Sunday, 13 September 2009

The all encompassing sound of the river

Sitting by a shallow, pebbly river in Daisy Nook Country Park on Saturday I realised that I often find the most natural sounds the hardest to describe. Maybe because nature came before language, or maybe because natural sounds can be so all encompassing, panoramic and three dimensional that it is hard to define where one sound ends and the next begins.

From high up the river just sounded beautiful; splashing, trickling and shushing, but in trying to establish the more minute sounds that were creating these more immediate ones I found it increasingly difficult to dissect.

After listening for a while I managed to hear four quite distinct spaces; far off to the right, a couple of metres to my left, the centre, and with a more subtle listening zone to my near right.

To the far right was sharp, breezy, light and hissing like fire with high pitch splatter darting down, sound brazenly batting from the surface. Resistance and absorption. In front of me there were gulps, sucking and releasing. Squelching, soft, translucent, round rather than circular patterns, babbling, chattering and running.

To my near right there were low frequency gurgles, not broken up but synthesised with the crackle and fizz of minute eruptions and bursts, breaks, holes. Mid range dots colliding and multiplying in pools. To the left the sounds rushed away, fast, urgent, fluid and calming, never ending but mutating, glooping and rolling on.

I was amazed by the nuances and how these sounds were all interrelated but also quite separate and individual in their own right, so natural, so much going on, polyrhythmic patterns forming and layering, rushing away and drawing back.

There was so much to hear that it was impossible to comprehend it all, at least to put into words anyway, but for me this is what is so magical about truly natural sounds. My contemplation was disturbed soon anyway, as a grown man showing off in front of his son fell dramatically into the river just a few feet away from me. I could go into the sonic details of this... but I was laughing too much to notice.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sonic Equality

I have read quite a lot recently about inequality in Britain, and despite improvement in the lives of many during Labours time, the poorest and most vulnerable people are still being shunted into run down estates, many still recovering from having their communities dislodged to make way for roads, or being displaced and dislodged from their existing homes with the promise of better quality housing often miles from where they live.

Hand in hand with modern poverty in Britain come tales of illiteracy, violence, illness and lives ended way below the average expectancy. There are so many factors that contribute to this, but it is worth considering the sonic implications which largely go unquoted beyond the general noise levels of busy roads or unruly neighbours.

From the start estates were built as part of the inner city slum clearances, and people who were used to the hustle and bustle of city life, the variety of sounds that come from living in close quarters to so many other families, the sounds of work, play and everything else that life offers, suddenly found themselves miles away from all of this. Not exactly in amongst the rich sonic texture offered up by true countryside, but rather in a man made between space.

These places are often eerily quiet bar the constant hum of the roads that circle them, and were a huge shock to people. A change of sonic environment can go hand in hand with a change in Psyche and people found this hard to deal with despite an appreciation of the relative peace and quiet it offered. Something was missing, a huge part of people's make up and understanding of the world was taken away. This bleak quietness, particularly during the day, is still a feature of many estates.

It is a complex case though, because just as many estates reside in silence, others are considered noisy and intrusive, with residents complaining that they can get no peace at all. This is also often of the authorities making, building major roads too close to mass amounts of housing or moving notoriously noisy residents to particular estates in order to quieten others down.

Susception to intrusive, uninvited sound can indeed increase stress, induce mental illness, hinder learning and lead to premature death, so these factors need to be considered much more closely than they currently are.

Although being quiet at times is good for us all, there is little evidence that I have seen to suggest that enforced silence is beneficial, indeed it is often used as a method of torture. But, there is evidence that certain music and sounds can have a positive impact on our mental and physical states, and are often used as part of therapy and rehabilitation.

Somewhere a balance must be found between the anguish of living in a barren sonic landscape and one that is so sonically intrusive it is detrimental to people's health.