NPR features Acoustic Atlas Yellowstone recordings

masthead-here-and-nowThe NPR program Here and Now interviewed Acoustic Atlas team member Jennifer Jerrett last week about some of the sounds she is recording in Yellowstone National Park. Jennifer is recording in Yellowstone as part of a cooperative agreement between the MSU Library and the Park Service.

Sounds included an incredible grizzly bear roar, cougar calls, and wildfire recordings, among several others soon to be available on the Acoustic Atlas. Here and Now has been visiting parks across the country as part of a series on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service.

Listen to the entire interview on Hear and Now’s webpage.

Specialty Printing Service Changes

The Borrow Desk has a new way of offering large format printing! In order to provide you a more consistent and effective printing experience, we have redesigned our Specialty Printing Services.

What are the changes?

  1. If you need a poster or other large format print job, submit an order form at the Borrow Desk.
  2. Designated staff will print the job to your specifications.
  3. We will let you know when the job is ready.
    • All jobs will be completed within two working days.
  4. Pickup your print job, and pay at the Borrow Desk.

Thanks for your patience while we work to continue improving specialty printing services!

Remember, these changes apply to large format, specialty printing only. The standard black and white and color printing services throughout the library will remain the same.Specialty Printing Web Banner, draft

Summer road trip: crashing surf in Santa Cruz

Surfers in Santa Cruz, California. Photo by Jeff Rice.

Surfers in Santa Cruz, California. Photo by Jeff Rice.

Since the 1970s, recordings of ocean waves have been the stock and trade of nature sound recordists and new age musicians. This is due in large part to the success of one man named Irv Teibel, who all but invented the hippie soundscape. He recorded ocean waves, birds and soothing streams and packaged them as a groovy “Decongestant For the Mind,” perfect for massage therapists and California dreamers.

Even if you have never heard of Irv Teibel, you know his influence. You may have even seen his Environments series in your local thrift store record bin. His first album included the “Psychologically Ultimate Seashore” that was marketed, brilliantly, as “The Future of Music.”

In fact, Teibel’s album did have a lot in common with music. It was a fabrication of editing and mixing that included, yes, some real ocean sounds (from New York’s Brighton Beach), but also computer-enhanced white noise that created something that Teibel felt was even more authentic. (You can read an excellent profile of Teibel in Atlas Obscura.) Whatever it was, it struck a chord and Teibel sold millions of copies from the series. Now many people assume that what they heard on those albums was an accurate reflection of the natural environment.

That can be a little frustrating. When I make recordings, many people assume I am out to capture the soothing, relaxing sounds of the environment. Some of the sounds on the library’s Acoustic Atlas are actually pretty relaxing, but that’s not our goal. We’re trying to capture what places and animals really sound like, which can be surprising. Frogs don’t always go ribbit, birds aren’t always mellifluous and oceans don’t always wash gently against the shore.

That said, I felt the presence of Teibel over the weekend as I trekked out with my microphone to Natural Bridges State Beach in the hippie enclave of Santa Cruz, California. I have recorded ocean waves at many different beaches across the West and down into Mexico. They all sound a little different. Some sound radically different. It depends on the geology of the beach, the weather conditions and many other factors. In this case, the medium-sized waves pounded the sand in a nice, low frequency pulse of Teibel-esque white noise.

It has always struck me as odd that ocean waves are soothing to people. They can be quite loud, and create an insistent wall of noise that is hard to write off as mellow background pablum. Waves are intense and crash on the shore. Given the chance, they might pick you up and sweep you out to sea. But I admit that I too find them calming. I don’t know why that is, but I’m a sucker for the sound of waves just as much as anyone. Feel free to get out your incense and scented candles and take a listen.

Summer road trip: Olympic Marmot

The Olympic marmot is one of three marmot species found in the United States. It is endemic to Olympic National Park in Washington, where this particular one was recorded today for the library’s Acoustic Atlas.

Montana residents might be more familiar with the yellow-bellied marmot. It inhabits local alpine areas like Bridger Bowl Ski Resort, where we captured a 2014 recording. It also makes a snappy ringtone.

In search of English Creek

A sign for Dupuyer Creek in Dupuyer, Montana. Photo by Jeff Rice.

A sign for Dupuyer Creek in Dupuyer, Montana. Photo by Jeff Rice.

Ivan Doig’s second novel English Creek introduces one of Doig’s best-known literary creations, the McCaskill family. Its main character, Jick McCaskill, is a 14-year-old boy negotiating small-town life in Depression-era Montana, and English Creek is his coming of age story. Jick and the McCaskill’s are loosely based on Doig’s memories of his own family and the people he knew while growing up along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.

As much as the book is a work of fiction, the places and people in it ring true. English Creek itself winds through fictional composites of the small towns where Doig lived much of his life through high school. “Some of the geography is actual,” writes Doig in the book’s Acknowledgements. “I’m afraid, though, that anyone who attempts to sort the real from the imagined in this book is in for confusion.”

In a way, that has been my job this summer—sorting the real from the imagined in some of Doig’s work. I have been visiting several of the places that Doig wrote about, and trying to capture a feel for them. In the case of the eponymous English Creek, Doig would not necessarily say that it was a real place on the map, but if it were (he has implied), the nearest thing to it would be Dupuyer Creek. That creek runs right through the town of Dupuyer, where I visited earlier this month.

Bear spray is recommended for those traveling along the rocky Mountain front. Photo by Jeff Rice.

Bear spray is recommended for those hiking along the Rocky Mountain Front. Photo by Jeff Rice.

One thing about this creek, however, is very different from the one described in the novel—and from the place experienced by Doig as well. Over the past 20 or so years, some new residents have arrived. Grizzly bears have been expanding their range and now regularly show up in and around the town and other areas along the mountains and prairies. I was told by local residents that the bears like to follow the creek bottoms, and will often nap in the heavy brush by the water during hot afternoons. I was advised to keep an eye out and carry bear spray, even when recording the creek in the center of town.

Take a listen to Dupuyer Creek (AKA English Creek) in the recording below. But don’t get too comfortable.

I’ll be posting more recordings related to the book English Creek and other Doig writings in this space as the summer continues.

Meadowlark song

The writer Ivan Doig was a keen observer of the natural environment, especially the birds of the West. “None of us spoke while the songs of the birds poured undiluted,” remembers a character in Doig’s novel Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. It was a deference shared by the author, who was an avid birdwatcher.

This summer, the Acoustic Atlas is traveling to some of the places that influenced Doig, and we are capturing recordings of many of his favorite birds. The recordings will become part of the library’s collection of Doig’s papers, now being digitized for presentation online this fall.

“I suppose we were afraid the spate of loveliest sound would vanish if we broke it with so much as a whisper,” Doig wrote in the novel. “But after a bit came the realization that the music of birds formed a natural part of this place, constant as the glorious grass that made feathered life thrive.”

One such constant is the Western meadowlark. We hope you will enjoy this recording of a solitary bird near Ringling, Montana just outside of White Sulphur Springs where Doig spent his early childhood years. (Special thanks to BirdNote for inspiring this blog.)

Long Time Coming

Asking people to raise their own taxes is a tough sell. Just ask our local county government how easy it was to get the money to build a new jail a few year back, and how easy it is now to get voters to approve a new “Law and Justice” center.

But imagine how difficult it must have been to raise taxes for a new library while the entire world was battling fascism in the 1940s. At a time when school kids were collecting scrap metal and newspapers, and adults were continually bombarded with solicitations to purchase war bonds, how could anyone have entertained the notion that a new tax to build a library would be acceptable? Only an eternal optimist, or an incredibly dedicated librarian, that’s who.

Meet Lois Payson, perhaps the most pie-eyed optimist who ever worked for our library. Born in Laramie, Wyoming on Christmas Day, 1895, Lois earned two bachelor’s degrees; one in Botany from the University of Wyoming loisand another in Library Science from the University of Illinois. She first came to work at Montana State College as assistant librarian in 1928, but she resigned in 1930 to work at the United States Department of Agriculture library in Washington, D.C. Lois returned to us in 1933 when she became the college librarian, a position she held until she went on to run the library at Yosemite National Park in 1947. She retired in Bozeman in 1956 and died in 1970.

But Lois Payson never worked in the Montana State College library building, and for good reason: we didn’t HAVE a library building in the 1930s and 40s. Books and reading facilities continued to be available in Montana Hall during those decades, sharing space with stuffed birds (and perhaps a few stuffed college administrators, too.) But Lois could see our hres-parc-000494college’s future clearly, and she knew that we had outgrown the space allocated to the library almost as soon as she took the job. That’s why she headed up a Building Committee that in 1939 issued a carefully researched report outlining the need, and worked tirelessly to get Referendum Measure No. 45 placed on the Montana election ballot of 1942. The measure, that would have allowed for the building of a library, failed that fall by 27,845 votes out of a total 85,173 cast. Not surprising since most people were more concerned with defeating Hitler than putting up a place for books.

However, Lois Payson and her successors never gave up, and less than eight years later Montana State College got its first real library building, a full fifty-seven years after the institution was founded. Lois was able to admire it when she returned to Bozeman, and she lived long enough to witness the addition of what we now call the main building in the mid 1960s. I hope she felt it was worth waiting for.

Ear Mountain

Ear Mountain near Choteau, Montana. Photo by Jeff Rice.

Ear Mountain near Choteau, Montana. Photo by Jeff Rice.

If a place ever beckoned to a nature recordist, it is Ear Mountain. I had never been there, but saw the name on a map and had to visit.

I happened to be in nearby Choteau, Montana for a project related to the writings of Ivan Doig. This summer, I am tracing some of the locations Doig wrote about in books like This House of Sky and English Creek. The project is supported by the library’s Acoustic Atlas, and over the past month it has taken me from White Sulphur Springs to the Rocky Mountain Front, with a few detours to the northernmost part of western Washington. Continue reading