By Caitlin Kelly
Close your eyes.
Birdsong (which ones?)
Someone’s footsteps (what sort of shoes are they wearing? Are they young or old? Thin or heavy?)
The distant echoing whistle of a passing train.
The hum of the refrigerator.
Your dog’s whimper as he naps.
Your children, laughing (or crying!)
Blessed with sight, we often forget how much we hear, or could hear, in any given moment if we stopped to pay closer attention. If you live in a noisy, crowded city — car horns, engine sounds, cellphones, sirens, the beeping of a truck backing up, bus brakes sighing — it seems counter-intuitive as we we’re always trying to block it out.
But stand somewhere quieter, eyes closed, and you’ll be amazed how many sounds you’ll pick up.
Some of my favorites include:
Street singers, walking and clapping their hands, in Andalusia
The clanging of metal halyards against metal sailboat masts
A bird in Kenya whose call sounded just like a beeping alarm clock
The muezzin’s chant from a tower in Istanbul
The chatter of coins dropped onto a small china dish, change returned in Paris
The click of my husband’s key in the front door as he returns from work
Wind soughing through tall, fragrant pines
The gurgle of a canoe paddle pushing water
The specific thwack of a well-hit golf ball
The specific clang of a well-hit softball off of a metal bat
A coyote howling beneath our (suburban New York!?) windows
A baby’s giggle
The crunching of car tires on gravel
Tea being poured into a bone china teacup
Jet engines revving — a trip about to start!
That odd sing-song-y noise before the subway doors close in Paris
I love this recent book idea, a sort of catalog of global sounds:
But you do not need to be an acoustic engineer armed with a stun gun and sophisticated measuring tools to be awed by the singing sands of the Kelso Dunes in the Californian Mojave Desert (caused by an avalanche of very dry sand down a steep slope) or by the cascading roar of the sea inside Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, which inspired Mendelssohn to compose his “Hebrides” overture…
Mr. Cox also plays with, and explains, the acoustics of whispering galleries like that of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the one by the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, in which sound is guided along the tiled archway.
And I wish I were in England at the end of May for this amazing outdoor concert.
(I added the bold/italics as I think this is so cool!)
Two pioneering composers are turning forest plants and animals of Thetford Forest into virtual conductors this summer, creating ‘Living Symphonies’ where visitors will be able to hear the sounds of the forest in musical form from 24-30 May.
The artists, James Bulley and Daniel Jones, have been working with Forestry Commission ecologists to map the true extent of woodland wildlife and plantlife in one of the East’s most beautiful forests, reacting to all that is alive within a forest. The composers have then created a musical motif for each organism living in the forest, then, with speakers hidden amongst the trees, digital technology generates the full symphony in real time – when an animal moves, so does their music.
If a flock of birds moves across the canopy the visitor may hear a cluster of clarinets move with them. When rain causes some animals to emerge while others hide away; it will also trigger moisture sensors causing their musical counterparts to do the same. The animals and plants become the conductors.
Together they hope to create a remarkable new way for audiences to explore forests with their ears as well as their eyes. As the visitor explores the music they will also become aware of just how complex an eco-system a forest is.
I really like it when songs include sounds — whether the croaking in Frogs’ Lullaby by Canadian band Blue Rodeo or the rattling and squeaking of a carriage ride in Katell Keinig’s Waiting for You to Smile or the match striking at the very end of Shawn Colvin’s murder ballad Sunny Came Home or the whining jet plane sounds at the start of the Beatles’ 1968 classic, Back in the USSR.
What sounds do you love to hear?