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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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 "greatest hits" at his home studio in Indianola, WA. (VOA/T. Banse)Gordon Hempton edits his "greatest hits" at his home studio in Indianola, WA. (VOA/T. Banse)
x
Gordon Hempton edits his "greatest hits" at his home studio in Indianola, WA. (VOA/T. Banse)
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid