David George HaskellJun 3, 2022
Sounds Wild and Broken
Sonic Marvels, Evolution's Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction
We live on a planet alive with song, music, and speech. David Haskell explores how these wonders came to be. In rain forests shimmering with insect sound and swamps pulsing with frog calls we learn about evolution's creative powers. From birds in the Rocky Mountains and on the streets of Paris, we discover how animals learn their songs and adapt to new environments. Below the waves, we hear our kinship to beings as different as snapping shrimp, toadfish, and whales. In the startlingly divergent sonic vibes of the animals of different continents, we experience the legacies of plate tectonics, the deep history of animal groups and their movements around the world, and the quirks of aesthetic evolution.
Starting with the origins of animal song and traversing the whole arc of Earth history, Haskell illuminates and celebrates the emergence of the varied sounds of our world. In mammoth ivory flutes from Paleolithic caves, violins in modern concert halls, and electronic music in earbuds, we learn that human music and language belong within this story of ecology and evolution. Yet we are also destroyers, now silencing or smothering many of the sounds of the living Earth. Haskell takes us to threatened forests, noise-filled oceans, and loud city streets, and shows that sonic crises are not mere losses of sensory ornament. Sound is a generative force, and so the erasure of sonic diversity makes the world less creative, just, and beautiful. The appreciation of the beauty and brokenness of sound is therefore an important guide in today's convulsions and crises of change and inequity.
Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution's Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction (Viking, 2022) is an invitation to listen, wonder, belong, and act.
Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland.