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Auscultation on Toronto’s seasonal soundscapes, part subsequent

March 19, 2008

I’m currently housebound, waiting for an important delivery that should have arrived by now, but hasn’t. In fact, I’m more than housebound. Because I live underground, behind a series of doors neither of which has a doorbell, the only way to notice hear my delivery arriving is to open my doors a bit, wrap up warm to deal with all the cold air coming into my apartment, and stay very very quiet in anticipation of the tread of UPS-employed feet. Usually people come to my front door and I don’t hear them at all, so I’m keeping my ears pricked up. I’m punctuating my sitting quiet with frequent spells of pacing up and down outside my apartment, like some kind of jaguar in fingerless gloves. I’m leaning on a lamp… maybe you think I look a tramp? Or you may think I’m hanging round to steal a car. But no! I’m not a crook. And if you think that’s what I look, I’ll tell you why I’m here and what my motives are…

Actually, all this anticipatory hearing has forced my attention onto the seasonal soundscapes of the city. Last summer I wrote at length about the pleasures of insect songs in the park at night, and being able to hear the dryness of the grass and trees. I’ve been a bit quiet about ambient sound recently, because the city itself has been muted, muffled by too many snowfalls. The sensible pedestrian will also cover up their ears with hats or ear muffs in winter, too; and no-one in their right mind would keep their window open in winter. So it’s only now, when the winter is just about melting, that I’ve started to love sounds again. Birds are re-singing. Gulls seem to have landed on the park outside my home, probably mistaking its slushy melted snow covering for a proper body of water. Whatever their intentions, they’re having a fine old discussion about it. But my favourite sound — one which is everywhere in the city right now — is the sound of melting snow and ice trickling down gutters and falling into the drainage system. I assume that the drains are especially unfull at this time of year, since everything’s been frozen for so long, so the melted ice-water has a long way to fall, giving a marvelous resonance to the tinkling streams. This is a beautiful and surprisingly pervasive sound that more than fills the ears, and more than competes with the usual traffic hum. And what you’re actually hearing here is the hollowness of the streets, the depth of empty space beneath the concrete. Who knows what rats and alligators are scratching around down there?  It’s not often enough that city is audible vertically.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mat permalink
    March 19, 2008 6:37 pm

    To Keep You Company: Master Streamer, from William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat, the “first English Novel” – it says here – has discovered a magical way to understand the language of cats:

    But I warrant you the pellicle, or filthy rime, that lyeth within the bottom of mine ear hole, from whence little veins carry the sounds to the senses, was with this medicine in my pillows so purged and parched, or at least dried, that the least moving of the air, whether struck with breath of living creatures, which we call voices, or with the moving of dead (as winds, waters, trees, carts, falling of stones, etc.) which are named noises, sounded so shrill in my head by reverberation of my ‘fined films, that sound of them altogether was so disordered and monstrous that I could discern no one from other, save only the hamorny of the moving of the spheres, which noise excelled all other as much both in pleasance and shrill higheness of sound as the Zodiac itself surmounteth all other creatures in altitude of place […]

    there was nothing within an hundred mile of me done on any side but I heard it as well as if I had been by it, and could discern all voices, but by means of noises understnad none. Lord what ado women made in their beds – some scolding; some laughing; some weeping; some singing to their suciking children, which made a woeful noise with their continual crying. And one shrewd wife a great way off (I think at St Alabns) called her husband “cuckold” so loud and shrilly that I heard that plain; and would fain have heard the rest, but could not be no means for barking of dogs, grunting of hogs, wawling of cats, rumbling of rats, gaggling of geese, humming of bees, rousing of bucks, gaggling of ducks, singing of swans, ringing of pans, crowing of cocks, sewing of socks, cackling of hens, scrabbling of pens, peeping of mice, trulling of dice, curling of frogs, and toads in the bogs, chirking of crickets, shutting of wickets, shriking of osls, flittering of fowls, routing of knaves, snorting ofslaves, farting of churls, fizzling of girls, with many things elese – as ringing of bells, counting of coins, mounting of groins, whispering of lovers, springling of plovers, goraning and spewing, baking and brewing, scratching adn rubbing, watching and shrugging

    and so it goes on. From the language which brought you John Skelton.

  2. March 20, 2008 5:08 am

    That helped a great deal, thankyou. And as soon as I got to the end, my delivery was delivered.

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