Photo by Dex Ezekiel on Unsplash
Rob Walker (The Art of Noticing) recently suggested spending time noticing what you hear around you. There are words that describe and classify the sounds I hear.
Biophony refers to the sounds of living organisms. Geophony are non-animal sounds like those made by the wind or ocean waves. Anthrophony is about the sounds that people or their creations make. This would include the sounds made by technology, which I noticed this morning.
It’s dark. The sun has not yet risen. No one has arrived work on the house being built across the street. No cars or trucks are driving through the neighborhood. My wife and dog are still asleep. I am sitting still.
But it’s not quiet.
Freshly frozen ice cubes drop in the freezer. The thermostat gently clicks and I hear cool air blow from a vent. I hear the gentle rush of water heating up in the coffee maker. A ceiling fan creates a gentle audible rhythm. The refrigerator hums. A partially dimmed lightbulb buzzes. The world may not be awake, but my technology is.
Unless I stop and listen, I don’t pay much attention to these sounds. I’m used to them. But when a hurricane blows through and the power is out, I miss them. That’s when the quiet is the loudest. I’m aware of all the sounds I don’t hear. I wonder when the power will come back on. When it does and I hear everything again, I relax and fall back to sleep.
What do I notice more: the sounds I hear or the sounds I don’t hear? I always hear water running or dripping somewhere in the house. (I think that’s a dad thing.) The heating element in the oven has a distinctive sound I notice when we have accidentally left it on. When I hear the garbage truck around the block, I’ll remember to get my trash can out to the street.
But when I wake up feeling too warm, I’ll wake and immediately notice I don’t hear cool air blowing from a vent. I know something’s wrong when my maps app isn’t telling me my exit is coming up soon. Parents notice if the kids are too quiet in another room. It’s not good when someone takes a bite and you ask, “What do you think?” and they say nothing. When laryngitis hits, I’m aware of my absent voice. It’s not unusual for one of us to say, “I didn’t hear you get up this morning.”
Pause for a moment. What do you hear?