Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Sounds of Silence

No, this is not flashback time at the blog (at least not for me). However it is a bit of a departure from my usual topics...

I was talking with my tech boss earlier today, and he mentioned a show he heard on North Country Public Radio on Thursday that was about recording silence in the US. After a little searching and figuring out he heard it just before lunch, we would the show from WBUR's OnPoint.

Gordon Hempton was being featured, and his work with recording silence where he could find it across the US. He has a book as well, which documents his Washington-to-Washington trip, called "One Square Inch of Silence". Linked to, you can find both his book and CD's there, but please buy locally if you can.

He is what is know as an Audio Ecologist and specializes not in pure silence per say, but natural silence. Now there is no such thing as true natural silence, but in his definition, it means at least 15 minutes of time spent without hearing a human made sound. It is becoming harder and harder to find these places now, as we develop, and communicate, sound is everywhere, many of us can not experience what true quiet is any more.

I remember my time spent in Vermont last summer, we were out camping in the acres owned by the Putney School, 250+ of them. This is in southern Vermont, so it’s not like the great north woods or anything, but the nights were so wonderful. Especially as we were out camping in them for three nights. The peace that was there, even in this environment where if you tried hard, you could hear the highway, or the motorcycle, or dogs barking in response to the howling coyotes. It was relaxing and almost instantly calming for me. It is very similar to my ride home at night from school; the rural 2 miles of my ride are pretty quiet compared to when I am usually coming in, for my morning class. I maybe have 1 to 3 cars pass me in this time, and the only sounds are the peepers, a rustling of the deer about to bound across the road and the dull rumble of trucks on the Northway, which is less than a mile from my route home.

Silence creates a memory for me, just as sounds of certain things do. Hearing loons, I instantly return to my time at Methodist summer camp in northern NH, sitting on the lake at night, listening to the call, enjoying the peace. When I hear small planes flying overhead I think of home, and of summer, days spent picking blueberries in the backyard, or working the garden. When I hear peepers it brings back memories of springtime, when I hear birds calling at night, I remember my time in the UK and birds chirping away at four in the morning.

Sounds are like smells, and natural silence is that smell that makes you smile, sigh, laugh, and lifts your spirits.

We all need more silence in our lives, and if we are not careful, we will loose what little silence there is left in this country.

I do enjoy urban noises just as much sometimes though, what really makes me happy is cyclists riding along, talking, the ringing of bike bells, the squeak of breaks, the clack of chains on guards, the peace that many in Europe cycle with, yet I think take for granted.

Listen to the world around you that is my thought for earth week, stop, listen, enjoy, and protect.

Natural Silence - OnPoint
NPR Media Player: OnPoint 4/22/10 (caution, may open a new window, audio will start right away)

This is a Video of Mr. Hempton, is his natural environment, enjoy

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