Before you read any further, close your eyes and listen for a moment.

Did you hear the faint hum of a nearby appliance? Or the distant rumble of a plane overhead? Or the passing woosh, screeching brakes or grumbling exhaust from the road outside?

What you likely didn’t hear is silence, and if you ask Gordon Hempton, that’s a problem.

An acoustic ecologist, Hempton has circled the globe three times in the last 41 years searching for and documenting the planet’s “solar-powered jukebox” of disappearing natural soundscapes. He’s huddled inside a hollowed-out Sitka spruce log in the Pacific Northwest to record “the world’s largest violin”; floated down the Amazon River in a dugout canoe to track the melodic trill of rare, migrating songbirds; and won an Emmy for his documentary, The Vanishing Dawn Chorus, which captures the cacophony of dawn breaking across six continents.

Yet, the sound Hempton is most concerned about preserving is the most endangered of all: quiet.

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