Frog magic: How an Australian found sonic heaven in Sarawak

  • People
  • Thursday, 13 Feb 2014

Marc Anderson, an Australian photographer and sound recordist whose recording of frogs in Sarawak won a competition for 'the most beautiful sound in the world', finds peace in nature’s isolated refuges.

What’s the most beautiful sound in the world? If an online competition organised by US-based lifestyle website is to be believed, it’s the sound of frogs, birds and insects singing in Sarawak’s very own Kubah National Park. The winner, Marc Anderson, an Australian photographer and soundscape recordist, was delighted when online voters chose his track Dusk By The Frog Pond from over a hundred entries. The news, announced via BeautifulNow and music-sharing site on Jan 13, also delighted Malaysian netizens who shared it with glee on social media. 

Competition creator Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency, a branding company whose clients include Harrod’s, Honda and Nokia, said in an audio interview posted on BeautifulNow that Anderson’s recording was “the most amazing, rich recording of just teeming life” and stated that as the reason why it came out tops. Our interest piqued, we tracked down the self-professed nature lover and asked him just how the frogs managed to croak their way to victory.

You’ve been travelling the world and working as a photographer for many years before you began to dabble in natural soundscape recordings as Wild Ambience. How did that happen?

I’ve always had a love for nature – I’ve been birdwatching since I was about 14. This led to an interest in photographing nature and, after several years pursuing it as a hobby, I started earning a living off it. However, I’ve always appreciated nature’s many facets – not only its visual beauty, but also its sounds, smells, colours and textures. It’s only been in the last few years that I started recording, especially since the recording technology became more affordable and easier to carry alongside my camera equipment. While photos capture a subject frozen in time, soundscapes are more dynamic as they record time itself. I love the fact that I can record the dawn chorus in a Malaysian rainforest, and then bring that back home with me to Australia and experience it all over again.

Recently, a track you recorded called Dusk By The Frog Pond won an online competition organised by looking for the “Most Beautiful Sound In The World”. Where did you record it and how?

On a visit to Sarawak in 2011, I spent a few days at the wonderful Kubah National Park, not far from Kuching. Inside the reserve, there’s a small "frog pond" with a boardwalk that I thought would be a good place to record. So I set up my recorder at about 4.30pm and left it to record for an hour or so. The results were better than I could’ve imagined – so many species of frogs, birds and insects came together to perform an intense dusk chorus! In terms of equipment, I used two omni-directional microphones fixed to the sides of a small box designed to emulate a human head. The microphones are spaced apart about the same distance as our ears and the result is a stereo recording that reflects how we would naturally hear the sounds, especially on headphones.

Could you identify the sources of the sounds we can hear on that particular track?

The main frog species I could identify were the Mahogany frog (Hylarana luctuosa), Hylarana glandulosa, and the tiny Microhyla nepenthicola, which lives inside pitcher plants and was only scientifically described in 2010. Two species of bird can also be heard: the Golden-whiskered barbet and Blue-eared barbet. Of course there are many insects, but the only one I could identify is the loud circular saw-like call of the Empress cicada, the world’s largest cicada species.

Why do you think that Dusk By The Frog Pond was picked as the most beautiful sound in the world?

I think the combination and variety of unusual sounds is strangely beautiful. I’ve had quite a few comments where people have described this track as a "concert", "orchestra" or "performance" and I agree. It’s as if someone had composed this wonderful rainforest symphony with the animals as instruments!

Anderson on sonic therapy: 'Living in a big city like Sydney can be stressful so I make an effort to get out of the city as often as I can, even if it’s just for one day. However it’s not always possible to "escape". That’s when I find listening to my nature recordings is a good alternative.' – Photo courtesy of Marc Anderson

You’ve done other field recordings around Malaysia including the Kinabatangan River and Fraser’s Hill, and also in Australia. What are some of the special experiences you’ve had while recording in these places?

One of the best things about recording soundscapes is it forces you to find locations which are very quiet – no traffic, planes, machines or people. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to find such a place! Even on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah I was having difficulty due to the boat noises from the river. But when you find a good location where the only sounds are from birds, insects and water, it’s incredibly peaceful. That’s one of the reasons why I love this type of fieldwork. Some of the best experiences I’ve had included recording tigers roaring in Nepal; the singing of White-handed gibbons and Siamang near Fraser’s Hill, Malaysia; and the vibrant dawn chorus of North Queensland’s tropical rainforest.

There have been several studies published about the influence of sound on people’s wellbeing. Based on your own experience out in the field, do you think that natural sounds have a positive effect? How?

I think we’re just beginning to realise how sound affects us in both a positive and negative way. For example, most people are so used to the "noise" of human activity such as traffic that we hardly notice it can actually increase our blood pressure and stress levels. By regularly finding quiet places to relax and enjoy nature, we actually gain physical and emotional benefits such as reduced anxiety and stress. Living in a big city like Sydney can be stressful so I make an effort to get out of the city as often as I can, even if it’s just for one day. However it’s not always possible to "escape". That’s when I find listening to my nature recordings a good alternative.

Do you have further plans to make more recordings of natural sounds? In Malaysia, and other parts of the world?

I’ll be visiting Malaysia again this year and I look forward to exploring new locations and discovering new soundscapes to record. In the future I hope to travel more in Australia to remote locations such as the Kimberley and Cape York regions.

How can interested listeners get hold of your recordings?

You can find downloads and CDs on and see some of my photos at

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