Sunday, August 23, 2009

city blues

After two and a half days out in Harvard, IL, I'm feeling kind of glum, back in Chicago. Twenty four hours ago we were listening to acorns drop from tall trees, light breezes swim through the oak groves, birds rustling in trees and thousands of insects singing in a range of pitch and tone.

Back in the city, it's a different story. Shared a train car with a pair of the most foul-mouthed, angry drunks you could imagine (now I'm not one to mind an expressive/emphatic word choice, and have been known swear up a storm without too much provocation, but...this was different. Aggressive. Insistent. Really, really unpleasant.) And as I type this sirens are screaming off in the distance - getting closer.

It's enough to make me wonder if my switches are lined properly - a question I've been thinking about since N. dropped me at the train station in Harvard earlier today, to catch a train back to Chicago. I'm beginning to have my doubts.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pin Drop Melody

When I learned my dear niece was checking in here, realized it was high time to post some thoughts that have been rattling (quietly) around in my head - and which don't actually have anything to do with Monkey.

I'm almost finished reading this book about one man's intense quest for preserving silence - just one square inch in a national park out in Washington - in the so very noisy world we live in. Author Gordon Hempton gets a bit too vainglorious (new favorite synonym for 'proud') at times but i'm down with his basic premise - that silence in the natural world is endangered, and that this does not bode well for humankind. ("My aim," I explain, "is to establish the Hoh Valley as the world's first quiet place. This would be essentially a no-flight zone.")

At the same time I'm reading a book by John Cage, which in some ways counters One Square Inch by, among other things, exploring some of the very noise that drives Hempton crazy as music in its own right, and well-worth our recognition of it as such. ("Was it an airplane? Is it a noise? Is it music?") Instead of lamenting the "aural graffiti" scrawled by aircraft, motorized vehicles, espresso machines and other basic sounds of 'civilization' - Cage composed with them.

Combined, these books are giving my ears and brain quite the workout. I'm more aware than ever of just how much noise surrounds me, every moment of the day (right now the crickets outside my parents' back deck in Ohio are screaming - almost eclipsing the sound of the highway traffic a mile or so away.) While I'm finding this hyper-awareness somewhat excruciating, there are also moments when the noise transcends /crosses over into music, with tones, rhythms and lyrical expression. At which point I'm more amused and gratified (majestic / bewildering) than neurotically irritated.

In any case, I think there's plenty that Hempton and Cage have in common, despite their obvious differences. It's in the listening, and the thinking about the listening, and the devotion to the listening, and the writing about the listening, and the caring about the listening. I imagine these two might actually enjoy taking a long walk together through a beautiful forest or down a back city alley - Cage pointing out the sounds of their footsteps and Hempton noting (dejectedly) how many decibels they register at. To which I say, [very very softly,] amen.

"We're passing through time and space. Our ears are in excellent condition." (Cage)