may be the result of an infection, a tumor or a combination of things.

"I have not had a CAT scan yet," he said. "I'm holding off on the CAT scan because all of that and what the CAT scan reveals is going to be expensive."

Hempton, who is self-employed, says his catastrophic health insurance plan doesn't cover treatment of his hearing loss. So he's made his greatest hits album a priority.

"I'm pushing for Quiet Planet," he said. "After I get Quiet Planet finished and out there and I have an economic cash flow to get my hearing back, then we're going to do it. That's the first thing on my to-do list."

"The Sound Tracker" is hopeful his hearing loss can be reversed.

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Nadien Lucas from: Uk DEVON
July 03, 2013 11:17 AM
I wish you well, really. I was made profoundly deaf after a viral infection 4.5 years ago, I am now (just ) over 60 and have learnt to play the Clarinet & Saxophone within my silent world....don't let this loss affect your obvious love of the work you do : )
Best wishes ...Nadien

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs