BEHIND THE SCENES with Rachel Bryant

Why did you spend time in the northern Canadian tundra recording the sounds of animals and the natural environment

As a biologist, I work mostly with seabirds. One evening at Nautical Nellie's bar in Saint John's, Newfoundland, a fellow seabird researcher, Iain, and I were talking. I said that my ideal job would involve spending all day outside, walking around, looking for something. Iain said: why don't you come to Southampton Island to work on my Sabine's Gull study? So I spent two summers walking around the tundra, looking for Sabine's Gull nests. At the same time, I made recordings for Prey , which first aired on CBC Radio's Outfront , and for Open Air , the natural history radio program I produce with Janet Russell. ### *

Prey explores a very intangible, almost existential feeling about human power and vulnerability. Did you feel it was a struggle to express this idea through audio

It was a struggle to express clearly the combination of fear, curiosity, and empathy that you feel toward other animals in an environment that is equally indifferent to them and to you. It was very important for me not to sensationalize the respectful anxiety of the situation, not to portray it simply as terror, or love. Although it was hard, I think that audio was the best medium through which to represent the human relationship with wildness that I hope Prey expresses. This is because sometimes the human voice can convey complicated emotional information with more honesty and economy than written words reveal.

You use a recurring refrain throughout the program ("Ursula, Ursula . . ."), which brings an almost poetic feel to the piece. This is pretty rare for documentary work, what inspired you to use this technique

I needed to have some kind of recognizable transition between scenes that focused on events and those that focused on reflection. This transition was "Ursula, Ursula..." because Ursula was what I called the polar bear skull that I found near our field camp and kept in my tent. I called her Ursula, because the scientific name for polar bear is Ursus maritimus and because Ursula reminded me a little of Yurick, who's skull Hamlet talked to. It seemed natural to address my reflections to her in Prey , as the piece is partly about the tension and equality between humans and other animals in the wild.

Listeners will hear a lot of emotion in this story, especially during the scene when you're watching the caribou hunt. How do you feel when you listen back to this tape? In the midst of the hunt, did you ever forget you were taping yourself

The first time I listened back to the tape of my scream, it hurt my ears (I brought the sound down a lot for the piece). It was a sound that I definitely did not mean to make. In fact, I was really surprised when it happened -- as though somebody else had screamed. So, yes, I guess I forgot that I was recording for an instant

What are some challenges you've faced in recording in an arctic environment? Do you have any plans to make more recordings there? Are there other stories from that part of the world that you want to tell

The biggest challenges I've faced are coldness, wetness, and power. Keeping a minidisc charged up can be hard, because AA batteries are expensive and heavy, and often there's no way to recharge the machines electrically. I've heard that minidisc recorders are supposed to work okay in the cold, but in my experience, they often don't. When it's really cold, I keep my equipment in my sleeping bag with me. And I try to keep it as dry as possible

If coldness and power don't prevent me, I hope to make more arctic recordings this month. I'll spend much of March on the Belcher Islands, Hudson Bay, working for the Canadian Wildlife Service on an Eider duck study. Because I have never been to the Belcher Islands before, I don't have a clear idea of what the "story" will be. But I have a feeling that it will have something to do with cold.