Thursday, October 22, 2009

City Soundscape

The sounds of a city rise and fall. The low rumbling of a Number 19 bus, the spurting of steam from stacks of silver pipes, the screeching of a wheel in desperate need of oil. Then silence…for a fraction of a second every noise vanishes in unison…then the jackhammer begins again. Then the Harley roars to life when the light turns green, it cuts through the city like a metallic knife, slicing it in two. And in the darkness, as the sun slips below the skyline of cement pillars, the volume is turned low by an unseen hand. Just the occasional bursting glass bottle, the sporadic deep throaty shout into the night. A lone car cruising on an empty city street. Just the drug addicts and work obsessed and graveyard-duty custodians move in the blackness of a near-silent night. The signal of light is the early morning grinding of the first train. Its riders, the sleepy-eyed occupiers of a fluorescent capsule travel through permanent darkness below ground. An airplane coasts along high above, giving off a rumble so deep it seems inaudible.
The city is the grind and noise of eccentric youth in a dimly lit garage. The music of metal meeting stick. The sound of rocks on asphalt, screeching vocals, un-tuned chords.
It is not composed. Not practiced. Each sound exists as an individual, bursting forth and dying without a thought of the overall piece, without any purposeful connection to the entire city soundscape. These sounds can never learn another way, they will never be a conscious symphony. The bus will always be guided, the plane on its own course. The birds move on their own time, with the wind and the sun. The shouting comes sporadically, from anger, from alcohol, from confrontation. Each sound bursts forth like the wind, unplanned and spontaneous. Let the young conductor walk away in frustration, some things cannot be guided.
The sounds simply Are. Rising and falling with the moon and subsequent sun. They can not be tuned or made into something pleasing. You cannot blow life and consciousness into the subway, you cannot regulate the sounds of construction work to peak in the last measure. And once it is understood that the behemoth of gears and steam and metal cannot be molded, your mind might then be free to hear it as it is. Their sources might be as dead as metal, but their noises, moving through you as they will, can induce moods and emotion. As the vibrations travel through muscle and fiber, through you symbolic constructs and your private inner language, you might be changed.
Approach it softly. You can find life in the grinding of machines, just listen. That is all that can be done. It cannot be constructed. Its sounds cannot be reformed. Just listen. Listen as the birds squeak hidden in a tree, listen as the sound of a motorcycle peaks perfectly with the clicking of high heels on a sidewalk. It cannot be tuned, but you can tune yourself. The city cannot be molded, the orchestra moves in its own random order, without thought and planning and careful practice. The sounds cannot be changed, but you can learn to hear the perfect beauty in its clashes, clanks and booms. Your perception is the one thing that can be consciously altered. Listen to what is here before you. Listen for what is and not for what isn’t. Maybe in that small change lies the secret of its roaring music.