A relationship for the birds

Geoff Keller and Elaine Oehmich
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Kevin Rader/Eyewitness News

Brown County - Spring for many Hoosiers means a trip to Brown County. Some people go for the sound, while others go for the sights.

"It's got views you can't get anywhere else around here," said Geoff Keller.

That's why thousands flock to Brown County annually.

"Probably 99.9% of them are here for a visual experience."

But not all.

Geoff Keller migrates to a canopy of trees searching for things he may never see and listening for things the rest of us may never hear. Keller records bird songs.

"It's to difficult to see these guys up in the canopy of the trees. Focusing on the sound you at least know they are there," he said.

Keller has been stalking sound for thirty years. He talked us through his finds.

"Vocalizations of a blackberry green warbler, tanager, warbler again."

Keller's body of work, captured in five CDs includes such backyard standards as bluejay and wood thrush to more exotic melodies like phainopepla or, for the wanderer in all of us, fish crow. The entire collection includes over 3,000 melodies and is cataloged at Cornell University, making him the premier recording artist of bird songs in North America.

"It's kind of a fun way to experience nature. By sound," he said.

So what happens when sound meets synesthesia? For Elaine Oehmich, an established Brown County artist, finding Geoff Keller was music to her eyes - from bird to brush, from persistence to paint and from audio to art. Oehmich visualizes sound in her work, and she creates paintings inspired by Keller's recordings.

Oehmich had longed for a listener, and Keller wanted someone who appreciated his contribution. Together they create a language of their own.

What was once a seasonal serenade has evolved into a year-round relationship.

"I can't imagine not seeing sound," Oehmich. She displays her paintings, and Keller can identify the bird songs they represent.

This relationship is truly one for the birds.