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

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs