Sound Of The Year Awards 2023: Martha Mutiso

Presented by The Radiophonic Institute and the Museum Of Sound, The Sound Of The Year Awards is an annual competition celebrating sonic life in its many forms from across the globe. We caught up with Kenyan conservationist Martha Mutiso, joint winner of the Most Unpleasant Sound award, which recognises “A sound that has caused significant distress”

Hi Martha. There are some unsettling noises in your recording ‘A Wild Feast In Maasai Mara Game Reserve’… what’s going on?

“I had visited Maasai Mara National Reserve during the rainy season when a Maasai giraffe died of old age. I expected the carcass would soon start attracting some scavengers. As the day progressed, some jackals and hyenas showed up to scan the surrounding. They would try to bite off some meat and run away. Because they are active at night, I placed my recorder on a tree next to the carcass to try and catch the sounds of the hyenas and jackals feasting on the carcass. The otherwise silent nights were soon filled with the eerie symphony of hyenas cackling and shrieking, while the jackals barked and growled at each other as they fed on the carcass. The scavengers’ role in consuming the remains of dead animals serves a vital role in maintaining ecological balance, preventing the spread of disease, and ensuring the continuity of the circle of life!”

What can recordings like these capture?

“It captures the intense and raw interaction between the scavengers, which is often unheard. This was an emotional reminder that in the midst of nature’s beauty and tranquility, there also exists an undeniable air of sadness and unpredictability.”

You’re a conservationist first, right?

“I do not have a background in music or sound design. However, my background in conservation, tourism and storytelling allows me to enjoy nature’s own music in the landscapes I visit and the wildlife I encounter. After enjoying listening to nature sounds all my life, I wanted to capture them because most of them are disappearing, and may become sounds of the past due to changes in climate, population growth, development, and habitat loss.”

What inspired you to start recording?

“The nature sound and field recording community has been a wonderful inspiration for me. Although I can’t mention everyone, I’m inspired by the field recordists who dedicate their time to planning, travelling, capturing, and sharing nature sounds from around the world. Overall, it is the wildlife and the environments we record in that inspire me the most, as they are the source of the incredible recordings we capture and share. Without this wildlife, habitats and the communities who continue to conserve them, our work would not be possible.”

Where would you like to record next?

“I’d love to capture sound in some of our protected areas and landscapes in Kenya and East Africa. We have incredibly serene and diverse wildlife and habitats in East Africa that provide ideal settings for capturing the beauty of nature’s acoustic wonders.”

Any parting words of wisdom for other sound artists?

“As a budding field recordist, expressing my interest in field recording is what got me started. I reached out to mentors who have been field recording for many years, and listened to their sounds.  After I started recording on my phone, I joined online platforms and communities and shared my recordings with them for feedback and inspiration. 

“As for the practical bit, getting a decent and affordable sound recorder and microphones is vital. There are organisations that support field recordists with small grants, equipment and mentorships. As for the places and the wildlife, understanding animal behaviour comes handy in terms of where and when to record specific wildlife. I always encourage everyone to always prioritise the welfare of wildlife and habitats, as well as your own safety. Overall, stay curious, and let your passion guide you in listening, and capturing the amazing acoustic wonders of our natural world.”

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