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 "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

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week 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.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid