A week of sounds
I so much liked this week!
You should all try it at home!
Every hour at the “.00” of the clock I stood silently for1 minute, I listened to all the noises I could hear, and reported them, as I perceived them, from the most prominent (i.e. easier to recognize) to the fuzziest.
I also reported where I was, but not anything more: this time I wanted the sounds to be the real protagonists of my postcards, so I didn’t over detail the data collection as I usually do.
Focusing on the sounds around you in a big city is so interesting, you just normally don't pay attention to the multiple and different kind of audio stimuli you are surrounded with for many reasons. For example I wear my headphones for a good part of my days: while walking, while on the subway or on the bus, and while working in my co-working space; thus I end up being totally disconnected audio-wise to what is happening around me.
In case you were wondering what one can hear in New York, here is my full list of sounds for the week, featured in apparition order (and mentioning each one only once):
Siren, Heater noise, Neighbors flushing, Cars passing in the background, Door locks, Child crying, Construction works, Door closing, Boyfriend's steps, Boyfriend's voice, Elevator noise, Salesman yelling, Indistinct people voices, High volume cars, Clacson, Music from a shop, Electronic voice in the subway, Distinct people voices, Subway arriving, Spanish People talking, Heels, Truck, People’s steps, Guitar sound from boyfriend’s Mac, Birds singing! Elicopter, Boyfriend typing on his Mac keyboard, Cuttlery noise, Music from the pub, Music from my laptop, Fake sound of the rain to get asleep, City’s noise in the background, Bip bip bip,Truck doors closing, Partner’s voice over Skype, Object on the table, Low voices, Zip closes, Water from sink, Paper noise,
Coworker talking over the phone, Noise i don't know, Stroller’s wheels, Boyfriend clapping hands to spoil my data, Sneeze, My podcast, Cars noise on the bridge with wheels, Laughters, Coworker’s voice, Bath water flooding, My friend voice, Loud laughters, Waitress voice, Sex and the city audio :), IPhone notification, My fridge’s noise, My breath, My heartbeat, ATM machine voice, client’s voice, Dog leash, Cart wheels, Coffee making noise, Grandma and grandpa voices over the phone,
Wind moving objects,Zip noise from my boyfriend backpack, Motorcycle roarrrrr, Music from a stranger headphones.
As the week evolved, I started to visualize in my mind the different sources and type of noises and sounds as if my urban journey would be on a orchestra score: …more poetic to say it than to hear the actual noises, but still it made me focus on my listening exercise, and some of the sounds open up worlds to imagine:
…the voices of the people on the subway: who are they and what are they talking about?
…the background pace of the train (because even if I have been living in New York for 3 years already I still find the subway noises so fascinating!),
…the steps of people approaching, picturing how they look like without seeing them…,
I sometimes closed my eyes to "just" listen and not see.
All of these observations are not reported in the postcard, but still I have a vivid memory of this sound week.
Then, the more the week was progressing, the more I could retrieve different sources and quiet background noises, even my breath came up as one of the prominent sounds on some reports while I was in silent places!
My drawing is just a linear reflection of my week: every little score is the mixture of the sounds I was hearing in every moment of my data-tracking (once per hour), and every symbol represents a different sound, while the color on top of each little score represents my location: where I was, to give Stefanie an idea of my daily sound-journey.
This is one of those week (which happens more and more frequently) where Stefanie and I pursue the same data-collection and visual ideas, our postcards are very similar in their spatial organizations, and both of us represented multiple sounds at the same time. I had much fun picturing her days through the combination of sounds she could hear every hour!
After this week I got more and more interested in sounds and noises around us, and after some researches I found this compelling experiment reported on the National Geographic and this amazing project by composer Anne Guthrie on the soundscape of New York, put your headphones on!
I captured the sounds I heard in my vicinity evey hour while I was awake, enjoying this regular pause where I would stop what I was doing, sit quietly, and immerse myself into my soundscape. This week of data-gathering was particularly enjoyable because I've never examined my relationship with London through its sound.
One thing I realised is that some of the most regular sounds I hear come from the sky: the dull roar of airplanes overhead and birdsong.
I have a strange relationship with London birdsong, as it was one of the sounds that reminded me I was in a new country when I first moved to London over a decade ago. Hearing unknown tunes being warbled by British birds, not American ones, left me feeling slightly unsettled and acted as a subtle reminder that I was a long way from home.
As the years went on, birdsong would be connected to different experiences. The sound of solitary British birds singing as dawn breaks reminds me of how after staying out all night at a clubnight or a house party I would walk home down empty, purply-blue-shadowed streets of terraced houses with my husband or friends, with no one else awake to see the sun rise but us and the earliest birds.
And later, birdsong began to infuriate me, as I used to live in a second-floor flat next to a large tree, so the 'dawn chorus' sounded deafening and shrill.
This anger at something as seemingly-innocuous as birdsong has been a running joke between me and my friends since one time I described how birds' 'screaming' would wake me up in the morning. Surely 'screaming' is the only way to describe how it felt to be woken up by this aggressive chorus in high summer at 4 am?
Now, I live in a little house at the back of a pedestrianised housing estate in London, and as you walk further from the street, the typical 'London' sounds begin to melt away. While I live relatively central, finding this relative silence feels like a luxury.
Birdsong, airplanes, and the quiet whoosh and rattle of a commuter train passing on the tracks by my house are an unlikely combination of sounds that to me signify relaxation, solitude, and home. When I tracked these sounds this week, I felt comforted.
It took this week of careful listening to make me realise that now I find birdsong quite soothing, at it reminds me of being at home and at rest. Maybe it's also a reminder of how time has passed, and how as I grow older even sounds begin to take on new meanings as the years go by.
This week, I drew a card filled with little scribbles to allude to the textured sonic waveforms, and divided these sounds between organic sounds and mechanical sounds.
Giorgia's card this week is again one of my favourites, as referencing musical notation makes perfect sense here. Also, the way she was able to separate the soundscape into different layers of intensity reminds me again that I will never be as good at creative and evocative data-gathering and categorisation as she is! Case in point: she gathered data on the 'digital sound of the rain', which has got to be the most poetic data category we've had this entire year...