David Bruggink Records Quiet Soundtracks Furnished By Nature

His Sounds of Maine videos are not so much movies as postcards come to life.

David Bruggink making field recordings for his Sounds of Maine audiovisual documentary project
By Nora Saks
Photos by Tristan Spinski
From our December 2023 issue

David Bruggink was just a few yards into Harpswell’s Cliff Trail when he heard something in his earphones that he liked. He stopped, held his highly sensitive sound recorder aloft, and listened intently. “Yeah,” he said, nodding, “the birdsong is really nice.” Bruggink mentally filed away the location and moved on. He said he was only mildly concerned that he “probably looks like such a weirdo” recording the soft squelch of his feet treading through a mud puddle and, a little farther along, sticking his mic inside a hollow stump to pick up reverberations imperceptible to the naked ear. “It’s got this weird bass rumble,” he said. 

A Portland-based software-product designer, illustrator, and self-described “creative misfit” in his late 30s, Bruggink has been making field recordings and messing with audio software since he was a tween growing up in northern Virginia. A few years ago, around the time his daughter was born and he was growing unhappy with his job, he discovered that gauzy, ethereal music quelled his anxiety better than any medication or Buddhist mantra. He also realized that his soundscapes — a pattering rainstorm, say, or a symphony of crashing waves and squawking gulls — had a similarly meditative quality. Wanting to share these moments, he launched an online audiovisual documentary project called Sounds of Maine, in 2021. 

In Harpswell, Bruggink moseyed through the woods, stopping now and then to sample his sonic surroundings. At last, he came upon a spot below the 150-foot-high cliffs overlooking Long Reach that seemed suited to his soothing sensory portraits. In the steep forest behind him, the rustling of leaves was peppered with birdcalls, and the air hummed with the beating of insects’ wings. Below, water murmured about the rocky beach. “It’s a nice alignment of the vista and the diverse sound palette,” he said. “I think I’ll do a capture.” He set his camera on a mini-tripod, then sat very still on a bed of pine needles with his recorder to eavesdrop on this patch of jagged coast for 10 uninterrupted minutes.

Bruggink’s Sounds of Maine videos are not so much movies as postcards come to life. The camera is stationary, so each aurally rich, ambient scene immerses viewers in the sights and sounds of a narrowly defined place, whether it’s the Bar Harbor town pier, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, in Freeport, or here on the Cliff Trail. A former evangelical Christian, Bruggink has found a new spirituality in deep listening. Gathering sounds in the field removes him from the “frenetic media” that fills up other parts of his life and forces him to slow down and tune into the natural processes quietly and constantly unfolding around him. “There’s a comfort in it,” he said, “that even with the chaos of my own life and the larger world, these things, unbidden, just keep doing their thing.” 

In Cliff Trail, Harpswell, the lightly edited version of Bruggink’s summertime field recording, balsam and maple branches bob above a sun-dappled shoreside path. The trees and wind provide the steady, whispering backdrop through which a goldfinch’s chip-chip-chip, passing hikers’ chatter, and lapping waves arise not as asynchronous beats, but as voices in the choir. 

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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