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October 4, 2013 at 8:05 PM

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Northwest Wanderings: Sound Tracker keeps trekking


Gordon Hempton makes his sound recordings with the aid of Fritz, a German-made, life-size head with microphones in the ears. Fritz has traveled around the globe with Hempton three times, always as a carry-on, never in checked bags.


Gordon Hempton heads out on the pier at Indianola in Kitsap County to record a gull. He often contributes sound to BirdNote on KPLU-FM (88.5). He views man-made noise as toxic.

He is a seeker of solitude, finding places in the world where natural sounds can be recorded without any man-made noise.

Now, silence is finding him. For a year and a half, his hearing has been failing.

Gordon Hempton, 60, known as the Sound Tracker, has always been competitive, driven and intense about what he does.

As a Seattle bike messenger making a dollar per delivery, he rode hard in the city to reach a daily goal of $100 to pay for the best recording equipment.

That was 24 years ago. Since then, natural sound has become his full-time profession and obsession. He's made more than 50,000 recordings.

To capture the sounds of a pair of northern spotted owls, he lived out of a van in Pacific County, paddling out well before dawn with a bike in his canoe.

He'd land and pedal into an old-growth forest and wait and listen. It took six weeks to achieve the prize.

He's recorded outgoing tides, the flurry of insect wings, grains of sand moving down dunes, burbling gasses escaping natural springs.

His love of silence is because "it's the birthplace of originality and thought. Silence is the think tank of the soul."

He says man-made noise is toxic. "Noise is the new secondhand smoke."

Hempton now feels the pressure of time and needs assistance in the studio.

It takes 10 times longer to do production work.

His hearing loss has been diagnosed as an immune-system response that might be reversible. "I need a medical solution."

Hempton is emphatic: "I'm not going to stop. I'm the Sound Tracker. This is what I do."

For more photos, visit the gallery.

Visit the previous Northwest Wanderings, here.

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