Being Hear: An Interview

The sound of silence – it’s often not a part of our busy lives. The power of silence, stillness, and the practice of listening is brought forth in the documentary film, Being Hear. In a world engulfed by noise pollution, we are losing our ability to hear the world around us. It’s in the value of listening that we receive the opportunity to learn and grow. 

Tell us about your background; how did the concept of the film Being Hear come about?
(Palmer Morse & Matthew Mikkelsen, Co-Directors)

P & M: A few years ago we met in Ithaca, New York. Still in college, it seemed that we both had this work ethic that really flowed well together. We both enjoy spending time outside and had no interest in trying to make our way or name in the machine of the narrative film industry. Eventually, we started working on short docs together, exploring subjects that not only interested us but felt as though they were important for the world to engage with. Palmer primarily focuses on camerawork while Matt focuses on audio.

We’ve definitely taught each other a lot in both of our specialities, and now we both direct, produce, shoot, record sound, and often edit together. Together we run Spruce Tone Films LLC, a small production company with an environmental focus that produces non-fiction commercial content for non-profits, organizations, and brands alike.

M: I had set out to find a way to merge my love of sound recording with my love of the outdoors, and found Gordon Hempton. After some correspondence with Gordon, I decided to make the journey out to Washington State to study with him for a week, and learn how to record the sounds of nature. The first day of my personal “workshop”, we went out into the forest with a binaural microphone at 4am, and within minutes of listening to the pristine soundscapes of the Olympic Peninsula, I was totally hooked. Since that workshop, I’ve spent the majority of my time listening to, recording, and analyzing natural spaces, and have become an advocate for protecting natural soundscapes.

Being Hear is a result of my efforts to spread the word about Gordon’s amazing work, and the importance of protecting our natural soundscapes. Sometimes things suddenly fall into place, and I think that’s what happened with Being Hear. I’ve only recently begun to call myself a documentary filmmaker, but it’s totally my dream job. I get to geek out about microphones and cameras, and spend time outside. What could be better?

Why listening; what is the power in silence and quietude?

P & M: As Gordon says: “it’s all information”. The more time you spend listening, the more connected you are with the world around you, and the more aware you are of your surroundings. Silence can be hard to come by in most of our lives, but it’s the intention that counts, much like meditation. Just by attempting to listen, you are indeed on the right path.

How as a society, how have we forgotten to listen?

P & M: In our opinion, it’s not so much we’ve forgotten how to listen, it’s more that our bodies have adapted to mask out all the noise that we are constantly hearing. For most people, listening to the world around them isn’t a pleasurable experience. This is because of the amount of noise we are always being bombarded with. If you really start to pay attention to it, it can be maddening.

There’s the saying, “we do not listen to hear, but to respond.” What are your thoughts on this idea?

P & M: Being Hear is trying to tell people to listen without the intent of responding. Just take it all in, and accept whatever you hear. This is a metaphor for life as well.

When we can no longer “hear” nature due to our urban environments, how does it affect us on a personal level?

P & M: It’s been clearly determined that noise pollution is harmful for our health and well-being in many ways. It impacts our cardiovascular health, our mental health, and our ability to learn. Children’s attention spans and ability to learn in an a school setting are acutely affected by noise pollution.

When we stop listening, we give up the opportunity to grow and learn from new information. We could all listen to each other a little bit more. This applies to romantic relationships, friends, and family. To quote Gordon in the film: “Sound has taught me: be like the wave, accommodate all things”.

What do you hope the film most brings about in terms of awareness to the concept of listening, and the power in returning to the quiet parts of nature?

P & M: We hope people realize the gravity of this situation. We are losing the ability to listen to nature as it was meant to be, which means humans have left no area untouched by development and industrialization.  Why is this an important realization? We’re still working on answering that, but it’s clear that evolutionarily, listening to nature is of the greatest importance, as human hearing is most sensitive at the frequencies at which birds communicate, not humans. It’s also been shown that seeking silence and spending time listening to nature is good for your body, it’s also good for your brain! There are modern scientific studies that show this, but also people have realized this for thousands of years, just research forest bathing.

Where can one find information on upcoming screenings?

P & M: Visit our website and the film’s site, where you can watch the film for free online, or buy a high-res downloadable copy for $8. In person, you can catch the film on the Telluride Mountainfilm World Tour and the NOLS Exploration Film Tour. More screenings are always being announced, you can find that info on our Facebook.

Images courtesy of Spruce Tone Films LLC. 



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