Bernie Krause and Soundscape Ecology Bernie Krause was a successful musician as a young man, playing with rock stars like Jim Morrison and George Harrison in the 1960s and '70s. But then one day, Bernie heard a sound unlike anything he'd ever encountered and it completely overtook his life. He quit the music business to pursue it and has spent the last 50 years following it all over the earth. And what he's heard raises this question: what can we learn about ourselves and the world around us if we quiet down and listen? | To learn more about this episode, subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to learn more about NPR sponsors.
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The Last Sound

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The Last Sound

The Last Sound

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ALIX SPIEGEL, HOST:

So this might be the end of our season, but you can still stay connected with us all year round by following us on social media. Join a community of Invisibilians on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and keep up to date with all things INVISIBILIA even in between seasons. Find us @nprinvisibilia on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - which I hear all the young people are using.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN LAUGHING)

HANNA ROSIN, HOST:

The way we usually think about sound...

(SOUNDBITE OF COW MOOING)

SPIEGEL: Is that it's not really a thing you can hold on to.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSIN: Like it's here and then it's gone.

SPIEGEL: But actually, waves of sound are powerful.

(SOUNDBITE OF TONE RINGING)

SPIEGEL: Strong enough to pulse through air and water...

ROSIN: And solid objects. And when a sound reaches you...

SPIEGEL: Like when you actually hear it.

ROSIN: It's because that sound is physically touching you.

SPIEGEL: Winding its way inside your ear.

ROSIN: Until it hits the drum in your head.

SPIEGEL: And plays it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: This is NPR's INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: And I'm Hanna Rosin. And today, we're exploring the unique power of sound, and how if we take the time to listen, what we hear helps us navigate what feels right and not so right about the world we're living in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Producer Abby Wendle has a story for us today about a man who heard in sound a beautiful, but also troubling reality.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: If you don't have your headphones, now might be a good time to get them.

SPIEGEL: Because this is all about sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF OVERLAPPING SOUNDS)

ROSIN: OK, here's Abby.

ABBY WENDLE, BYLINE: For Bernie Krause, sound changed everything.

BERNIE KRAUSE: It has completely transformed my life.

WENDLE: Bernie's in his early 80s now. He has white hair and wears these leather suspenders to help hold up his pants. But when he was younger, he liked bell bottoms and tight fitted jackets. And he was all about making noise.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: In the mid-1960s, Bernie was one of the first people to master the Moog synthesizer, an electronic machine that can make a whole new world of sound by generating lots of different tones and bending them into never-before-heard shapes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOOG SYNTHESIZER)

KRAUSE: It made physical contact with you beyond what you were just hearing with your ears. So the room was just, you know, completely vibrating.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOOG SYNTHESIZER)

WENDLE: Bernie rode this sound to the very top of the music business. He got to work with the biggest rock stars of the day, including The Doors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE DAYS")

THE DOORS: (Singing) Strange days have found us.

WENDLE: One of my personal favorites, The Beach Boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURF'S UP")

WENDLE: And Hollywood too, helped create those iconic helicopter sounds for "Apocalypse Now."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "APOCALYPSE NOW")

WENDLE: And creating sounds like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SYNTHESIZER SOUNDS)

WENDLE: That he says ultimately became this....

(SOUNDBITE OF THX'S DEEP NOTE)

WENDLE: And then, one day in 1968, he and his musical collaborator Paul Beaver were having lunch at Warner Brothers Studios when someone threw out a novel proposition. How about making a whole album mixing together that electronic sound with sounds from nature?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: At first, Bernie was not thrilled by the idea.

KRAUSE: My family hated animals.

WENDLE: He grew up in Detroit, the son of a lawyer turned businessman and a mother who loved theater and fine art.

KRAUSE: I mean a goldfish was considered dangerous in our house, and it certainly didn't last very long if it made it across the threshold.

WENDLE: Perhaps because his family avoided them so much, as a kid, Bernie was super allergic to cats, dogs, horses. The one time somebody brought a pet into their house, he ended up at the hospital.

KRAUSE: Literally in an oxygen tent, I had anaphylactic shock. And my parents were not wrong, I mean, an animal could kill you, you know, just by contact.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: But despite all this, he was being offered a big record deal and so he got ahold of a portable reel-to-reel recorder, some mic's, and set off into Muir Woods, a stand of towering coastal redwoods just across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was October, mid-afternoon when he found a spot, set up his equipment, and slipped on his headphones.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE RECORDINGS)

KRAUSE: When I turned on that recorder and heard the sound of space open up for the first time, it's magical. The effect of breeze in the canopy of the redwoods.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE RECORDING)

KRAUSE: Ravens that were flying overhead, you could hear the edge tones of their wings of these (imitating wing sounds) as they flew overhead and off into the distance. It struck me as being one of the most beautiful sounds I'd ever heard.

WENDLE: As Bernie sat there listening, he noticed physically he felt different. His body was less tense. He just was right where he was, doing what he was doing.

KRAUSE: It made me feel good. It was just as simple as that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: He recorded until the sun started to go down and the air got cold.

KRAUSE: I thought to myself, my God, what am I doing inside with these crazy musicians and everybody smoking and doing lines of coke and shit like that? I've got to get out of here and do something different. And I made my mind up then, right then and there on the spot, I was going to make a change in my life.

WENDLE: Bernie eventually did make a change. He left the music business, all the money and partying and brushes with fame, and began to chase that beautiful sound he'd heard in Muir Woods. He tracked it high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and deep inside the Olympic Forest in Washington state and over in the Montana High Plains.

KRAUSE: I just kept going and going, you know, in the Colorado Rockies, down in the Southwest Desert.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE RECORDING)

WENDLE: Along the way, he learned things about the natural world, began to know when and where birds migrate, what spring sounds like in different places and that wolves whisper.

KRAUSE: Let me see what this is.

WENDLE: During our interview, Bernie and I sat at his desk in a little sound studio set up in his house. We were surrounded by padded walls and big speakers. And he played me some of the sounds he's recorded.

KRAUSE: Yeah, check this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE RECORDING)

KRAUSE: This sound here is wolves.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE RECORDING)

WENDLE: The sound that's like the wind, that's two packs of wolves converging on each other.

KRAUSE: I call it whisper howling.

WENDLE: It's the sound they make right before they begin to howl.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE RECORDING)

KRAUSE: But watch what happens, it transforms here into the wolf sound.

WENDLE: You'll hear a crow, and then...

(SOUNDBITE OF WOLVES HOWLING)

WENDLE: Hear it shift?

(SOUNDBITE OF WOLVES HOWLING)

WENDLE: Bernie sometimes had to borrow against his house to pay for these recording trips. But in the late '70s he went back to school, got a PhD, and began making a name for himself as the go to nature sound guy for zoos and aquariums and museums, who would fly him off to places like Fiji, Borneo, and the Amazon.

And in 1983, on one of these trips, he heard something he'd never heard before. He was in Kenya, he says, on a job for the California Academy of Sciences to record the sound of animals at a watering hole. Bernie was recording around the clock day and night, and one night, camped out next to a stream, he crawled inside his tent to lay down and listen.

KRAUSE: I was very tired. And I had my headphones on and my microphone outside the tent because I was recording all the nighttime sounds. I heard the hyenas yowling.

(SOUNDBITE OF HYENAS YOWLING)

KRAUSE: I heard the frogs.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROGS CROAKING)

KRAUSE: I think there were some bats. I could hear bats then.

(SOUNDBITE OF BATS CHIRPING)

KRAUSE: And it occurred to me, in my half-sleep state, that what I was hearing was kind of like an orchestration.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE RECORDING)

KRAUSE: All of a sudden, it sounded to me like an orchestra.

WENDLE: Like the creatures had organized themselves and were playing together.

KRAUSE: Like music.

WENDLE: Bernie's mind began to race.

KRAUSE: And a whole bunch of things were going through my mind. I mean, how do they figure out this - if I'm hearing an orchestration, is it really true I'm hearing an orchestration?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: Could it be possible? All these different animals, totally different species tuned to each other, creating not a cacophony of jungle noise, but a lush musical harmony.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: Soon as he got back from Kenya, he turned his recording of that night by the stream into a picture called a spectrogram to try and see if the sound actually did have a musical structure. And when he looked at it...

KRAUSE: It kind of looks like a musical score. So you'll see the flutes on one line - and flutes might be an insect - or violins on another line - that might be frogs - and so on. I mean, it looks like a musical score.

WENDLE: Bernie took his orchestra idea to a colleague who was a scientist, the late Stuart Gage. And the two developed the acoustic niche hypothesis, posing that creatures sharing an ecosystem evolved to make sounds in different rhythms and pitches so they don't get in each other's way.

KRAUSE: They're trying to find that niche which is a clear channel of communication so that their voices can be heard.

WENDLE: And improbable as it sounds, it makes a kind of beautiful intuitive sense. Many creatures need to hear and be heard in order to find food, water, mates. And it's best to do that without wasting energy. So they evolved over millions and millions of years to be able to all make sounds together but without interrupting each other. It's like evolution, brutal a rap as it gets, actually forged a sonic civility.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KRAUSE: Those relationships are sacred. I mean sacred in the more generic sense of it is life-affirming. It allows that life to exist.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: Listening in this holistic way to the insects and amphibians and birds and mammals plus the sound of water in a stream and wind in the trees, it became a whole new field of study Bernie helped develop called soundscape ecology. And researchers use Bernie's hypothesis to help them understand the natural world they're studying because listening to the orchestra can tell you a lot about an ecosystem's health. A robust creature chorus can help us hear that all is well. But unfortunately, what Bernie began to hear as he listened more and more to the natural ensemble was a sound that frightened him and left him feeling hollow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: NPR's INVISIBILIA will continue in a minute.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Welcome back. I'm Alix Spiegel. We left Bernie's story with this beautiful image of whole wildlife communities vibrating together like a giant orchestra. But as Abby explains, that balance of sound can be incredibly fragile.

KRAUSE: Let's see if I have the frogs in jet flyover.

WENDLE: During our interview, Bernie pulled up a recording he made in the early '90s at Mono Lake outside of Yosemite National Park. It's of thousands of spadefoot toads, which are actually frogs - some frogs are called toads; don't ask me why. Anyway, in the spring they all gather there, around Mono Lake, and croak in sync.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROGS CROAKING)

KRAUSE: Notice how they sound really big.

WENDLE: Almost like all the little frogs have joined together to become one giant frog. It's actually a defense mechanism - helps keep predators from attacking. But, Bernie tells me, when the military started doing test flights over Mono Basin, the roar of the jets would interfere, causing the frogs to lose their synchronicity.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROGS CROAKING)

KRAUSE: They would take, like, 45 minutes before they could get in sync again. And during that period of time, we watched as a couple of great horned owls and a coyote came in and picked off a couple of the frogs.

WENDLE: Because they were no longer in unison, predators could hone in on individual frogs and eat them, which eventually led to significant population decline, all because of a jet. But it's not just jets. It's helicopters and chainsaws and tractors and traffic and sirens and mining and drilling and shipping and building.

KRAUSE: I mean, it's just endless amounts of noise.

WENDLE: He's heard it everywhere - in Alaska and Costa Rica and Borneo and Fiji and the Amazon.

KRAUSE: The human noise that's populating these areas is incredible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND MONTAGE)

WENDLE: Interrupting and rippling out, setting the whole orchestra unraveling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND MONTAGE)

WENDLE: Until you get what, these days, Bernie's been hearing most of all.

KRAUSE: Complete silence.

WENDLE: Over the years, he's recorded 1,300 different kinds of habitats, and he estimates that over half of them no longer exist. They're either totally silent or have changed so much they're unrecognizable. And for Bernie, it's obvious that we're out of tune with the rest of the animal orchestra. We're not playing by the rules of the acoustic niche hypothesis - not leaving anyone else any room.

KRAUSE: What I'm seeing is whole habitats going. We're not talking about just a single species. We're talking about spaces that living organisms live - gone, just gone.

WENDLE: He heard the silencing of a habitat happen most intimately at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, where a mountain rises out of miles and miles of grapes in Wine Country, California. Bernie's been recording there regularly since the early '90s. For him, it's the sound of home, about 10 miles from his house.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

KRAUSE: I wanted to get some acoustic examples of my own habitat where I lived.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

WENDLE: What you're hearing now is a recording Bernie made in 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

WENDLE: Sugarloaf was home to foxes, coyotes, bobcat, black bear, deer and possum, Douglas firs, bigleaf maples, coastal redwoods, California buckeyes and oaks as well as insects and frogs and toads and birds, hawks and ducks, woodpeckers and hummingbirds, robins and swallows and jays and warblers and wrens and finches. And through the middle of the park flowed a stream.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

WENDLE: But in late 2011, California went into an eight-year-long drought. And as it continued year after year, Bernie began to monitor its impact on Sugarloaf. He recorded always in mid-April, sitting in the same spot.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

WENDLE: This is what it sounded like in 2014.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

KRAUSE: Here's the next spring. This is all April 15.

WENDLE: Spring 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

KRAUSE: There was no wind. There was no stream. I mean, it was really silent.

WENDLE: Bernie could see birds in the trees, but they were mostly quiet because to sing takes energy. And with the stream all dried up, there wasn't much food around. After that, the park got drier and drier. The vegetation turned yellow and brittle. And then in 2017, it caught fire, and it tore through Sugarloaf, consuming more than three-quarters of the park.

Bernie was at home that night with his wife, Kat. Some friends had called earlier, concerned, but they weren't too worried. Their house was made of compacted dirt, called a rammed earth house, and they were told it wouldn't burn. Plus, Kat had just gotten home from knee surgery. Evacuating would be a lot of trouble. So Bernie went to bed. But around 2 in the morning, he woke to a violent windstorm and went into the living room to watch live news coverage of the fire.

KRAUSE: And I look at the glass door to my left, and I think I'm seeing the reflection on the television screen. It's not the reflection on the television screen. It is the fire burning the hill to the north of us. And it caught on like that. It was just like - it was spontaneous combustion.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "KALSTED")

WENDLE: Bernie didn't have time to grab anything except Kat, who he helped to get quickly to the car.

KRAUSE: And I started the engine, and I drove through this wall of flames because the whole thing had been completely engulfed. The - and in the three minutes that that fire burned, it was so hot that it melted the asphalt of the driveway. I never saw the road. I couldn't see anything. I just happened to know where it was and was lucky enough to stay on it. In the meantime, the road had melted. I mean, it - I'm surprised our tires didn't catch on fire. So we got out and with our lives, and that was the end - that was the end of everything that we had.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: In the grand scheme of things, Bernie says that's all that matters. They made it out - some of their neighbors and so many Californians didn't. But they lost their house, their two cats. And though he had everything digitally backed up, he lost his physical archive of sound, 50 years of recordings and notebooks and equipment. They're still working on a permanent place to live. And in the meantime, they've bounced around from spot to spot, from hotels to friends' couches to rental houses for the past two years.

KRAUSE: No, it's just another example of the disappearance of the things that support life, only it hit very close to home.

WENDLE: When the rains returned to Sugarloaf, and there was water again in the stream, some of the creatures came back, too. The birds started singing again. But Bernie and Kat, like so many people and creatures that fled, are still searching for a safe place to land.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "VIK FENCETA LAN")

AUTOMATED VOICE: Ahead, keep right towards Mill Valley. Then, after 0.1 miles...

WENDLE: While I was out in California with Bernie, we went back to that spot in Muir Woods where he'd first recorded nature, heard the space open up and the edge tones of the wings of a raven. He hadn't been back since - some 50 years. And when we arrived...

(SOUNDBITE OF CART ROLLING)

KRAUSE: This is like Disneyland. There was nobody here when I came.

WENDLE: Muir Woods today is a destination - a parking lot full of tour buses, a ticket booth at the entrance, a gift shop at the exit and a line to get in.

KRAUSE: You want to do this? I don't want to do this. I mean, this is crazy.

WENDLE: It takes some convincing, but I get Bernie to walk in with me a ways to sit and listen.

What do you hear now?

KRAUSE: Just people, pretty much, and the stream and some guy doing construction in back of us.

WENDLE: I ask him if all the people is a good thing or a bad thing. He says it's important for them to experience it. Then a herd of people clomp by, and a mom wanders past with her son.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. One more time this week. Oh, it smells so good.

WENDLE: And Bernie points out the way everyone is experiencing it - looking, talking, taking selfies. No one is quiet. No one seems to be listening. It's a small thing, but it troubles him - hints at our discord with the rest of the creature chorus.

See, for Bernie, there's this contradiction. At the same time we humans are creatures, a long, long time ago - who can even say when? - we began separating ourselves. There's lots of moments to locate this, but Bernie opts for a story about sound - the moment when he thinks humans - in Western culture, at least - became isolated from the rest of the creature chorus. He says it goes back to the big stone walls of churches in the Middle Ages.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing, unintelligible).

KRAUSE: We shut out the outside world. And the only sounds that we heard were those that we made - with the organs, with the choral music that we created. It was all self-reflective. It was coming back to us in these big echo chambers of the churches of medieval history. And that's what we've been doing ever since.

WENDLE: Listening out for only ourselves. And even though we humans make beautiful sounds - our laughter and talking and music - this divide in Bernie's mind between humans and the rest of nature is at the root of why we're so out of tune - why, even as we're part of nature, we act as though we're not, treading on louder and louder, droning everything else around us out as if we're a solo act.

KRAUSE: Until you get rid of the terms that define our position as being separate from nature, we're never going to get anywhere. We're not separate. This is - we're part of that. And we're fouling our house.

WENDLE: But what about Bernie's hypothesis? If evolution did forge an orchestra, then at some point, humans, being animals as well, must have played a part, right?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. One more time this week.

WENDLE: So maybe there's a different way to hear that mom voice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, it smells so good.

WENDLE: Maybe she's there spending time in the woods not teaching her son to fear or hate nature, like Bernie's parents had, but giving him a chance to be enraptured by it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WENDLE: I asked Bernie about how he thought humans could play well along with the orchestra. And as angry or grumpy or pessimistic as he sometimes gets, he said he still does believe it's possible for us to pick out a harmony and learn again to play along. But to get there, we have to first do what any good orchestra member does.

And can, like, listening help us change course at all, do you think?

KRAUSE: Yeah. You just have to shut the hell up. I mean, we just have to learn to be quiet.

WENDLE: It's difficult to rouse people to stillness, to listening. But sound has power. And perhaps one way to understand the world we're living in, what feels right and not so right about it, is to let all the sound in, really touch us, wind inside our ears until it hits the drum in our head and plays it. Maybe that beat can be our guide, help us set a course more in tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND MONTAGE)

ROSIN: That's Abby Wendle. So Bernie was asking us to be still, to be quiet, so we can hear what's happening in the world besides just us. Well, it happened. Thank you, global pandemic. So much of the world has been forced to stay inside, move less, be more still and more quiet - not something Bernie would've wanted, but here we are. So what are people hearing now? More on that from NPR's INVISIBILIA after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: So, Hanna?

ROSIN: Yeah. Hey.

SPIEGEL: So here we are broadcasting not so live from the inside of our respective closets.

ROSIN: Whew.

SPIEGEL: I bet your closet is nicer than my closet. I just have that feeling.

ROSIN: Yeah. This is the Plaza of closets.

SPIEGEL: It's the Plaza Hotel closet.

ROSIN: It's the plazit (ph). So do you remember at the beginning of the season when we asked people to basically stand still and send us recordings, minute-long recordings of whatever it was that they were hearing at that moment?

SPIEGEL: Yes, I do.

ROSIN: OK. So it was my job to listen to those sounds, and we got hundreds.

SPIEGEL: Really? How many did we get, like, actually?

ROSIN: No, I mean hundreds - like, 400 sounds of these.

SPIEGEL: Oh, that's so nice.

ROSIN: And I had a reaction to them that I totally did not expect. Like, they launched me on some whole journey.

SPIEGEL: What happened?

ROSIN: All right. So at first, I was tuned into more, like, ones that you might expect. So they were beautiful. They were, like, wind chimes.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND CHIMES)

ROSIN: Birds...

(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)

ROSIN: And lots of different kind of birds. There was these, like, spectacular cranes that were so loud and beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRANES VOCALIZING)

ROSIN: There were even, like, exotic animals that people sent us from all over the world, like hippos and...

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPOS VOCALIZING)

ROSIN: ...Penguins walking.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENGUINS WALKING)

ROSIN: People sent us pets.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT PURRING)

ADRIAN: Hello. This is Adrian (ph). I'm in my apartment. And this is the sound of my cat purring.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT PURRING)

ROSIN: I mean, some people even sent us silence - just like the silence of nature, the silence of their backyard.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

ROSIN: Sort of beautiful, contemplative and for the most part natural moments - which, I mean, given the story we just listened to, those are the things that should move you because finally, we can hear them and not the grating, irritating human noises. But, in fact, that is not the reaction that I had.

SPIEGEL: What was the reaction you had?

ROSIN: So I found myself crying...

SPIEGEL: Really?

ROSIN: ...To this one particular sound of a commuter train in Mumbai sent to us by a guy named Chandrishjain (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Unintelligible).

SPIEGEL: What was it about the sound of the train that made you cry, do you think?

ROSIN: I mean, when is the last time you've heard people in such close quarters?

SPIEGEL: Yeah. It's true.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: And then after I heard that one, I just - like, I started manically searching in the emails we got for, like, cafes - you know, like, street sounds. I came across this barber shop, and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Unintelligible).

SPIEGEL: Because essentially, these are recordings of the world that existed before that world ever fell silent and ever knew that the world could fall silent in that way.

ROSIN: Right. It's exactly that moment because we had put out that call for sounds about a week before the pandemic hit the U.S. hard. And so there I am, suddenly ordered to work from home now, sitting with my headphones on. And it's that first shock moment. And I'm listening to kids in the playground and people going to barbershops and people going to cafes - like, these things that had just shut down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Unintelligible).

ROSIN: So that's the state of mind I was in. I was listening to these recordings and crying (laughter) over lectures and commuter trains when my girlfriend told me about this term that she heard that apparently exactly describes the emotion I was having. It's Portuguese. You ready?

SPIEGEL: Uh-huh.

ROSIN: Saudade (ph).

SPIEGEL: Saudade. Did I say that right?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Saudade - saudade. It's pretty dry in the end, like saudade.

ROSIN: Saudade - like that? Saudade.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: Yeah.

ROSIN: So I reached out to these friends of ours who live in Brazil, Paola Scarpine (ph) and Flora Thompson Devoe.

Hey, can you hear us?

Flora's actually a translator. And they know all about this word.

Had you heard the word before?

PAOLA SCARPINE: Yes (laughter).

ROSIN: Why are you laughing at me? Is it, like, a totally common word?

FLORA THOMPSON DEVOE: Yeah.

SCARPINE: Yes.

ROSIN: Because to locals, it turns out that saudade - it's, like, this very common word. It's used in lots of love songs. And it's a word that means, like, nostalgia or longing but with an edge and with a lot of different dimensions.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's a complete phrase that I use often with my parents, for instance, through WhatsApp and...

ROSIN: To say saudade.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Saudade. That means I love them, and I...

ROSIN: Miss them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...Miss them. I want to just - to be with them.

ROSIN: You're homesick, or...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

ROSIN: But Flora and Paola explained to me that you could also have saudade for something even before it's gone - like, almost like anticipatory grief. Like, we, all of us - or all of us in Washington, D.C. - could have saudade if we go out for a walk now because we can't - the walk is now tinged with this feeling that we might not be able to walk next week.

SPIEGEL: Wow. I had saudade this weekend actually...

ROSIN: For what?

SPIEGEL: ...When I was running. And I was, like, this is going to feel a lot harder if I'm not allowed to be outside.

ROSIN: I think you probably have it every minute now. Like, we have saudade about things that are dumb. Like, oh, I have to go pick up toilet paper now has all this emotional resonance.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID CHESKY'S "CHORINHO NO. 8 'MANHATTAN'")

ROSIN: And then Flora and Paola told me about this whole other definition of saudade, which was pretty funny, which is that you can have saudade for something you used to hate. Like, Paola told me this amazing story about her grandmother. She used to spend a lot of time with her, and she hated the sound of her snoring.

SCARPINE: I used to hate it. When we were sleeping...

DEVOE: They'd shared a bedroom from when Paoli (ph) was a...

SCARPINE: Yeah.

DEVOE: ...Was, like, a little kid...

SCARPINE: (Laughter).

DEVOE: ...Through age 23.

SCARPINE: And then - and she snored a lot. And when I was a teenager, I hated that. And...

ROSIN: And then she moved to a different city. And she started to, like, have strong saudade for her grandmother's snoring. And so she recorded it.

SPIEGEL: Really? That's so cute.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Snoring).

ROSIN: So do you have saudade for things that you hated or things that you didn't even know? Like, I was thinking the other day - you know, I always complain about, like, small talk in an elevator - like, in the office elevator. I was - like, I was fantasizing about it. I was, like, oh, I wish I was going up in an elevator and just pressing the button - everybody's buttons.

SPIEGEL: (Laughter).

ROSIN: I'm, like, I'm going to press all the buttons - and having, like, real dumb chats with people. Like, hey, what are you eating for breakfast, you know?

SPIEGEL: (Laughter).

ROSIN: Like, the (laughter) - it's, like, I really want to do that now. And I hate that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZAIDEN SONG, "NON MI ATTIRI")

SPIEGEL: Is there one thing from this time, do you think, that you will miss?

ROSIN: That is a hard one because who would want to keep anything from this nightmare?

SPIEGEL: Nothing.

ROSIN: I don't know. I was just reading in - about how in New York, the - like, as we're recording this...

SPIEGEL: The deaths are, like...

ROSIN: Yeah. They haven't even reached their peak of deaths. But, like, OK. I mean, maybe the way that we're paying attention - like, the difference between noise and sound, like Bernie was saying. Like, most of our lives, we're just making noise. We're making lots of noise through traffic, the routines, the busyness, the going about our lives, the kind of toing and froing.

And, like, that moment that Bernie had where he stopped the noise and started listening to sounds more deeply - it's not that we just have to listen to nature sounds or silence, but we just have to maybe listen in a different way. Does that make any sense?

SPIEGEL: So are you saying that this time has simplified what is important?

ROSIN: You can hear the things that matter. Like, you - you're more open to hearing the things. And they can be tragic, and they can be beautiful. But you can hear them and not just the static and noise that is the background of our usual routine lives.

SPIEGEL: So is it time to sign off from our closets?

ROSIN: OK.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is hosted by me, Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin. Our senior editors for this season are Deborah George and Anne Gudenkauf. INVISIBILIA is produced by Kia Miakka Natisse, Yowei Shaw and Abby Wendle. Our manager is Liana Simstrom.

SPIEGEL: We had help for this episode from Alec Stutson, Oliver Wang, David Gutherz and Pranab Bhaskar (ph).

ROSIN: Fact-checking by Katie Daugert, Hilary McClellan, Elizabeth Metzger and Naomi Sharp. Our technical director is Andy Huether, and our senior vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann.

SPIEGEL: This episode was mastered by Josh Newell.

ROSIN: Special thanks to Hamid Sacban (ph), Emily Bogle, Neva Grant, Elmo Farina (ph), Thomas Flew (ph), Kevin McClean (ph), Craig Miller (ph), Lulu Miller, Micah Ratner, Caroline Smith (ph), Nathan Taylor, Emily Vaughn, Liza Yeager and Lauren Ober - also to Christy Lawrence (ph), Daniel Mullins (ph), Peg Keener (ph), Daniel Bois (ph), Marty Combs (ph), Susie Winquist (ph), Adrian Hollister (ph), Julianna Carlson (ph), Chandra Shane (ph), Robas Zaya (ph), April Best (ph), Shana Maker (ph), Caroline and Adrian Harris (ph), Jason Wilkin Sickle (ph), Allison Mahaffey (ph), Catherine Johnson (ph) and everyone else who sent us recordings.

I cannot tell you what it was like in this strange moment to sit down and listen to bits of sound from your world sent to us. It was very beautiful and made us feel like somehow, we're all in this together.

SPIEGEL: Thank you so much, honestly. Music for this episode was provided by Blue Dot Sessions. To see an original illustration for this episode by Leonardo Santamaria, visit npr.org/invisibilia.

ROSIN: And now for a moment of nonsense.

SPIEGEL: NPR's INIVISI (ph) - oh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Hey, honey. Can you please not scream?

SPIEGEL: So, everybody, this is the end of our official season. But we are trying to figure out what to do for coronavirus coverage over the next couple of weeks and months, so stay tuned. In the meantime, be well and take care of yourselves. Stay safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ORDEM NATURAL DAS COISAS")

: (Singing in Portuguese).

ROSIN: Hey, Alix. You know what time it is?

SPIEGEL: 4:37.

ROSIN: No. It's time to find new stories.

SPIEGEL: Oh. I've heard about that.

ROSIN: Yeah. So I thought we would ask our listeners for help.

SPIEGEL: Oh, that's a good idea.

ROSIN: Yeah.

SPIEGEL: Listeners, help us find stories.

ROSIN: So what kind of stories do you like?

SPIEGEL: I like good stories.

ROSIN: OK. What makes a good story?

SPIEGEL: A good story is a story that, like, it allows you to see the world with fresh eyes in some way.

ROSIN: Yeah, or through a person who's gone through an incredible transformation or someone has had some emotional upheaval in their life - stuff like that. Now, I know that Alix checks the email inbox every day, so if you, dear listener, have a story that meets this criteria, please send it to us at invisibiliamail@npr.org. Thank you.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a previous version of this podcast, we referenced a song by Brazilian rapper Emicida but mistakenly played a song by a different Brazilian musician.]

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