When sound is noise that murmurs gurgle
and talk crabbed rambles and gabbles
When susurrus of water shuts off clang bang
and no breeze blows blossoms and all fall
long leaves crisp prematurely dull and grey
When thoughts are crickets in a dark repeat
and inanimate objects won’t cooperate
When strings stretch and snap out of tune
and ears fill full of hardened yellow wax
Then it’s time here for a nap or a blue beer
for there’s been a near miss missio dear.
A house down around the block is getting a new roof, hammers echoing like giant flickers. Since the big virus outbreak the neighborhood seems quieter, fewer cars speeding up the bumpless street, the park above closed to the outdoor concerts, though a few bicycle races and random music groups have come and gone. We frequently hear music though, through the trees, over the roofs, through the backyard fences, but can’t always be sure of where the sound is coming from. No fireworks this year. Not a single yard sale. But some noise seems louder, the trash trucks on their weekly binge, the mailman at the mailbox, the yapping yellow dog behind and a yard over, skateboards, our tinnitus.
A loss of sound seems paradoxically to quicken our sense of hearing. That is dynamics, change in pressure and temperature, frequency and consistency. Some sounds we don’t hear until they go silent. Sound can baffle, bounce around dancingly. If you’re uncertain where a sound, particularly a voice, is coming from, the disorienting distraction bewilders. Just because you don’t hear a sound doesn’t mean you can’t feel it, its pressure in your ears, resounding around your head. Likewise, you might hear voices, but the words lack clarity, and you can’t make out what’s being said.
Some sounds are tight, other loose fitting. A flash flood of sound leaves a wake of mud. The beginning of rain drips into the ears, like its relative petrichor, that newly wet earthy scent in the nose, a slow awakening to something that’s been asleep for a long time and is now looking for a new bed to spend the night, one of your ears unfolding asymmetrically.
On the radio
in the car
mix of blur
in the street
turn it up
turn it down
turn it off.
Try to wait
what’s goin’ round?
in the groove
in the tube
let it play
on the radio.
Live at 5
Small Wave Riders
on the radio
in the curl
watch that fin
at the drive-in
on the inside
of the radio.
Shaped like a church
where to hear is prayer
the pews sawn apart
into separate seats save
the balcony benches.
Quiet like a church
and cold in accordance
with the carpenter’s
measure for harmony
and economical noise.
The sound rolls in waves
through the vast archipelago
of ears tuned to assumptions
of critics of the church.
…picking up somewhere we left off…
The past is not enough to live on
to make ends meet.
what test passed avoids stays
to wheedle this incessant urge
past the tinnitus still sings proof
below like wave bounce go easy
under the sheer cliff and around
the mossy point to the bay
where the dolphins play
but the past is not enough to live on
you say and you say things like
anyway the sea is calm tonight
and you need to calm down
and relax we are past all that
pother the rigmarole accoutrements
impedimenta odds and ends
ins and outs no you need
to cool off i’m sorry if you are
disappointed but you see
how tranquil this palaver
becomes us as we unbend
and are made drowsy
not dreary but like
drizzle after a wave breaks.
John Cage dedicated his lectures and writing collected in Silence “To Whom It May Concern.” As it turns out, it concerns everyone, though most of us do our utmost to ignore it. Yet Silence is still in print, and the amorphous, variable audience Cage invoked in his dedication continues to grow. But if we can’t ask anything specific about Cage’s intended audience, can we at least ask, what is it that may concern us? When asked what Cage’s Silence is about, I usually say it’s about composition, the way we arrange things.
A recent neighborhood atlas project by students in the CAGE Lab (no relationship to John) contains a noise map of San Francisco neighborhoods. The atlas is a form of composition, an arrangement of nouns and verbs and objects, labeled to “tell different stories.” A map is a composition. Noise is usually heard symmetrically, but some in the audience may hear asymmetrically; concentric noise, proceeding in wave-circles, gets confused, as sound bounces and ricochets (gives and takes), pouring into one ear, squeezing into another. Composition is dynamic; silence is static. Sound is not linear (line-ear).
jOhN cAGE was born in 1912, and there’s much ado about his 100th birthday year at the John Cage site.
Related Post: On the Noise of Argument, where John Cage meets Seneca; or, There is No Silence – Bound to Sound