Monday, October 24, 2011

Reverie on Space, Sound, and Noise

I sit in my chair, intensely concentrating on theory; I am near unaware of my body as I float in an abstract space of thought, even though the book I am reading may concern the flesh. Is it silent, here? No, not quite. If I try, I can hear the faint hum of my computer, halfway between a sound an a gust of wind. The fan ruffles the blinds and they click together as they sway back and forth. Still, I can ignore this and focus on my infinite abstract space of my thoughts and the comforting rhythm of my tapping fingers on the keys or the faint sound of my pen's impression under an important phrase or term.

But then, a dog barks. . .

I am jostled out of my thoughtful infinity into embodied existence. My apartment now feels small and oppressive, as I realize that I am not in a free space, alone, in a weightless ether of words. The bark interrupts the sentences in a rhythmic cadence. The word and the sound cannot correspond as the word loses to the harsh timbre of that dog. . .

The dog is my neighbor's. I can tell not only from the timbre, volume, intensity, but the direction of the sound. It is piercing through my window as it reverberates off the other apartment's walls. The call of the dog is echoed by another dog, fainter, probably the balcony on the other side of the courtyard. This dog is less annoying, but the counterpoint is irresistible to my musical brain. I cannot focus. The sentences move past, but all I hear are bursts of sound. 

Now my space is a small, cramped room. I begin to think about moving to the bedroom, but no, I cannot escape the sound. 

Silence again. no. BARK. BARK. BARK. I cannot take it.

I block it out with Elbow's newest album and my space opens up again. My head has become a concert hall as the dialogue of the dogs yields to the atmospheric polyphony of piano, guitar, drums, and voices. I am transported again, but I cannot focus on the words. 

This music does not interrupt, it engulfs and saturates my environment. A new mood, a new state-of-mind, but still--not an adequate space for reading--maybe for writing. 

I leave the concert hall, return to the apartment, and the incessant barking. BARK. BARK. "Shut up you stupid bitch," I say to no one in particular--perhaps the walls. My words merely return to me, mute and useless. The more I curse, the more I create sound, I only increase the cacophony of arbitrary sounds.

I am not as alone as I thought. This is not MY space, but a rented space, a space shared with others; not only fellow residents, but also the buzz of scooters and roar of cars on 23rd drive. But I am the lucky one. In one of my friend's apartments, located on the ground floor, a truck's passing on Old Archer makes his room buzz on its own frequency--the whole room becomes an unfortunate tuning fork for traffic. 

My apartment is located on the second floor, with a generously sized balcony perfect for reading on a bright, summer day. A tree protects me from the harsh sunlight, but nothing can protect me from the sounds. Sometimes, its a bird and sometimes a squirrel; other times, its that damn dog or my neighbor's music or chatter. The tree and I have a symbiotic relationship, but as a habitat, it conflicts with my own necessary environment. Our soundscapes clash. 

I am not a silent tenant. One can only read for so long. I often worry that I take up too much sound-space, when I decide to pick my guitar and sing on my balcony--or when I pump music through my speakers placed strategically near the screen door. My sound occupies the whole courtyard and people walking their dogs look up at the man who has intruded upon their space--some with interest, others with annoyance. When I am not reading, I have the urge to expand and fill my space with sound as I pour another beer and sing another song. 

I believe I have heard my neighbor pounding on my ceiling or through my walls as a polite (but inarticulate) sign to quiet down.

I am a loud singer. 

But it could have also been the maintenance men working on another apartment. Their saws and leaf-blowers sometimes wake me up and I realize that their sound is necessary for my space to exist in its best possible state. I try to think that their soundscape is a necessary evil. 

"We" are now occupying the streets (not me, of course--why?) Perhaps I should say 'they', the 99% (?). They occupy space with their bodies and their noise, their yells more articulate than the dog's but in a similar, punctuated,  rhythm, "this is what democracy looks like."

Meanwhile,  the majority of us take comfort in the warm space of a bar--a more 'intimate' public space than the plaza. We make noise--probably more noise, but the space is sanctioned for noise--a particular noise. What if I brought in my guitar when it wasn't Open Mic Night and, forgoing the need for a mic, decided to pick a little on a barstool, crooning bluegrass music over the house's 90's alt rock? Would not people stare?

"Excuse me, we are trying to talk."
"Excuse me, we are trying to play pool."
"Excuse me. . .what are you doing?"
"Excuse me. . .you are not supposed to be here"

Who has the right to occupy a bar with sound?

A "DJ's" occupation is the occupation of space with sound.

As a renter, I am an "occupant" as well as a "tenant." This is not my 'space', although, it becomes 'my space' when I fill it with sound, with atmosphere, with mood.


As I write, my statements disconnect. I am creating a space between--a space for sound?

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