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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sound of Silence

Some time ago I was listening to a programme on BBC about capturing unique sounds and I was thinking that sounds suffer from the dominance of images. Nowadays, it's all about cameras and capturing an unique individual angle to the visible world: people, nature, architecture....Our computers are full of thousands of images - raw images as the world actually is in a given place at a given time. And almost no raw sounds.... I am not talking about music, of course, which is organised sounds. Or at least most of it.

One walks along the Danube in Budapest and there are dozens of tourists making pictures of the parliament, the bridges, the castle. And there is no one sitting there and recording the noise of the traffic, the splashing of the river, the passing boats, a passing ambulance, a faraway laughter. Why is it like that? Are sounds simply less interesting? Is it because images stimulate instantaneously and easily our brains with colours and forms? Is it because mathematically there are more combinations of physical objects to be photographed? Our wonderful eyes maybe interact with the outside world in a richer variety of ways than our ears. Take for example a building: there are so many angles to see it and perceive it. the end, the good picture is exactly the original angle with the best possible light.

While, it seems to me, we can't do that with sounds. Take an ambulance siren. You can hear it weaker or stronger and the only variety comes through the strength of the sound through the manifestation of the Doppler effect. There are very little nuances to it.

However, recording interesting sounds is a fascinating idea to me. Thinking of it one may follow the development of city life through sound. Imagine that someone has recorded 10 minutes of sound at the crossroad of Andrassy and Terez boulevard (or any major crossroad in any city) at lunch on the 23rd of April every year since 1878 when sound recording became possible. Imagine the difference: horses-trams-cars and the interrelation between them. So some sounds are unique in a way.

And...other sounds are probably eternal. Has the splashing of the sea been the same over the past 5000 years? What about the sound of falling raindrops on the dust or the gust of wind in the leaves of a tree? Is the wind playing the same tunes with the branches of the same tree or are they endlessly varied?

In the early 90s I' had heard of a French ethnologists who hunted for disappearing sounds like National Geographic photographers take pictures of disappearing species.

But, anyway, sound reality is very rich. I am on our balcony now, 21.56 on a Wednesday night, 16 September, 2009 and I am hearing:
- the sound of gentle wind in the branches;
- the singing grasshoppers;
- the background noise of Moscva square;
- an occasional passing car;
- Nina Simone on our CD player;
- a closing door;
- a faraway kid's voice;
- a faraway clapping;
- the sound of the keyboard.

It's a rich sounscape if one thinks of it.

I am also thinking of some favouirite soundscapes of mine:

- the singing grasshoppers on a summer's night when the window is open and some soft music is playing in the other room;
- the absolutely silent sea early in the morning with an occasional splash of water;
- a faraway happy laughter.


Midlife Jobhunter said...

Tomorrow I will spend a few moments recording the sounds into my journal. I'm imagining birds, a far off dog, a passing car. It will be interesting to see what else finds its way onto my pages.

Delwyn said...

Ruslan, how are you...

I liked your post very much, one reason I think is that now my life is slower I have more time to really listen and as I walk I often stop to hear bird call then I try to track the bird down...I also hear the scurrying in the grass and leaves...of little lizards of skinks...on the river the different boats and kayaks create different lapping sounds ...and another thing I really enjoy listening to is the silence in the bush...It can be so still and quiet it is quite mystical...

So I see you armed with a tape recorder wherever you go now, making auditory history...

Happy days

Liss said...

You have a point. I think, why photography can capture the heart and imagination is because we all have a memory bank of sounds and smells that come flooding back to us when we see an image. Our emotions and our experiences make us connect. So while photography is powerful it can mean little more than a picture to some with out sound.

The Sound of Silence, very fitting

Ruslan said...

Thank you, all for the nice comments.

Midlife jobhunter (BTW, did you hunt down this job?), I am curious to read the results of the experiment.

It's always a pleasure to hear from you. Yes, I think you are absolutely right that in order to hear one needs to slow down. I think your sound universe is so rich with what you described. And the sound of silence....

Liss, do you think this is the reason for photography to be powerful? I think that images affect stronger our brains than sounds and it is more difficult to make sense of the sound universe.

You are right that we have a memory bank of sounds.

Polly said...

Sound is definitely more subtle and less telling than an image.

But it would be a fascinating experiment to record sound of one spot in a busy city over a hundred years.

I totally agree on the sound of sea hitting gently the beach very early in the morning. It's wonderful. I would probably prefer to hear it rather than see it. If I had to choose, that is :-)