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Environment

Jun 05, 2017

The Sound of Silence: Film ‘Being Hear’ Turns Up the Volume of Nature

When it comes to preserving nature, the United States is in a scary place right now.

WRITTEN BY

Alyssa Fowler

However, the continuous work of world-renowned sound recordist and acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton has inspired two filmmakers to head into Olympic National Park, appreciate silence and ask themselves—and everyone who watches the ‘Being Hear’ film—what purpose does nature serve?

This is the time to be alive. This is when we will make the big decision.
Will we, or will we not fall back in love with planet earth.

Emmy-award winner Gordon Hempton has spent the last three decades traveling around the world, searching and advocating for silence—not the absence of sound, but the absence of human caused noise. His life’s work has appeared in films, soundtracks and video games, but has transcended far beyond that, touching and inspiring many to recognize his ‘silence activism’ through a film called ‘Being Hear’.

Without hesitation, two friends and filmmakers, Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen knew: “We’ve got to make a film about this guy.”

Being Hear: Teaser from Palmer Morse on Vimeo.

Palmer and Matthew met during their time studying film, Palmer being interested in cinematography and directing, while Matt being interested in sound. After having heard about Gordon Hempton’s work, Matt was able to spend some time learning from and being mentored by Gordon.

I remember Matt coming back after spending that time with Gordon and learning about nature’s sounds. These two loves: nature and sound.” Palmer told The Outdoor Journal in an interview. “Fast forward 4 years later and we made the film. We took a trip out together, I got to meet Gordon and spend time with him and in turn, learned a lot from him and that experience.”

Photo of Gordon Hempton, courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

It turned out to be an experience that would also touch and resonate with a large audience as Being Hear became Official Selections at Banff Mountain Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, International Wildlife Film Festival, and many more.

It has also given its viewers something unexpected along the way—not to mention relief from a sentiment and an overused ‘c-word’ that we at The Outdoor Journal have banished from our vocabulary when speaking about nature.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is really about action, ‘conquering’ the highest mountains and doing it faster than anyone else,” says Matt. “People almost took an audible breath when Being Here started to play. It’s not about this ‘conquer nature’ attitude, it’s really about appreciating our place in nature and how interconnected with it we really are. Being in nature and seeking silence and just being able to sit there by yourself really allows you to ask yourself questions and think in a way that you’re not able to when you go to work and grocery shopping. We keep bringing up this word meditative, but I think it’s really about being able to engage in metacognition and think about the world and what your place is.”

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While Palmer was going into this concept fresh and without preconceived notions or expectations, Matt was already “biased and loved it.”  That’s why he knew that they wouldn’t need the type of meticulous planning that normally goes into making documentaries—by simply arriving at Gordon’s front door, he was sure they would come away with something powerful.

“He’s very well spoken. We’ve had a lot of people asking, ‘who wrote the piece that he narrated in the film?’, but that’s just how his brain works. That’s how he speaks in everyday life—these beautifully put together thoughts. So I knew that if we went out there and just put a camera in front of him, we would come out with something really, really interesting. And we were lucky that happened.”

The raw clip of Gordon simply sitting in the forest and speaking is nearly 2 hours long. Not exactly easy to condense down into a 10-minute video, both digestible for our fast-paced world and at the same time effective, but they did just that. This while introducing a concept that is rarely on people’s radar—even those actively aware of how we affect our planet.

Photo of Gordon Hempton, courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

Speaking on the rarity of our appreciation of sound, Palmer says, “This is just my personal opinion, but when we talk about specifically environmental issues, a lot of the environmental crises that we have, climate change, etc., most of the rhetoric is rooted in what we see and what we deem as ugly, and a lot of the health risks associated with such. Listening, sound and audio, are not discussed. One aspect I would take away from the film is that sound is important. Listening is a really good indicator to figure out if an ecosystem is unhealthy, if an environment is not as it should be. Obviously if you’re going for a hike in Hawaii, it’s beautiful, but then you hear a big highway in the background. You can imagine how that is affecting any species in that area. So although what we see on the surface might seem beautiful and okay, there are a lot more layers and complexity to it.”

Although we’re always behind those sweating to keep national parks beautiful, the relevance of sound is something we don’t think about enough.

Both Matt and Palmer were pleased to notice that after watching the film, people appeared to really understand and appreciate the importance of sound, “and not only listening as a physical thing, but as a metaphorical thing as well. Gordon says, which is one of my favourite lines in the film: ‘be like the wave, accommodate all things’. And if you think about that phrase, in a few different ways, it really changes how you move about the world.”

The real issue is that the option of actually being able to go outside and find places to do so, to just listen, is something we have less and less of.

Olympic National Park. Photo courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

“The ability to go into nature and listen to those sounds as they appear is disappearing because the level of noise pollution is slowly increasing, due to population density and transportation, etc.,” says Palmer.

Needless to say, Matt agrees:

“We, in the United States, currently have a president who does not care about the environment. I am pretty biased, but every action that our government has taken in the past few months has been anti-preserving of nature. And that is very scary for a lot of us, regardless if you voted for him or not. Public lands are being auctioned off, the EPA is being cut. We are in a very scary place when it comes to preserving nature right now.”

Not to mention the most recent events of President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

“My ultimate question with this film is what are our national parks for? And it’s not a question we can easily answer. I’m a firm believer that the National Parks in the United States are one of the greatest asset we have a country. There is so much natural beauty, and what do these serve? Being Hear is really just trying to get people to ask themselves that question: what are our natural spaces for?”

These extremely important, but difficult questions have continued to trouble, inspire the filmmakers in their future projects. We at The Outdoor Journal have promised to keep our discretion about their next endeavour, but will have updates with their latest plans as soon as possible.

Head to the Being Hear website for more information about the film and how you can see the full feature. For more on Gordon Hempton, visit his website, The Sound Tracker.

Feature image: Olympic National Park, courtesy of Palmer Morse and Matthew Mikkelsen.

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Environment

Feb 14, 2019

Meet RJ Scaringe. The Founder of Rivian, Changing the Way We View Transportation

RJ’s goal? To change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Founder of Rivian, the company building the world’s first electric adventure vehicles, RJ Scaringe isn’t one to set simple goals. He thinks big.

RJ’s goals go beyond simply building electric cars. They go beyond 4×4 vehicles. They go beyond self-driving vehicles. RJ’s ultimate goal is this – to change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

RJ founded a car company, and yet he does not want people buying his cars in the future. This may seem like a strange business plan, but to RJ, it is the only way forward.

RJ envisions a world where you don’t own a car. Your family doesn’t own a car. Your neighbors don’t own cars. Sounds like a hassle to get around, right? How will you go skiing this weekend? How will you take your family to the beach in the spring? How will you move your oldest child into her dorm room?

RJ, with Rivian ambassador Alex Honnold.

With Rivian, you won’t own a car. But you will have 24/7 access to a vehicle that drives itself to you with a simple press of a button. No, it’s not Uber. No, it’s not a car share. It is a self-driving, electric vehicle that will drive itself to you, whenever you need it, so you have access to it whenever you need it. People no longer have the need to own vehicles. They just call a Rivian!

RJ’s Beginnings

It was this truly deep internal conflict

RJ’s lofty goals didn’t just spring out of the blue. He began his career working at a Porsche restoration shop in Florida, which is what sparked his deep love for cars and the car industry. “I’m a lifelong car enthusiast and grew up restoring classic cars, like the Porsche 356. Along the way, I decided that I wanted to get into cars, I wanted it to be the focus of my life. So I went to school to achieve it.” But no matter how much he loved cars, something about it always bothered RJ. “As I got more involved with it, it started to bother me how these things that I loved were simultaneously the cause of our changing climate, smog, and a whole host of environmental and social problems on the planet. It was this truly deep internal conflict.”

So, he set out to change things…


The First Few Miles

It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top

RJ went on to get his master’s and PhD from MIT with the goal of learning how to increase driving efficiency in vehicles. He went on from there to work for multiple large organizations, where he felt that efficiency could be improved, but they often lacked the ability to adapt to change given their structure. “I realized that I could have more impact by actually starting something on my own.” So he built his own company – from the ground up. “I saw how difficult it was to do big systems-level innovation even when you have really smart people. Just because of the scale of these organizations, the complexity of the organizations. So I said, ‘If you could redesign the organization to think of the systems-level, to not have the traditional boundaries between silos, and rethink from a clean sheet what the vehicle is, what the architecture is, what the company is…’”

So he did it. He started from a clean slate. No money, no team, no supply chain, no plant, no technology.

When asked if he has encountered any big challenges along the way, RJ responded, “It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top.”

Founding, and rethinking, Rivian

Starting with less than 20 people, the company took some time to get off the ground. But after securing good relationships with investors and shareholders, the team began to grow. Now, with five plants around the world, and mass production set for 2020, RJ’s hard work and aspirations are all starting to pay off. Naturally, in the beginning, given RJ’s background working with Porsche sports cars, Rivian was focused on building an electric sports car. However, as the company grew, and as RJ’s love for the outdoors grew, so their focus began to shift.

this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel

“In college, I was heavy into mountain biking. I would be biking every weekend, and it always bothered me that going on those adventures, I would have to use a car. It was this weird juxtaposition of wanting to enjoy the outdoors and go into the outdoors, but on your way there, making the outdoors worse. So, to be honest, I thought about all kinds of crazy things I could build to fix this… Could I build a bike that could peddle power a car to take me to these adventures? I would bike really long distances to get to a hike, and then I would be exhausted and hike for only half an hour. And I’d be like, ‘okay, now I have to bike all the way back.’ So, we pivoted off of the idea of the sports car, and we decided to really focus that passion around adventure and outdoor lifestyle.”

And with that outdoor adventure lifestyle in tow, Rivian decided to completely rethink the way an outdoor adventure vehicle is designed. “The key for building a new company, and for that matter, establishing your brand, is that you have to have something that gets people excited. It has to foundationally reset expectations… So, it’s quicker than it needs to be. It’s better off-road than it needs to be. It’s more efficient than it needs to be. It’s sort of unreasonably good. But it’s there to make a statement, and that statement is the foundation framework we are building. And when I started on that journey, it wasn’t as unreasonably good as it needed to be across all the different areas of the vehicle. So we’ve kept on going back and saying, ‘Let’s make it better. Make it better, make it better.’ It’s three seconds, zero to 60. It’s better off-road than any vehicle on the market, and it’s wrapped in something that’s really compelling. It’s got great storage. It’s a unique vehicle.”

And with this unique vehicle, RJ hopes to help enable people to access the outdoors. “We often think that a vehicle can’t make you active, but it can enable that, and make it easier for you to generate memories. And from a societal point of view – right now, we collect our memories with pictures. So, we need to be designing a product that helps you to do the things you want to take pictures of. Like, you don’t take a picture of yourself sitting on the couch watching TV. But you take a picture of yourself on an awesome hike, or with the kids at the beach. And we want to enable those things that you’re going to take pictures of.”

Rivian vehicles aren’t even in production yet, and they are already a hot topic of conversation among outdoor adventure enthusiasts. They even gained attention from the outdoor industry’s biggest star, Alex Honnold, when he decided to leave his #VanLife behind and partner with Rivian as an ambassador. Honnold described his partnership as an easy choice, “Even if I wasn’t working with Rivian, if I wasn’t an ambassador or anything, I would still be supporting the brand. We need more companies like this in the world. The world has to go 100% electric at some point, and the sooner the better!”

What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.

RJ hopes that by founding Rivian, this will help push other car companies to make the move toward electricity as well. “We as a society today live in a world where we have conditioned air in our homes. We travel 30 miles to get to the office on a daily basis. We don’t really think anything of it, but this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel. And what’s amazing is that in 100 years of this level of this style of lifestyle, we’ve used about half of what took 300 million years to accumulate. All the fossil fuels on our planet are 300 million years’ worth of plant and animal life that died and went into the earth’s surface. It then comes out in the form of coal and liquid fuel, and we literally used almost half of that in 100 years. It’s just staggering to think about how fast we are consuming that energy resource. It’s not a choice if we want to continue to travel and we want to continue to live the way we live today – we have to transition to something that’s sustainable beyond the next 100 years. And our argument is that the sooner we do that, the better, because simultaneously while using up all those carbon fuels, we are significantly changing the makeup of the atmosphere. We essentially took what happened in 300 million years where carbon was extracted from the atmosphere and put into the core of the earth, and we reversed that in 100 years. Of course it is going to lead to dramatic changes in our climate books. So, let’s make this change as fast as possible. We’re going to have to make it anyways. It’s not a debate, it’s a fact. We have to change. We can’t continue moving around like this on the planet. Everything we do at Rivian is to try to get that to be faster.”

All in all, we are excited to see what Rivian has to offer in the future. RJ’s business tactics may differ slightly from the way his competitors do things, but that may be just what the world needs right now. Who knows – maybe other businesses will be able to learn from RJ, and from the question he asks himself every day. “Does the world need us as a company to exist? Because if the answer to is no, then you need to take a step back and say, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.”

Find out more about the Rivian vehicles here.

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