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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.