Noise and Silence–Noticing #4

As I walked around this evening, out again with the intent to purposefully notice my surroundings, I became acutely aware of the noise that surrounds me. The neighborhood hums with machinery, electricity’s high pitched whine, and the roar of generators. Even inside the room where I now sit, a machine drones away on the other side of the wall. Even at rest, the world here whirs.

What if this sound took on life in a different form and became color? Imagine what that world would look like, or any world where sound became color, as if synesthesia were possible for a day. What would different things we see become if they were sound? Would we respond to noise differently than we do now?

The way we view a place is, in part, the associations we have with the sound. I will always remember my months at Lincoln College, Oxford for the bells that rang through the city in the evening. I will remember Izmir, Turkey for the peddlers walking down the street calling out “Aygaz,” followed by a dinging bell, and Izmir, again, for the mosque calls ringing through the cannoned walls of apartments in the morning’s early hours like a thousand voices calling out all at once.

photo-38When I return to my home in Santa Cruz, I am always stunned by the purity of the silence at night, in the morning, and how it seems to flood over me like a blessing, my whole body giving itself to a quietness so beautiful, so rare and set aside from other experiences of places I know that it feels I enter into a kind holy space–my whole body sighing in a kind of inner relief.

But of course sound can be more than noise. It can also be beautiful–the voice of the ones we love is always a sound that resonates in our hearts with happiness, and what could be a better antidote to noise than that sound which is like music?

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Franco Corelli’s voice as I was looking up “Torna a Surriento.” What a magnificent presence his voice has–rich with the intensity and depth of life that wells up from the longing in the soul that opera evokes so well, bringing the listener totally inside the moment of the sound rising from the singer’s body. Here is Corelli singing “O Pase d’ ‘o Sole.”

The noise of the world only makes sound and silence all the more precious.

What do you hear today? What are the sounds around you telling you?

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