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Two more sounds (ITWS#12)

Sometime back I wrote about three sounds that had an impact on me at the time that I heard them and which have retained an influence when I recall them from my memory. I only got around to describing one of them, the sounds of buttons clattering on a surface. I thought it time to capture my memory of the other two and how one represents and ending and the other a new beginning.

First though, I was thinking on how our sense of hearing has been impacted by our various COVID19 self isolation, social distancing and lock-down realities. In some regards it is the one sense that has been least disturbed in relation to the others. After all social distancing has seen our connections through touch all but stopped. COVID19’s influence on taste and smell is so generalised that it is now one of the public health diagnostics used to identify the illness. As for sight! It has been great to spend more time looking at nature as the spring and early summer have unfolded around me. However, I confess to finding my engagement with friends and family via a screen a little, well, flat. It is fantastic to see someone who would otherwise not be seen but I do occasionally long to be able to in three dimensions!

The sensory experience of hearing is not free of the influence of COVID19. For many in isolation it is the absence of hearing things supportive and nourishing to wellbeing that often leads to the first sense of loneliness. We are also fatigued by the interplay between sight and hearing when we over engage in Zoom (other platforms are available!) for two longer time. The slight delay in the transmission of sound on Zoom, irrespective of the quality of the connection, can be surprisingly exhausting. Its like being on a high level of alert for the entire conversation – not a bad thing if it encourages greater concentration on what people say! I think I find myself paying more attention to my hearing at the moment though. It seems it is the most reliable of my senses, largely unchanged by our reframed methods of communication. Perhaps that’s the life-long radio listener in my exerting undue influence.

It was on the radio where I heard the first of my two influential noises. It was on a programme were two artists came together to discuss their art and inspiration. They were Katie Patterson and David Mitchell and the programme was Only Artists on BBC Radio 4. The whole conversation was fascinating as they talked openly about the challenges which had ultimately shaped their creative direction. Kate, with dyslexia, had developed into a visual artist expressing herself through objects and ideas while David, with a long-term stammer, had moved towards the written word as his means of expressing himself.

The conversation itself was fascinating but it was the noise that has stayed with me. It was the sound, from deep within a glacier, of the slow drip, drip, drip of the glacial melting, the sound of a glacier dying. This sound bought home to me the reality of our climate crisis that we are in, more effectively than any scientific data-set, any action from climate activists, or any clever prose from social commentators.

The recording was made via a microphone submerged deep in a glacier and which Katie had rigged so that you could call it via ‘phone to listen to the dripping. Her installation no longer exists yet the recording of sound she collected had the power to evoke powerful emotions, at least for me. I felt a real sense of loss and I was caught out by the emotion that came alongside this sensory experience. What was part of a regenerative process of thaw, freeze, thaw, freeze was now a one way journey, an irreversible process captured in that drip, drip, drip. I was also really taken by the concept behind the creation of Katie’s art and have since heard much more about her concepts and creativity. Her ideas are extraordinary, rich with meaning, while still being really accessible.

Shortly afterwards I heard another sound that has stayed with me. On this occasion it was the sound of a new beginning. Not all that long before we were all restricted to our own homes by COVID19 we had some friends to stay. We have known them for a very long time throughout which they have had two lovely daughters who are both now all grown up. The news they bought with them was that one of them was pregnant. Joyful news although the reality seems a little abstract, even when looking at early photos from scans which I must confess I find a little difficult to interpret! What really bought it home was hearing a recording of the heartbeat. This time a gentle thump, thump, thump. Once again, I was completely caught out by how this sound, this sensory experience, had an impact on me. It made the start of a new life very real. Totally moving and all the more so as was not expecting to hear it recorded on a mobile phone! Time has now moved on to where that heartbeat will shortly make an entrance into the world. Wishing you all the best Robyn and Perry, as you approach that time!

We have the capacity to tune into the sense that is giving us the most relevant information in real time. Perhaps it more that we can tune out the other senses. Whichever way around it is the three sounds have been laid down in my memory ‘velcroed’ into place with the emotions that are connected with it, and feelings those emotions cause. I am keeping my ears peeled for more!

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