Aural Postcard: Paradise

This post is a bit of a departure from “secondary orality” as it is about experiences in “nature” (covering my ass by putting contested words into quotation marks – priceless. Or words I use that I am not quite sure what I mean by…) However, in some ways this isn’t a departure, precisely because I bring my urbanized, city-cultured, secondary oral ears to the pristine locale of nature, and my listening experiences are so coloured. This is what precipitated this post – I was lying yesterday under a tree, on a huge garden in front of the house on Galiano, and reading. Rather, trying to read. I kept getting distracted by the “silence” around me. I will try to analyse this situation but of course, it is interpretive – I think two things were happening for me. I felt both a visceral lack of people/car/media sounds, and at the same time resisted and was frustrated by that and wanted to enjoy the sounds of nature around me. The second thing was the “silence” – it wasn’t actually silent, it was a constant chorus of very vocal birds, swooshing of hummingbird wings, the clear almost crisp woozing and buzzing of various insects near me, the gentle sway of trees and leaves, and the distant calls of bigger birds high up in the sky. I guess it was amazing that I could actually clearly hear and pick up on such a variety of natural sounds. So why did I feel like I was in the middle of a busy highway?????

Even inside the cabin I feel the omnipresent silence, and it will be a matter of time to see whether I’d get used to it (probably..) but for now I am in a very existential way haunted by it, reminded of being alone, and reminded that nature is a relaxing and pleasant, yet also dark and dangerous place. This morning I turned on the tv just to have some familiar sounds…embarrassing! I don’t even watch that much tv in the city, but I guess its pervasive nonetheless and habitually associated now with my urban memory.

A little update from 07-14-2010

More sounds I am aware of and able to distinguish: at least 5 to 7 types of bird calls, and almost link it to time of day; at least this much insect buzzes and behaviour; and when I went out kayaking around the Montague harbour park, the most curious thing, among soft water, washing over rocks – what sounded and looked like the sound of seaweed drying in the sun. A very faint sharp bubbling sound, almost like tiny frying pans – I stuck the microphone way close:

So it’s kinda remarkable to marvel at the subtlety of how much sounds I can pick up here, in the absence of the ever-present drowning spectral effect of traffic and [white] city noise. I was lucky enough to go camping last week to a beautiful place (Sombrio beach – pic on the left) for four days and that’s where I started to notice the granular [well, actually, quite pronounced] differences in ocean and wave sounds – a sound we think of as uniform or even “universal” yet no two waves are ever the same. What I hadn’t thought of before was the differences introduced by surrounding terrain, type of body of water, ocean floor – rock, pebble vs. sand or mud, and strength of tide. With the sounds of the ocean as a leitmotif of my recent times I’ve noticed my senses tuning into the unique sounds of pebbles under my feet, and the water of the ocean rhythmically washing over different types of beaches. Below are three samples that I found most strikingly different. The first, Sombrio, waves are washing over a bed of round pebbles, soft edges, and the sound of the wave retreating had, I noticed, a particular sound quality, the words for which elude me (impoverished vocabulary to describe sound) and the best articulation I can give is that it sounded like a flanger effect – a natural comb filter most likely, produced by tiny periodic phase differences. It was a crisp, liquid sound with a strong peak near the 1kHz, very particular sound. I noticed later on, though I didn’t make a recording of it, in a fresh water bed, the sound of water going over jagged, sharp rocks was just slightly (but noticeably) different. I am not sure whether the fact it wasn’t salt water had anything to do with it. It had a similar sharp timbre, but without the flanger effect….wonder why? The last two samples are also interesting to compare. One is also Sombrio but the ocean waves come over a mostly sandy bed – so note the difference with the first recording. However, there is still an air of mist and the deep hissing of foam from the ocean tide that is missing in the quiet waters of Galiano (last recording) in a small alcove of a beach – there, the water is calm and gentle.


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