Coms 276: Aural Blog

So I basically forgot about this blog for the past year, partly because I still favour the venerable ink and paper approach to graphic, literary expression, but mostly because I ushered this specific blog into existence to publish my accounts of a particular trans-oceanic adventure, which abruptly ended in August of 2009. Suddenly though, “Aidan’s Blog” has been called back into active duty, where today I will ponder the significance of my Daily Sonic Experience.

As I have resided in this remarkable city of Montreal for but little under a month, my life has yet to settle into any coherent semblance of a routine. This reality holds a certain significance when trying to reflect on anything to be considered as “daily”. As such, the relevant acoustic stimuli I have chosen to focus on generally seem to originate from my pre-University life.

There are thousands of unique sounds that arouse an infinite array of emotional responses within me, but that would take a depressingly long time to articulate, so instead I will focus on five, rather different, yet equally important and enduring sonic phenomena. I will, for the hell of it, start at the beginning:

1. The Traveling Wilburys
Okay, I know this hardly qualifies as a “sound” so much as, well, music, but it is far too nostalgically significant for me to just gloss over. The band, incidentally, formed and recorded their first album right around the time I was conceived, then subsequently released the record about two months before I was born. From that prenatal release date on, my mother, and therefore I, (allegedly) listened to the Wilburys almost every day for roughly the next 5 years. I have been bound to those songs ever since, and they utterly fail to lose their charm. I will further defend this as a viable “sound” by recalling that, from my initial, muffled vantage point within the womb, perhaps those timeless Petty / Dylan / Harrison / Lynne / Orbison melodies did indeed blend into a kind of singular aural balm for my developing tympanic membranes. Either way, the Traveling Wilburys unmistakable sound will, for me, remain a central and life long acoustic anchor.

2. Rupert’s Weird “Meow”
Shortly after being born, I was taken home to discover that my family owned a kitten named “Rupert”. Rupert was about my age (slightly older) when I was born and remained that way until he decided to die last year at the respectable old age of twenty-one. Among many others remarkable qualities, this beloved animal possessed quite possibly the strangest “meow” in the know universe. Not so much the familiar feline “mew”, as it was a kind of bizarre, strangled “yowl”. More akin to what a dying crow might utter upon its final breath, than what one would expect out of a house cat. Nevertheless, the meow persisted and never ceased to make me laugh. Up until last year, that sound of Rupert meowing always evoked vague memories of my early childhood and of a simpler life, that and an endearing chuckle. Even now that the world will never again hear that particular pattern of frequencies, it will live on in my mind as a humorous reminder of my first days on Earth.

3. Utter Silence
Now this is a tricky one, and actually quite hard find, too. Only on the small island of Cortes, in the dead of winter at about 3:26 am have I ever really experienced the proverbial “sound of silence”. Even in a sound proof recording studio, the silence is artificial and flat, whereas the equivalent manifestation in nature is rather more profound. The handful of times that I have been lucky enough to hear literally “nothing”at all though, are rather special. I recall the experience actually being rather uncomfortable, and yet strangely compelling, undoubtedly because it is so rarely encountered in bustling urban life. Undoubtedly, there were sound waves floating through the air, somewhere beyond my hearing threshold, yet surely that simply galvinized the enigma of the silence. What I experienced was an environment fit for pure thought; there is no distraction, so what can one to do but muse? One’s own heartbeat can even be detected in the stillness, but that hardly counts… yes utter silence is a treat I always look forward to, but realize it is but a rare, and sometimes fleeting indulgence.

3. Large Freight Trains In The Night
For about a third of my life I lived on a relatively quite street on the North Shore of Vancouver, BC (It should be noted that our house was situated less than 20 meters from the railroad tracks). Every night, right around the time I would try to go to sleep (and it didn’t seem to matter when that was), a freight train would come lumbering around the corner. We’re not talking about the lovable old chug-chug of your grandfathers’ steam engine here, but rather of that metallic schunk-schunk of raw power, punctuated by the occasional banshee shriek of metal-on-metal ringing out into the night. Initially, this was utterly intolerable and after a week or two of aural harassment, I began to personally resent the entire rail industry. As the months drifted by however, I began to tolerate it, and soon associated the sound with sleep itself; eventually building an affectionate relationship with the night-train as it gradually became a sort of hardcore lullaby. Now, whenever I catch the far off slamming and squealing of an industrial freight train, I stop, feeling mildly drowsy as I imagine an old friend rolling doggedly down some nondescript pair of tracks… and I smile.

4. The Hum of a Planing Sailboat
This is easy, for there is nothing, sonically speaking, in my twenty-one years and nine months of life that has insofar elicited such a neuro-tastically intense sensation as the coursing hum of a planing sailboat under full power. Sailing is integral to my life and always will be, so it feels only natural to regard this as the most potent sound I have yet encountered. It goes something like this:

“Sluicing fluidly through the water, a boat tears forward, sails taught and helm twitchy. Slowly, a swell bears down from behind, and the skipper steers his craft carefully away with the rising crest. Suddenly, the vessel erupts into speed, and tears down the face of the wave and together, gravity and the wind propel it beyond the hydro-physical limitations of its own hull speed, and into a charging plane. Enter the “hum”. As water fans down away from the bow, a medium to high-pitched undulating hum begins to resonate from the vibrating hull, and is exaggerated by the amplifying effects of the boat itself; it is a harmonic of speed, representing pure exhilaration. The droning, pulsating tone (which is quite unnerving to the uninitiated) marks an elongated moment that teeters on the brink of catastrophe, only mediated by a skilled hand. Nothing can enter the mind when this sound is nigh, for it saturates ones entire consciousness and even time itself steps respectfully aside as the beholder just damn-well beholds.”

This is my aural drug and I crave it with passion.

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