Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists, The Great Animal Orchestra. 2015. Photo Luc Boegly

To feel shock and awe, no need to watch Spiderman or Transformers. Just drop everything and get a ticket to The Great Animal Orchestra ! It sounds like an old Disney documentary from the 1950’s, but it has never been more of today and it’s one of the most awe inspiring works you might ever see. The Great Animal Orchestra, opening in San Francisco on June 10, at the Exploratorium, is the work of Bernie Krause with London Based UVA and the Cartier Foundation. 

Over the last 50 years, Detroit born Bernie Krause, who started his life as a musician (he worked with the Doors and Van Morrison), has collected more than 5,000 hours of recordings of natural environments, including at least 15,000 terrestrial and marine species from around the world. 

The Great Animal Orchestra is an immersive voyage into the sounds of the Earth. One travels to places like the Yukon delta, in Alaska, Gonarezhou, in Zimbabwé, or diverse places in the Pacific Ocean. Listening to all the life - birds, insects, animals of any kinds at different hours of the day - one becomes connected to every sound of the natural world. It is an awe inspiring experience. One leaves the animal orchestra shaken by the experience of deep listening and by the beauty and the richness and diversity of the sounds of the animal world, fast disappearing. 

The Great Animal Orchestra is also an unforgettable visual experience. The London based studio United Visual Artists (UVA) has developed a software generating visual spectrograms of the animal sounds. As you hear the animals, you see bands of light moving to their sounds. It is a mesmerizing experience. “Bernie Krause’s work teaches us that each species has its own acoustic signature which, like in a musical instrument in an orchestra, integrates itself with precision and accuracy in the great sonic score it belongs to,” remarks Hervé Chandès, head of the Cartier Foundation. “But the polyphony of the great animal orchestra is diminishing. We have to act together to protect it.”  Bernie Krause’s amazing work reminds us what we’re losing when we are not listening to the divine sounds of the living world. 

Jean-Sébastien Stehli

The Great Animal Orchestra: Bernie Krause & United Visual Artists San Francisco Exploratorium, San Francisco, USA. Until October 15, 2023. 

June 11, 2023 — Jean Sebastien Stehli