Montana State University

MSU Library developing online atlas of natural sounds of Montana and the American West

November 1, 2013 -- MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

The Montana State University Library is developing an atlas of natural sounds of Montana and the American West.

The library’s new Acoustic Atlas includes animal and environmental sounds of some of the West’s most iconic species and places, including the snorts of bison in Yellowstone National Park, the howls of grasshopper mice and the underwater calls of frogs, according to Jeff Rice, program director. The atlas is available for interested individuals to access online for free at

Co-founded by Kenning Arlitsch, dean of the MSU Library, and Rice, a sound recordist based in Seattle, the Acoustic Atlas draws on the talents of MSU faculty librarians and staff who help organize and describe the sound files, develop and maintain the website, and provide the hardware and software that allows sounds to be streamed to users on the Internet.  Additional sound recordists and developing partnerships will allow the collection to grow into a resource for teaching and research, as well as for the community.

“MSU is the state’s land-grant university, and is therefore the perfect host for a resource that engages a community with a deep affinity for its natural environment,” said Arlitsch.

The collection and study of animal sounds is critical to natural history and the biological sciences, Rice said.

“Acoustical communication and hearing are fundamental to the survival of most animal species,” Rice said. “Audio signals are one of the primary means by which animal species find and attract mates, making these signals a critical component of species reproduction. By the same token, hearing is a key alerting system, commonly used to both locate prey and for predator avoidance.”

Rice said that in its first stage, the Acoustic Atlas highlights selected recordings and features from the library’s growing collection of sounds. As the project develops, the site will fill gaps in available recordings of regional species and will serve as a digital repository for bio-acoustic and soundscape research.

He added that the goals of the project are to document natural soundscapes that are increasingly impeded by human activity and development; collaborate with researchers and educators in the biological sciences, media arts, human health, education, engineering, philosophy, and the social sciences; and connect people with the sounds of regional ecosystems and biodiversity.

Audio recordists and researchers who are interested in collaborating with the library on the project are invited to contribute sounds at

The project has seed funding from the MSU Library and the Willow Springs Foundation. Donations in support of the Acoustic Atlas may be made at

For more information, contact Molly Anderson at (406) 994-5307 or or visit the atlas online at

Contact: Molly Anderson, (406) 994-5307 or