Emergence Magazine

When the Earth Started to Sing

by David G. Haskell

Illustration by Daniel Liévano

This sonic journey written and narrated by David G. Haskell brings us to the very beginning of sound and song on planet Earth. Spoken words and terrestrial sounds bring us into unexplored auditory landscapes, tuning our ears to the tiny, trembling waves of sound all around us. How did the vast and varied chorus of modern sounds—from forest to oceans to human music—emerge from life’s community? When did the living Earth first start to sing?

We recommend that you listen with good headphones if you can. Let your ears experience, explore, and enjoy in an open-ended way.

Writer & narrator

David George Haskell is author of The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, winner of the 2020 Iris Book Award, the 2018 John Burroughs Medal, and named one of the Best Science Books of 2017 by NPR’s Science Friday. His first book, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, was winner of the National Academies’ Best Book Award for 2013, finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award, and winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature. His latest book, Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Sound design & mixing

Matthew Mikkelsen is a sound recordist, audio engineer, and documentary filmmaker. He is co-founder of Spruce Tone Films and executive director of Wilderness Quiet Parks for Quiet Parks International. He’s the co-director of Being Hear, Venture Out, and Water Flows Together.

Additional sound design & music

Jonathan Kawchuk is a field recordist, sound artist, and composer from Canada. Jonathan has scored multiple feature-length films, web series, and video features. His debut album, North, was released in 2015.


Daniel Liévano is an editorial illustrator and author based in Bogotá, Colombia. He is deeply inspired by semiotics, linguistics, and the meaning of language. Notable clients include The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic, Penguin Random House, and Radioambulante. He won a Gold Medal from The Society of Illustrators for his first graphic novel, Gravity, and the AOI World Illustration Award for the animated illustration accompanying “When the Earth Started to Sing” for Emergence Magazine.


Written and narrated by David George Haskell
Sound design and mixing by Matthew Mikkelsen
Additional sound design, music, and paleo-soundscape reconstruction by Jonathan Kawchuk
Dialogue editing by Cass Medcalf
Produced by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

Mammoth-ivory flute by ‎Anna Friederike Potengowski on an instrument made by Wulf Hein
Violin composition and performance by Katherine Lehman

Underwater sound recordings by Ocean Networks Canada

Playful Listening
Related Practice

Playful Listening

by David G. Haskell Open story

For billions of years, our planet has been alive with sound. When we listen playfully, we can still encounter sonic vibrations older than terrestrial life, layered with the harmonies and cacophonies of the modern world. This practice by David Haskell invites you to immerse yourself in the web of connections created by sound.

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