Christopher Baur

Chris Baur






I have always been passionate about music and sound.  Since I was a baby, rhythm was “my thing.”  I’d groove to the beat in my car-seat or rock-out on my miniature acoustic guitar to an applauding audience (my parents).  Leap forward in time to my freshman year at Carleton College (class of 2013), where my interest in audio expanded from music to the broader field of “sound studies.”  This multi-faceted academic area examines numerous aspects of sound including: music recording; sensory-auditory history (the study of sound from historical places); the biology of sound production and comprehension; noise pollution and its relation to industrialization; the study of soundscapes (all the sounds that populate a location to form that area’s “sound environment)”; and many other topics related to sound.

The interdisciplinary nature of this field was extremely appealing to me because it combined my passion for music, nature, and science.  I pursued learning about soundscape studies and discovered there was a small group of professionals studying the acoustics of natural environments and animal communication.  I was fortunate to be connected with Davyd Betchkal, the physical scientist and soundscape researcher at Denali National Park.  During the summer of 2012, I studied with Davyd in Denali, and was exposed to his methodology for researching soundscapes.  My “backstage pass” was not to any dimly-lit room, but the mountains of Alaska where the earth meets the clouds.

Sushana Ridge

The National Park Service investigates the acoustics at multiple locations throughout the six million acres of Denali.  To do this, high-tech audio and weather monitoring equipment is used.  Davyd took me to multiple recorder station sties.  These varied from easily accessed locations only short distances off the singular road in Denali, to all-day backpacking treks into the Grizzly Bear-infested territory in the mountains.

Acoustic Monitoring Equipment

Here, on this sublime land, I learned “the wild” is not only physically threatened by human presence, but also by the invisible and intangible properties of human generated sounds.

Upon returning to Carleton, for my senior thesis, I utilized the knowledge gained from working with Davyd and designed a study to examine the soundscape of the Cowling Arboretum.  I spent Fall 2012 recording audio and gathering data from the Arb, and Winter 2013 analyzing the soundscape.

My hope is that by classifying the soundscape of Best Woods, determining its rhythmic daily and seasonal acoustic changes, and ascertaining its acoustic health, a new appreciation will be brought to the natural structure of Arb as a whole.  And, as a result, protection of this valued location will be continued and enhanced.