My route to Antarctica, the continent of sounds.
I did not know, but on January 16, 2003, it would not be another day like any other in my life. On that typical Uruguayan summer day, I hit the REC key on a tape recorder. With that simple movement of my index finger, my life took a 180 degree turn that would completely change my goals. That because it was not one more key, in my right hand I had a microphone and in front of me, a kingfisher. It was the first time that I recorded the song of a bird. He had no idea of the transformations that were brought about in that split second. I didn't know that pressing that key would change my life forever.
Twelve years later, recording the sounds of nature became my main work activity. Through these recordings, I share experiences, experiences and stories in various courses and conferences that I teach. There is no feeling more comforting than dividing the knowledge of what I like so much.
However, more than a job, I consider capturing the sounds of nature an art. For me they are like photographs, but unlike those obtained with a camera, mine are dynamic. The bird may be singing, flapping its wings, making noise with its beak; all those details will be meticulously recorded forever. Only just by pressing a key.
Perhaps because I was blind from birth, I have developed a greater sensitivity to the sounds around me. I also had a good musical education, which makes me use the auditory sense in a more specific and intense way. My world is built by sounds and one thing leads to another. The music that nature creates every day in any place is worthy of a first-rate composer like Chopin or Mozart. It does not mean that a person who sees is not apt to develop the same sensitivity. Possibly more difficult, after all, the sense of sight, sometimes acts as a limiter of the other senses.
My father had a job opportunity in Brazil and that was how in 2005 a fundamental stage in the development of my career began. Emigrating from the neck is easy, even when the destination is a neighboring country. In May of that year we moved to the city of Campinas, in the state of San Pablo. Unknown city, unknown language and customs, unknown people. However, a great opportunity awaited me. The late professor Jacques Vielliard opened the doors of the Neotropical Sound Archive at the state university of Campinas UNICAMP without restrictions, so that I could study. I had the privilege of learning with the most important references in recording sounds of nature, and that is priceless.
In 2006 I found out by chance that an event would occur in the city of São Paulo, which would bring together bird watchers (Avistar Brasil), it was when I met Guto Carvalho, organizer of the event and one of the main references of the activity in Brazil. I did not even get the idea that some years later, I would be invited as a lecturer and instructor in various national and regional editions of this congress in which I made many friends who opened several doors for me.
In 2014 I was selected by National Geographic to represent Uruguay in the Super Brains talent contest. Winning this competition gave me opportunities that I could not have imagined before: conferences in various countries in the region, sound courses, as well as pressing that REC key in dream places. For these reasons, I consider my long journey in Brazil to be one of the pillars that led to my consolidation in this area. Naturally, my father's unconditional support was the main factor in his continuing without ever lowering his arms.
I had just one dream that I could not achieve: to receive my degree in Biology. Unfortunately, even today there are many prejudices and lack of will to make it possible for blind people to have more options when it comes to professionalizing. In Brazil and Latin America, professional opportunities are practically limited to humanities courses.
They impose limits on us, but in reality they are limited, and we are not allowed to achieve a diploma in the area of knowledge that we have a vocation.
The first time I actually understood what Antarctica is, it happened when I read "Scott's Diary." The descriptions of beauty and misfortune, adventure and misfortune, life and death, joy and sadness reflected on each page, showed me what the white continent really was. So, after I beat Super Brains, I wrote a project to the Uruguayan Antarctic Institute proposing a job related to sound recording in those latitudes. This was because he had no conditions to visit this place as a tourist, because in addition to being an expensive trip, he did not meet the necessary requirements to bring the job to a successful conclusion.
It was an immense satisfaction that the project was approved and, therefore, received the invitation to carry out the expedition.
The objective of the work was to record all possible sound manifestations. From the wind that makes the Uruguayan flag fly on the mast of the base, to the soft drop of water from the thaw. In that fan, I also recorded colonies of penguins, petrels, seals, melting icebergs, breaking ice, the sound of snow. For this job, use two recorders and at least a dozen microphones, wind attenuation frames, and a parabolic reflector to capture sounds over long distances. One of the microphones was adapted by the manufacturer to perform well in such extreme conditions. This type of technology was essential when I was recording seals at -25C.
My father accompanied me in this campaign, I with my microphones and he with his camera, recording every movement. During the expedition, our house was the Artigas Antarctic Scientific Base located on King George Island, in the archipelago of the South Shetland Islands, at parallel 62. We arrived on December 3, 2015, nature received us with winds of 70 kilometers per hour and a temperature of -25C. In the season of the year we were, there was no night, it was 24 hours of natural light. We would say until tomorrow at 11 o'clock in the evening and when we went out in the direction of the bedrooms, the daylight seemed like being in the middle of the afternoon. Only by stepping on that place can one understand.
Each day was carefully planned as the weather there is very changeable. A blue sky morning (absolute rarity) could quickly turn into a snowfall or wind that looked like it was going to break your bones. For this reason, when moving away from the base, we always went with a radio to establish communication and in more complicated situations, such as the road to the Drake Strait, we were guided by a member of the base staff who already had prior knowledge of the place to explore. It would not have been a good feeling to step on an unstable ice sheet and break it under our feet….
It was not an easy campaign. The long walks on soft snow, sometimes up to above the knees, were a great challenge. It is impossible to even compare it with what is a day in the tropical forest. When walking through the snow you never know if in the next step, you are going to be buried up to your waist, how it happened to me, or what it feels like when it is on the ice that you walk and listen to the clicking sounds and think, you are going to break or not? They were wonderful challenges to be lived. Naturally, it is not for everyone, it takes a good dose of patience, good humor and being ready for any unforeseen event.
Antarctica is not a continent so rich in fauna if I compare it to the exuberance of the Atlantic Forest. However, the sounds I found were absolutely different from anything I had ever heard before. The rustle of the wings of Wilson's Petrel, the intense communication sound of the Barbijo penguins, plus the impressive vocalization of the elephant seal.
Nowadays I prefer quality to quantity. I really don't care about the number of species. I earn more by recording a single sound for longer than being compulsively searching for a more comprehensive variety. It is preferable to have ten records of the highest quality than 50 of acceptable quality.
The soundscape in those latitudes was incredible. This is because Antarctica is music. The ice speaks, the sea speaks, the snow speaks, it is only knowing how to listen. But unfortunately the noise pollution produced by man has already reached there: patrol boats, planes and helicopters. It is not something that happens at all times, however, when traveling so far one becomes more intolerant towards those noises.
It is impossible to transform into words the great happiness I felt when recording the elephant seal, after a very hard walk to the colony and, upon returning to the base, listening to the record and really feeling that the 10 seconds it lasted were worth ten kilometers round trip.
On the other hand, I also had a somewhat unpleasant feeling; at the end of the campaign, realizing how much we are destroying everything around us without measuring the consequences. The penguin colony I recorded is one of the most heavily polluted in Antarctica by heavy metals. It seems that wherever we go, we leave our negative mark. Too bad. When I stepped on the white continent, I did not have the typical conquest reaction, in the style "I arrived, I am finally here", if I had the feeling of desecrating something that does not belong to us. Every sound I recorded, I want to believe it was a gift from Antarctic nature.
There were 53 days of magic, effort, thanks, gifts and unforgettable experiences. Likewise, Antarctica needs to be a safeguard. It is a continent sensitive to any type of activity. For now it is safe by the Madrid protocol, but I fear that near its expiration date, Antarctica will sadly be the protagonist of the darkest designs.
My work is purely artistic. In the meantime, I am following some guidelines from Cornell University to catalog the recordings in the Macaulay library, the main online repository for nature sounds.
It is in this way that the art of recording in nature is the way for disclosure and therefore, showing the public the wonders that surround us from another angle. Art and conservation together through the song of a bird, the sound of a waterfall, of melting ice.