Radio Lento podcast

Hill top oak in strong wind - a natural source of white noise (sleep safe)

August 28, 2021

Artificial white noise generators designed to promote sleep and relaxation are widely available online and via apps. For anyone trying to steer their mind away from the distractions of the world they provide a stream of wind-like sound, that masks, washes, and soothes. 


Of course natural noise generators exist everywhere. Unlike their artificial versions, they produce their noise in infinitely varying ways. So much so, that rather than thinking of them as making just noise, they can be thought of more as instruments that enable you to hear the shape of an ever-changing current.


Perhaps the most abundant and interesting of natural noise generators, are trees. Evolved as giant plants able to thrive with almost any strength of wind, their leaves, boughs and branches convert even the softest of breezes into perfectly audible sound. 


Having evolved in and amongst trees, over several millions of years, our listening minds must have been fundamentally influenced by these kinds of sounds. So it must be, that all of us must have and share an intrinsic ability to understand the language of wind in trees. It might also help to explain why listening to white noise of any kind, works as a type of sound therapy.


High up on an exposed moor, between the Derbyshire towns of Glossop and Buxton, an old oak tree leans into the wind. Its sound is heard only by passing walkers, who from time to time, clink through the gate on their way over the exposed moor. As we passed, we tied the microphones to one of the low boughs, leeside of the strong prevailing wind, and left them alone to record.


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