[Audience talking]

[Marc Devokaitis] Chris, it sounds like you’re on.

[Chris Wood] Okay. 

[Marc] Sounds like everybody’s ready for you.

[Chris walks up to podium and stands very close to Juan Pablo Culasso]

[Chris] Well um, good evening. I’m gonna get really close to Juan Pablo for a couple reasons. One is he’s my very good friend and it’s a, a real privilege to be here, but mostly it’s so that our audience who’s watching over the internet can actually hear me as well.

Um, I first met Juan Pablo about four and a half years ago. We were in Brazil in Sao Paulo at this amazing event that they’ve started. Um, and basically what this, what this event is, Avistar, is this idea that um a gentleman named Guto had to bring a whole bunch of people all around Brazil who had an interest in birds and see how many people are there who have this interest. 

And I met Juan Pablo there, um, and was so impressed where we started and immediately I could tell that we were kindred spirits. And in that time, I actually didn’t know he was blind when I met him. We were talking and next thing I know I said why don’t you come with me. And, and let’s go get a, let’s go get a drink over there. And I walked off and he stayed where he was and then I realized, after talking to him for about 30 minutes um, you know that since he was born he wasn’t, hasn’t ever been able to see. 

And as I’ve gotten to know him in the last four or five years, we’ve spent time in Brazil and Colombia, um together. And he’s really taught me to see. Um, and to appreciate things in a way that I didn’t ever think was possible. He has a work ethic that is second to none. He is up at the, before the crack of dawn. Up much later than I can stay up. And always pushing and listening, and I think you’ll, you’ll learn tonight one of the reasons that everyone here at the Lab really wanted to have Juan Pablo is, he’s just the nicest person who also

[Juan Pablo smiles]

[Audience laughs]

has such a way to transcend boundaries. And teach us really how to see, and how to listen in a way that for me was, um ear-opening. So with no further ado here is my good friend Juan Pablo.


[Juan Pablo touches his shoulder and smiles]

[Juan Pablo] Thank you, thank you so much, Chris. 

Well, um. Thank you. Really I appreciate that you are here to listen in a very strange way to enjoy the birds. I’m Juan Pablo, I was born in Uruguay in 1986. And for the last 15 years I’m walking the world, knowing the world through the sounds of the nature, specifically with the sounds of the birds.

And it’s the best thing that I really did in my life, recording sounds. 

When I was, when I was 16 years old in a short expedition in Uruguay, my very best friend Santiago Claramunt give me an equipment, a very strange equipment. A sou—a recorder, a parabola, and a microphone. And he said Juan Pablo, here’s a recorder, the rec button play-stop the microphone. Go ahead, record. 

And uh… for a couple of seconds I think this man is crazy


but after, when I record my first sound it was a kingfisher. And listening to these sounds through headphones was a change in my brain. I was trying to study lawyers. Lawyers, liars the same.


And after, after listening the sound using the headphones, my life changes 180 degrees. And from this kingfisher until today, too much countries, too much birds, too much talk, but this is my first talk in English, sorry for that.


Well, I went to begin my travel, I invite to travel from south to north. Beginning it with my last expedition that I did in 2015 and 2016, with my dad is watching this talk on the other side. And we spent 54 days and six hours in a beautiful place called Antarctica. Somebody goes there? Don’t raise up your hands, I going to see that, so


Maybe one people, two people goes to there, three?


You are a privileged people. Go to Antarctica is not too easy at all. In some situations it’s very expensive. In the other situations, like my situation, I need to, I need to spend too much weeks to record the sounds. It’s almost impossible.

But I wrote with my father a letter to the Uruguayan army that make all the logistics in the base in Antarctica, in the King George Island. And they accepted the proposal. It was a little hard, but nothing is hard in the life of a person with disabilities, so I like jump obstacles everyday. It’s normal, it’s very, it’s pretty normal.

And when I arrived in Antarctica in 2015, in December 2nd. With two meters of snow, with a temperature of minus 25 Celsius. But really I really loved the sensation of dropping the snow two times in less than ten seconds. But uh the beautiful thing of Antarctica is that there, there is a beautiful music. Most of you thinks that the Antarctica is a very quiet continent, hostile to the humans, and with any kinds of sounds.

But the reality is that there is the most beautiful symphony that I ever heard. And I would like to talk about the penguins. Penguins are a very, very noisy birds. And I had the chance to walk in a penguin colony. It’s in an island, but the people that, that watch the penguins on the tv and say ah beautiful creatures, beautiful. No. Very smell. Really bad. Smell really, really bad.


But here is the colony of three species of penguins, the papua penguin, the adelia penguin, and the Antarctic penguin singing the three species at the same time.

[Audio: Gentoo, chinstrap, and Adélie penguin calls in a colony]

Minus two or three Celsius. I need to be stand every time, very cold when you stand without moving. 

The high-pitched sounds are the babies. 

So I was there standing up, moving me 360 degrees to capture all the image, all the sound image of the island. 

Very funny, right? But imagine listen this for three hours. It’s not too funny at all.


I believe that we need to change the name of the species to papua penguin to complaining penguin.


Very windy. 

[Audio clip ends]

So now I’m going to show you the individual sounds of adelia penguin.

[Audio: Adélie penguin calls]

I changed his name for the smiley penguin. This sounds for me remark a smile.

Again the high-pitched noises are the babies.

[Juan Pablo and audience laugh]

[Audio clip ends]

Well, to try and record these kind of penguins totally, with other species around me I need to use a very, very high end technology called parabola and a microphone. That basically means try to, to you focus the bird, focus on the microphone, and all the sounds are not focusing are decreasing in, in, in it’s, in their volume only. Basically it’s that the parabola thing.

This one in the Antarctic penguin.

[Audio: Chinstrap penguin calls]

It’s swimming to the coast. 

[Audio clip ends]

And, here is the rule number one of a nature recordist. Be patient. This recording is very special for me because I need to leave outside in the beach, my recorder, my microphones all the night, capturing whales and eventually they capture this penguin. I wasn’t be, I wasn’t there to record that. So this is the, the most beautiful things of the nature. For me, all the recorders that I did, I didn’t that. Was a gift that the nature give me. I was there with my microphone in my hand, I pressed the rec button. 

But the bird sings, if I press the rec button is nothing at all. I’m not going to obtain any kind of recording.

This other recording is the storm petrel. It’s a very small bird and uh, it sings mostly at night. And uh, I was, was midnight in Antarctica. I am uh, I was almost sleeping and my, my dad got up me Juan Pablo, Juan Pablo, the storm petrels are singing. Ah let’s sing, let’s sing, I want to, I want to sleep. No no, go ahead, go ahead. And this is the result.

[Audio: Storm petrel calls]

The second rule. You need to be a little lucky because it’s only this day they sing too much. The other 53 almost nothing. So, this is the second rule of a nature recordist.

Now we are going to come back to the Antartica a little later, but now we are going to fly north about 1,000 kilometers, and go to a city called the end of the world is Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. And this recording for me is very special because one of my dreams with navigate in a sailboat, and record the colonies of gull, of gulls, albatrosses, cormorants, and petrels, and whatever.

And I was in Ushuaia, and the people said to me Juan Pablo maybe tomorrow we are going to navigate in a sailboat. Wow, wonderful. I carry my equipment, my microphones, and we begin the navigation. And uh, when I try to recording the first time, the boat make a lot of noises, the sail and whatever. After five or six minutes, I put the headphones on the captain of the boat. And after that, he listening all the sound that the microphones was capturing, he understand that records is very difficult. 

And he was one of the beautiful things. Try to navigate, don’t using the sail or, only using the waves to avoid all the noises of the boat. And here is the result.

[Audio: Gulls and cormorants off the coast of Ushuaia]

This chaff chaff chaff chaff chaff are the cormorants swimming.  

[Audio clip ends]

So it’s a beautiful sound because this sound showed me a lot of things. Maybe it will be a little hard listening only with the ears, the cormorants swimming. The microphone captured the sound and showed me this magical, this magical event. 

But the history of Ushuaia don’t end here. After, before returning to the port the captain told me Juan Pablo, it’s nine pm. Can I take a selfie with you and your equipment? Yeah sure, sure. Let’s go ahead. And I her why do need that? Now because my wife called me and she, he, she asking me where I am. And if I say for her that I was recording bird sounds with a crazy blind, he wouldn’t believe me so I need a photo because my wife going to get off my house [laughs].


The next day in the club of sailboats he talked to every person that come from him, the history. And this is the first thing that I like to, to tell. The most important thing is not birding. It’s birding and share this experience with people that haven’t enough touch with the nature. 

Because being touch with the nature reduce the stress, for example. But many people doesn’t enjoy that. But because they haven’t, they haven’t the opportunity to do that. So, through the sounds, I give this opportunity to many people and I’m very glad for that.

The next one is here.

[Audio: Brief sound of oystercatchers]

Is from Uruguay, my country. And uh, again, I was lucky because I was walking in a beach, in the sand, and a pair of American oystercatcher begins to dancing, around the microphones. It was a totally unexpens, unexpected event or thing, so for this reason again they are the rule. I don’t record, the nature give me the gift.

[Audio: American oystercatcher pair]

And they go away. Beautiful twenty seconds, right? Sometimes I spent ten hours to record one minute. So again, rule number one, patient. 

[Audio clip ends]

Was very windy there so the technology saved my recorder again.

Now, jump a little bit, to Brazil. A beautiful country that hosted me for about 13 years. Their birds, their nature are really unbelievable. Of one of them is the Atlantic rainforest. The Atlantic rainforest is one of the regions that is endangerous. They have a lot of endemic birds, too much. I believe that it 75. And this an area that from your original composition only eight percent remain. So record there for me is like win a treasure. This is the Atlantic forest.

[Audio: Sounds of the Atlantic rainforest]

[Marc whispers to Juan Pablo] Could you increase the volume on your computer just a little bit?

[Juan Pablo whispers to Marc] It’s, it’s maximum. It’s maximum.

[Marc] Okay.

[Juan Pablo] This is the place that I recorded my beautiful dawn chorus. One of the most beautiful of South America. 

[Audio clip ends]

And here is.

[Audio: Atlantic rainforest birds singing at dawn]

Was in spring. And in this little fragment, its duration is three minutes. You can listen more than 15 species of birds. This clicks that you are listening is the condensation. The Atlantic forest is very humid. This forest break a lot of microphones [laughs].


Here is the state of Rio De Janeiro, in a very small city called Paraty.

[Audio: Birds in Paraty]

When I could working in a beautiful project there regarding children and schools. Showing to the children the magic of the voices of the nature. So again, share the knowledge, share the experiences. 

Another Atlantic forest dawn chorus.

[Audio: Atlantic forest birds singing at dawn]

This ping like a metal, like a metal is the um, is the bellbird. Ping, ping, like a church. 

But now I going to show you a recording that I made of a bird totally focus, it’s a thrush. The wood thrush. That they do. It does one of the beautiful things. That imitates another bird. So here is.

[Audio: Wood thrush imitating other sounds, then singing]

Again, I was very luck because I was with my father, and I told her, I told him I wanted to lunch, I want to lunch. And walking to the car, in the middle of the way, I found this thrush.

It is imitating other sounds. It is not singing. Now, his original music begins. So sweet notes. I associate this sound with a sugar for example. 

A woodpecker. 

Insects, sometimes happens. But it’s part of nature, so…

I did not any kind of a vision, and my announcement of course is very important when you are recording. Make an announcement where are you recording, where, when, whatever. 

[Audio: Sounds of the Brazilian savanna]

Continue. Here is the west of Brazil, the Brazilian savanna. More dense and intense sounds. Water everywhere, cicadas, crickets. 

And now for different ambiance, the sounds changes dramatically. In the Antarctica very strong, in Australia too. Uruguay less, the dawn choruses of Atlantic forest a little bit more, but we are going north. Next to the equator line. It make a difference. 

[Audio clip ends]

This place that I’m going to show you now is from Colombia. Now is a country that I am traveling too much there. They have approximately 2,000 birds in a very small country. Brazil has a lot of birds, but you need to travel inside of the country too much to see them. In Colombia you take a plane and in 30 minutes you change absolutely the ambiance and the birds, of course. 

The city, the reserve that I’m going to show you now, is called Tinamu. Is from my big friend Mauricio, she, he’s watching me of course. And Mauricio has this beautiful reserve, that has only 22 acres, but they register about 222 species of birds, in 22 acres. We always, we always do a joke, is the reserve that has more species in the world. Because if you divide 200, 11 hectares or 22 acres, by 222, the dense of species is very, very high.

And I recorded this beautiful dawn chorus there.

[Audio: Dawn chorus at Tinamu Reserve, Colombia]

This is an antpitta, I’m going to show this songs a little after.

This is a beautiful dawn chorus. 

It reserve is surrounded by coffee farms, totally logged. So this one is really a paradise for the birds. 

[Audio clip ends]

And here, one of the birds that you can record there.

[Audio: Guatemala antpitta singing]

Guatemala antpitta, or Grallaria guatimalensis. It has a beautiful sound. You can listen it very, very far away [coughs].

[Audio clip ends]

Mauricio give me the chance to make last year a beautiful expedition in all the Caldas province in Colombia, capturing the sounds. And this is one of the examples. The other one.

[Audio: Common potoo call]

Is one of my favorite sounds, is the common potoo, Nyctibius griseus. I really love the sounds of the night. It’s a little scary, right? But it’s beautiful. In its way, it’s beautiful. 

[Audio clip ends]

I love this one.


I love owls since. Chris Wood imitate very beautiful.


Jessie Barry, too [laughs].

But here is a beautiful sound, recorded in the day. The family of the wrens, like winter wren, or Carolina wren, or whatever wren. All the wrens are beautiful. 

[Audio: Wrens singing]

It was recorded in Colombia, too. 

And the thing is…

[Audio clip ends]

It’s really magic, right? But the thing of this sound is, in your opinion how many of them there was singing?

One? Two? I listen a five here. 

[Audience responds]

And it’s pretty true. Because six birds were singing. One bird sing one part of the sound, another sing the other, another sing the other. In perfectly synchronies. So here with this sound I can tell you that the nature in this way is perfect. It’s impossible, right? Six, six birds singing one by one, putting a small piece of the sound. 

These kind of things, only in Colombia, right?

[Audience laughs]

I love this country, really.

I’m going to jump now to Ecuador. In Ecuador I visited one of the very endangerous regions called Bosque Nublado, or cloudy forest. It’s a beautiful place. I visited the Mashpi natural reserve. It’s a beautiful, really beautiful place to birding. And there, there are, they was constructing a cable car. 

And uh, the recording I’m going to show you is the sound, the sunrise, the dawn chorus recorded at 200 feet away from the forest. So, this recording of one minutes resume about 30 minutes of recording. 

After, I’m going to say you the history of the recording. It doesn’t end after that. 

[Audio: Dawn chorus in Mashpi reserve, Ecuador]

Howler, sorry… here is. Howler monkeys.

Some quetzals. Solitaires. 

[Audience] [Inaudible] more than 50 feet away from the howler monkey?

[Audio clip ends]

[Juan Pablo] Yes, yes. The sound is incredible. Is unbelievable.

And the story of this recording is that together with me was four people. And all of them make a beautiful silence to I can capture this beautiful sunrise. 

So I love Colombia, so I’m going to get back a little bit more. I’m going to show you the beautiful bird sounds make in Cali. It’s in the southwest of the country, and here is.

[Audio: Recording from Cali, Colombia]

It’s almost in the Pacific. Too much water in the background noise. 

A very soft dawn chorus. Really beautiful one. 

And one of the most iconic birds that you can see there are the Andean cock-of-the-rocks. It’s a very colorful bird that make a beautiful display and is very noisy, as I’m going to show you now.

[Audio: Andean cock-of-the-rock calls]

[Audience laughs]

[Juan Pablo laughs]

Very noisy. There are six only. You can, you can meet this place of twenty of them. So.

[Audio clip ends]

So here. Um, I’m going to do a very long jump to the United States. 

The Sierra Nevada in California give me a lot of surprises during the natural sound workshop. That, if you are a birder and would like to improve your skills to record bird sounds, I recommend strongly that you attend the workshop.

This year will be in Ithaca. So was a beautiful place, was a paradise. But mainly I could meet very, very nice persons. Randy of course, Bill, and Greg. And the other people, other students. 

And this very, very first sound that I’m going to show you is the western meadowlark. It’s one of the beautiful sounds that when I heard the first one I begin to jump in the middle of the road, so [laughs], was, was very funny. Was very funny. 

And uh I record this in the first day, or in the second day of the workshop in a very beautiful place called Sierra Valley. With Randy. And here is.

[Audio: Western meadowlark song and other bird songs and calls in Sierra Valley, CA]

Wilson’s snipe, maybe savannah sparrows or whatever. Canada goose. Yeah. Sounds common for a lot of you, right?


So this recording was very, very special because it was the bird that I wanted to record, and uh, it appears in the second day. Was, was beautiful. Again, lucky.

And the second one is the white-crowned sparrow.

[Audio: White-crowned sparrow song]

Recorded in a beautiful place called Lincoln Valley. This place is really, really amazing. Um, this place give me one of the beautiful experience like as a nature recordist. And I’m going to show this recording with a little surprise after this beautiful sparrow.

This Lincoln Valley was very amazing because there are no noise, no noise there. No traffic noise, no aircraft noise. Here in Ithaca it’s really, really often the planes passing around, so. There, almost zero.

[Audio clip ends]

And I would like that this story of the next recording will be speak by Greg Budney, please.

[Greg Budney walks up to the podium next to Juan Pablo]

[Greg] Juan has asked me to come up and just set the stage for you, for Lincoln Valley. It’s a beautiful valley set at about 7,000 feet in the northern Sierra Nev—Sierra Nevada, we’re about an hour and a half, maybe less as the crow flies, due west of, of Reno, Nevada. And it’s a, a narrow mountain meadow, and the hillside surrounding are still packed with snow, and so water. You’re hearing a lot of water through the melt of the snow pack. I can’t imagine what it’s like this year, but last year we were able to get in and I had the great pleasure of being with two of the finest ears 

[Greg pats Juan Pablo on the shoulder and Juan Pablo smiles]

a bird will ever have listen to them.


[Juan Pablo] So Greg

[Greg sits back down]

told me, Juan Pablo, would you like to record again in the mountains, and I said of course yes. What place do you want to visit? Again Lincoln Valley. And uh Greg loaned me the microphone, the microphones to record the chorus. And uh, was extremely beautiful because when I, we put a very long cable, about 10 meters or 20 meters I don’t remember.

And we stay of course in the car because very, it was very cold. And through headphones I have, I have a recorder that allows to, to connect two pairs of headphones, so two people can monitor the, the results. 

So, every, every sounds even like the smallest chip Greg told me what it was. So, was beautiful, this man is an encyclopedia. And, and for me be there in the mountains, in Sierra, was really, really unbelievable. So here is the sunrise in Lincoln Valley.

[Audio: Dawn chorus in Lincoln Valley, CA]

So there are tanagers, robins, Lincoln’s sparrows. When the morning rising appears the wood qui, quails. Another jays, for example. It was a very, very long recording. About three hours, I believe. I remember that I woke up at 2:30 I believe, and after, at 12 pm we need to take a plane again to Sao Paulo, so [laughs], sounds very, very tired, but for me it was a beautiful, beautiful thing to say goodbye to Sierra Nevada, this kind of recording.

It’s a very melodic, melodic recording. A very musical recording. I was talking yesterday with, with Chris Wood about this one, um. In South America you have a lot, a lot of bird species. But 60 or 65 percent of them, their sounds are very chatty. Chip, chip, chip, chap, chap, chap, and whatever [smiles]. It’s very boring for me.


But here in North America you have 700 species, and 75 percent have very, very musical sounds. Winter wren, all the sparrows. Even the ducks or the woodpeckers. Or the red-winged blackbird. 


Example 900 because it sings a lot of different sounds so. 

And now we’re going a little more to the north. Um go to the, to the Great Lakes area, the Super—Superior Lake in Minnesota. The [indecipherable] area. It’s a beautiful place that I visit together with my father and my guide dog Ranya in 2014. It was very special for two things. In two, 2013 I won a NatGeo prize that allows me to improve my equipment and anyway, and make a travel. 

I wrote to a, a good friend called Gordon Hampton, and he answered me go to [indecipherable] area in Minnesota. Or go to the uplands between Kentucky and Tennessee. I don’t doubt any second, even one second. Because in Minnesota was the place my guide dog Rayna was raised by the family. And when I take her in 2009, the family couldn’t be able to come to visit me in Michigan. 

So after five years I wrote them and asked if I can visit her in, in Minneapolis, near to Minneapolis. And of course she says of course, yes. And uh, when I visit her it was one of my favorite moments because you need to understand that a guide dog are my eyes. 

Um, at 2 pm or at 2 am, I say Ranya, go ahead let’s go. At 2 pm and she goes, at 2 am and she goes. She never complains. Imagine if I need to call by phone to another at 3:30 am to guide me to a place or whatever. So my guide dog, my guide dog goes very happy to put the harness and walk on my left with me to any place. 

And that was the very, very biggest thank you that I did in this year 2014 to the [indecipherable] family. And of course a lot of recordings. But for me the most spe—the most special thing was saying to them thank you for raising Ranya. 

And to go ahead with our recordings. Our beautiful places there. We traveled in early spring, and uh, we take sounds like that.

[Audio: Song sparrow and other species in spring in Minnesota]

The beautiful song sparrow. Northern flicker. Red-wing, uh, yeah. 

And for me the most impressive thing is the temperature in that day was about 33 Fahrenheit. In my country it’s impos—it’s impossible imagine the situation that with almost zero Celsius the birds sing, so in Minnesota and here in Ithaca it’s possible.


Yesterday, yesterday we were birding with Chris and Jessie, and uh Juan Pablo it’s 33 Fahrenheit, and the birds were singing too much. So really, really it’s really nice. 

Okay, this, this recording was made, I believe I pressed the rec button at 8 am, I believe. The, the spring was coming so, it’s, it’s very beautiful. Have the chance to, to, to see changes. Every day you listen a new thing in this region. Um, I, I like this kind of things. Changes every day.

[Audio clip ends]

And now there is one of the last recordings that I’m going to show you. In my, in my opinion it was, it is one of the iconic together with western meadowlark, one of the iconic sounds here in the US because she remains not sad but nostalgic. 

Um, is the white-throated sparrow. It’s a very musical sound, and um, it sings very often alone. So the unique voice of the woods is this sparrow. So here is.

[Audio: White-throated sparrow]

A lot of wind running out of, inside the branches. Too much of snow. 

It’s really, really nice. 

[Audio clip ends]

And the last one, there is the last sound. I take it today, I did an addition today in the ML Studio. Was funny. And it’s really a sound when the lucky again appears. So listen by yourself.

[Audio: Geese flying]

Is a very soft, wing noise, wing noise of the geese. And it lands on the lake. I know that this is very soft to listen, but with a pair of headphones or soundboxes, it’s a very, very beautiful sound. 

The travel ends here, but I told you that we’d come back to Antarctica. Now, with a very, very beautiful images as well. Not only sounds. So if Marc can help me here. 

[Video feed: Switches to screen view of computer with various boxes open]

[Juan Pablo] Maybe here is the window.

[Photo: Box of recording equipment open on a bed, and Juan Pablo reaching in to grab the sound recorder]

[Marc] Looks good.

[Juan Pablo] Is good?

[Marc] Yep.

[Juan Pablo] Okay. 

[Video starts to play, first of Juan Pablo getting ready for his trip to Antarctica and talking about it in Spanish with English subtitles.

Audio: Uplifting music playing


Now the sound recorder.

The first time I ever heard about Antarctica was when I was 12 years old.

Juan Pablo and his guide dog walk into the Instituto Antartico Uruguayo building. 

Subtitles: It was a documentary which showed the expedition of Scott and Amundsen.

A group of people including Juan Pablo at a meeting inside the building.

Subtitles: I said to myself then that one day I would go to that continent.

Juan Pablo walks up to the word “Antartida” on the wall and then it fades to a cloudy sky. Flyover view of Antarctica. 

Subtitles: For me the sounds are much more than a passion.

When recording them on location, the challenges are great.

There are situations you cannot control.

In reality, the sounds that I record are like a gift that nature has given to me.

Audio: Music stops

A plane lands in Antarctica, while several people wait on the ground and record the landing on their phones. View from inside the plane, then Juan Pablo disembarks and people greet him.

Subtitles: I disembarked from the plane and stepped onto the Antarctic soil.

I was well-received by the Chilean and Uruguayan bases.

Audio: Person cheering

Juan Pablo looks very happy.

Subtitles: They were so warm, it made me feel that in Antarctica we are all friends.

Views of the vehicles and base.

Subtitles: We drove in a specially-adapted vehicle to the Uruguayan base.

Juan Pablo in the vehicle, then playing with the snow.

Subtitles: I picked up the ice from the ground. I squeezed it. Played with it. Felt it.

I love feeling the snow. I have a special fascination for snow.

Seal on a rocky shore. Penguin hops from rock to rock with waves in the background. Skua on the ground.

Juan Pablo and his father walk through the snow.

Subtitles: At last I’m treading on the snow on the ground of Antarctica.

I’m keen to start my mission to record the sounds.

My guide dog stayed behind in Montevideo.

My father will guide me in this field work.

Juan Pablo and his father sit in the snow. View of the station and vehicles.

Subtitles: I’ve always loved the snow. It’s amazing because it’s smooth.

And snowballs like this quickly can become ice. But they fall apart, like powder.

View of the ocean with icebergs in it.

Subtitles: The wind has dropped and I can hear the sea.

I feel completely at peace in this place.

Various views of land and ocean in Antarctica, some with Antarctic terns and penguins.

Subtitles: Just sitting here in the snow with these Antarctic terns and the ocean sounds.

I really don’t need anything else.

Sign with arrows pointing in the direction of different places.

Subtitles: I am 3,000 kilometers from Montevideo in the scientific base “Artigas.”

Three people walk around and hug near the Uruguayan flag on a pole.

Subtitles: It is on King George Island on the archipelago of the South Shetland Islands.

Juan Pablo stands next to an Instituto Antártico Uruguayo sign on a red building.

Subtitles: And it is here that I am doing my work.

View of shore, ocean, and clouds in a blue sky.

Subtitles: I don’t consider myself an artist in the normal sense of the word.

For me the artist is nature.

I just capture these moments.]

[Marc] Stay right here.

[Video continues with same view of shore and ocean.

Subtitles: To listen to the calls of the skuas.

Audio: Skua calls

Subtitles: The elephant seals.

Audio: Elephant seal calls

Subtitles: The penguins.

Audio: Penguin calls

Juan Pablo with recording equipment and penguin hopping and sliding in the background]


[Video continues with same view of Juan Pablo and penguin.

Subtitles: My mission is for these invisible sounds to become “visible” for everyone.

Chinstrap penguin walks, slides, and flaps its flippers.

Chinstrap penguin on the rocky shore near the water.

Juan Pablo and recording equipment on the rocky shore near the water with penguins behind him.

Other views of penguins, seals, and Juan Pablo recording.

Juan Pablo holds a parabolic microphone on the rocky shore with a seal behind him.

Subtitles: What I have in my hand is a parabolic microphone.

It is extremely important for recording in Antarctica.

The sounds here need to be recorded with a lot of care.

They can be far away.

This parabolic dish is the best piece of equipment I can use.

The quality of the sound is excellent and crystal clear.

Another view of Juan Pablo with the parabolic microphone. A seal yawns, looks around, then puts its head back down.]


[Video continues with Juan Pablo holding his microphone in the direction of a gentoo penguin.

Subtitles: What is really required to “listen” is to have the consciousness that there is a world beyond “vision.”

To be able to understand that the world is not limited just to the eyes.

Juan Pablo sits on the shore with equipment and seal and gentoo penguin in the background.

Subtitles: People can use any of the five senses in the same way as sight.

When they learn this, they can begin to “hear.” To know what’s happening in their surroundings without seeing.

Juan Pablo leans over to listen to water drip off a chunk of ice.

Views of water drops dripping off ice.

View of the ocean and shore from a boat with a microphone hanging in the air.

Subtitles: My mission on this expedition to Antarctica is to record all the sounds possible.

Including sounds underwater.

A wave covers the microphone and camera and submerges them in water.

Camera comes out of the water.

Subtitles: We all have this ability to listen. It’s just that it’s sleeping inside most people.

Juan Pablo and his father stand on the shore with equipment.

Subtitles: It’s a question of allowing yourself to do it.

Close up of Juan Pablo.

Subtitles: In 2003, Santiago Claramunt handed me a sound recorder and microphone.

And I made my first recording of a kingfisher.

I think that bird told me that I was born to do this.

To record sounds. To share them.

And to teach others.

To show them it’s possible to enjoy any type of landscape without the need to see it.

Gentoo penguin, ice and ocean, chinstrap penguin, then penguin feet walk out of view.

Video ends]

[Juan Pablo] Well, it’s um. This is a beautiful film made in 2015. The journalist was five day, five days there. So we were recording full time every day, was extremely stressful. And uh gladly I stayed two months there to capturing the sounds. 

And um, the thing is, sometimes you need to choose a way. In my case, I tried to, to choose all the ways that make me happy. I try in my country, in Uruguay to study biology without success because our university said a blind can’t study biology. 

I traveled to Brazil and following my, my ideas tried to study again biology without success. A blind people can’t study biology. Always said for me. And most, most of the people maybe stops of their objectives and go and, go to do another thing. Not me. 

I continued traveling, recording sounds, making conferences. Publi—publishing CDs. And but, sadly, we have in the twenty, twenty-first century and the things in South America continue the same. 

Last year I went to the most expensive university in my country to try to study tech—sound engineer technician or whatever. And the academic said for me it’s impossible a blind study that because you can’t see the screens. 

Was one of the moments extremely sad in my life. For a couple of days I almost threw the towel. But in the same time I traveled to Colombia with my recorder. I did a talk to more than 200 people in a hotel. And made me think again that, they are losing me in my opinion. Because I don’t ask for any for free or whatever. I would like to study and beat anyone in this competitive war. 

It’s, it’s harder for a person with disability, yes, it’s hard. It’s hard for all of you, for all of us. But we need to try every day, every hour, every minute.

All the time will be people that is very limited in his mind and said oh no, a person with disability is very hard. Too much things to change. The people doesn’t, don’t like to, to out, to go out of the square. Well, I dream with this moment for the last fourteen years. Here, be here in the Lab of Ornithology. Fourteen years. And now I am here because I proposed to myself to go ahead and get my objectives. 

And, I can say you that my neck, next objective in this kind of way may be studying, or working or whatever. But, I would like to be a Cornellian. Thank you very much.


[Marc walks up to to Juan Pablo]

[Marc] Probably have about ten minutes for question or so. If we could get out before, around nine.

[Juan Pablo] Oh wow.

[Marc] All we ask you

[Juan Pablo] Sorry for the long talk.


[Marc] No, no, it’s great. It was wonderful. Um all we ask is when the audience asks as question if you will repeat it back so the home audience

[Juan Pablo] Oh oh.

[Marc] Or I can do it.

[Juan Pablo] Okay, sure.

[Marc] So do we have any questions?

[Juan Pablo] First your name please, and the question.

[Audience] Um, I have a comment. My name is Carol Sisler. My husband was blinded when he was in the air force when he was 25. Um he was sponsored by the veteran’s administration all through his education. No one ever said that he couldn’t do it. So don’t let people say to you you can’t do it because I know you can. 

[Juan Pablo] Thank you. Thank you very much.

[Audience] So anyway my husband taught at Cornell for 32 years. A very beloved teacher, so keep, keep at it. Don’t let people tell you.

[Juan Pablo] Absolutely, no. Thank you so much. 


[Audience] What is your favorite sound? Casey Marks.

[Juan Pablo] Well, Casey, um maybe the families of birds. The wrens are my favorite. The thrushes. But uh, if I need to choose any one, all the sounds of the night.


[Audience] Uh my name is Sally Grubb. My granddaughter is almost blind. How would I get her started off uh, doing what you’re doing? Recording, listening and recording birds, and the sounds of nature?

[Juan Pablo] Well it’s not a thing that, that any people can learn in one day, but uh, how do you gift a CD or whatever with the common birds of your area, for example. And motivate her to do the same as me. First listening, recognizing one bird, two birds, three birds, and go ahead. This is the recipe. Thank you so much.

[Marc] A couple from the uh people who are watching online at home.

[Juan Pablo] Oh, sure.

[Marc] Over a hundred people so that’s fantastic. Um, from uh Roberto Vardez Massiz um he says Juan Pablo is an inspiration for all of us, and I follow his work. Question is uh what is the main reason for you to record sounds? Is the thinking that we need to teach the importance of this to others, or do you have your own reasons?

[Juan Pablo] The, the share the knowledge is very important. But the main reason because I’m feel in, in my interior very in peace, it’s a beautiful thing to do. So when I press the record, the rec button and listen through headphones, really it’s, it’s, really, it’s my drug, so. 


But teaching to, to others is very important too, of course. Thank you.

[Marc] Uh. All right, I’ll keep going with the ones from home again. Um, so we have Freja McGregor asking, she’s trying to organize a workshop for birders who are blind or have vision impairments. Do you have any tips for her? Anything you wish you had learned early in your birding experience? Or anything to definitely discuss with these participants?

[Juan Pablo] Well, um, I believe that in, on next October I’m going to travel to Colombia again to the city of [indecipherable], where there are a group of blind people that do birdwatching. So will be a beautiful experience to share, so I’m very excited about that. Um before that I never did a workshop to blind people. Because it’s very rare to, to find another person crazy like me, maybe.


[Marc] Okay, I’m gonna do one more.

[Juan Pablo] Okay, sure.

[Marc] Um, we have someone who uh, Christy, who teaches people about bird language. Specifically how birds respond in the presence of predators. She’s wondering if you have any special experiences that you could share with alarm calls. Have you ever been tipped off by alarm calls to anything exciting?

[Juan Pablo] Well, for example if you want to, if you want to exciting a lot of the birds that are around you put, put an owl sound. They all will be excited, all the birds around you. 


[Juan Pablo laughs]

[Marc] Um, okay. Any more from the audience here?

[Audience] Yeah, hi Juan Pablo, my name is Sandy Wolf. And my question is do you have any tips on how to tell the difference between a mammal, a mammalian call, and a bird call when you’re in the southern jungle or rainforest? 

[Juan Pablo] Can you repeat, please? I did not understand too much. You asking me for how I can to memorize sounds?

[Audience] To distinguish 

[Juan Pablo] Ah, okay.

[Audience] between a mammal’s call and a bird call when you’re in a rainforest.

[Juan Pablo] Oh, yes. Um, I forgot to mention I played nine years piano, so I have perfect pitch.


[Juan Pablo] I also see it, the birds with, with music. I know that most of the people can’t achieve this one, but um, for. I need to train every day, of course. For me it’s very easy, um but not all the people has perfect pitch. But for the people that has not, I recommend train, and associate the sounds with numbers or things. 

[Audience] Uh, my name’s Wes. My question is this. As a blind person sound is really important as a sense for you. But I would also think touch is, as well. 

[Juan Pablo] Yes.

[Audience] So I’m curious to know have you had a chance to touch bird skins and get a sense of the size and shape?

[Juan Pablo] Exactly. Thank you for your question. Some people asking me Juan Pablo, do you know the birds? The, the shape? Well, I used to say no, but I had the opportunity to go to two historical museum collections, and I could touch the shapes of the birds, the bills, the, the wings. 

Uh and now if you say Juan Pablo, do you know a toucan for example, I say yes, a hummingbird the same. So yes I need to, to have an experience touching to know what it is. Thank you. 

[Audience] Good for you.

[Juan Pablo laughs]

[Marc] Well, I think uh, I think we’ll wrap it up with that. I’m sure Juan will be around for a few minutes if anybody has any further questions for him.

[Juan Pablo] I have some my, of my CDs here, so, if you can, uh, see them. Would be a pleasure. 


End of transcript

Juan Pablo Culasso shares his inspiring story about ornithology and audio recording as a blind birdwatcher. Culasso was born blind and learned how to ID birds by their voices. Now he is one of the best birdwatchers in the Americas by using his ears, not his eyes, and travels the world recording nature’s sounds. Last year, he traveled to Antarctica to learn the landscape of the world’s last wilderness through its sounds. Culasso shares the soundscapes of his travels in this unique Monday Night Seminar.