Cataloguing the Sounds of Life

Posted on June 10, 2009 by


Many have mentioned that while I may not say much in person, I’m somewhat of a random sound-maker. I never notice this, but scores and scores of people do. In fact, one of my bosses told me that the one thing she’d remember about me was the sounds I’d make.  Very peculiar commentary that was.

Me, Angeleno, city-dweller, I filter a lot of audio stimuli.  The only time I really notice any sounds are when they are constant and thus, distract or get in my way. Sounds are nothing more than a mostly negligible intrusion, perhaps a mere filler for white noise. Perhaps if I was a citizen of the Country of the Blind, perhaps I’d existentialize and inflate more meaning and draw more pleasantries from sounds.  But I don’t.  But I’m doing my best to incorporate audio into my repertoire.

Marshall McLuhan’s War and Peace in the Global Village was the first book to introduce me to the idea that there was such a thing as a “visually-organized” society.  The increasingly urbanized 1960s North American society, which for our purposes is kind of the same as the increasingly urbanized 2000s North American society.  Immediately when exposed to the idea of “visually-organized”, I thought was there ever an “audio-organized” society?

In the urban metropolitan context, we seem to “organize ourselves” around complaining about and eliminating too much sound, which kind of reflects my personal thinking about sound. I’ve learned about noise ecology, have learned a bit about noise pollution in the urban context, read a little about the anthropology of sound, and just finished thumbing through Musicophilia by O-Sacks. Sounds seem to be annoying for people because they believe it causes over-stimulation.

Personally, for me, the worst sounds are those that get in my way and/or draw a defensive response.

For example:

-The Stupid-ass fire detector in my old apartment.  Periodic 30-second ringing day and night, which was supposed to be an alert that it was busted or something.  I couldn’t open it because it was painted over, and the landlord never did anything about it.

When visiting from New Jersey, my uncle found the constant ringing real annoying that he sabatoged the fire detector in attempt to remove the painted-over battery case.

-An ice-cream truck that sits on my street, doesn’t even play music, but a steady, un-nerving morbid and drawn-out ringing sound which seems to be signifying some kind of checkpoint. It’s so bad that it makes me want to take a crobar and break my shins.

-My dads knee cracks, swallows, nose-clearings, and ascents up a flight of stairs.

-Barking dogs. I hate dogs that bark, which is just about every one of them. Maybe they sense it and are trying to communicate something deeper to me?

The only sounds I do like usually are ones of intimacy.

My Favorite Sound?

The slimer sound when in the middle of the act biologically meant for human reproduction but recreationally engaged in. Hmmm.

While we may organize against too much sound, we seem to organize ourselves based on the music we listen to.  We listen to and sing the music in a quasi-public setting like a church or a sports game.  A lot of hipsters, emo kids, hip-hoppers among others define their fashion sensibility based on the music they listen to.  We make big things out of attending these concerts ala Coachella or Rock the Bells. If were going to explore the nightlife, it’s off to a club or bar, which is essentially just a bunch of talking over music.  The sounds in those contexts seem to be welcomed, the irony is that the music is played really loud and probably has more to do with hearing problems.

Posted in: Notes, Uncategorized