sound waves

country road

Two different experiences of sound  this week; one my own, and one experienced by another that brought back memories of my own experience, brought home the effect that sound has on our lives and our emotions.

I usually rise about five am each morning, either as a result of my alarm clock or a wet Augie Dog nose poked into my face or armpit. Earlier this week I had only been upright for a few minutes when the sound of a very mournful siren reached me through the open bedroom window. It was not a siren, and I am still assuming that it was a siren, that I had heard before.

Living in a rural area our fire brigade is run by volunteers and remembering the scream of the siren to alert volunteers back in my childhood home town, I surmised that the sound I was now hearing was a call for the fire brigade. It was the actual sound of the siren, or the type of sound that it emitted that affected me instantly.

Last weekend I was watching a British television show and it mentioned the “workhouse howl”, the howl that inmates in the workhouse, people who had suffered immeasurable loss, grief and suffering cry in their darkest moments. This siren sounded just as mournful and instantly touched my mood. Days later, I still feel a heaviness in my heart from that sound. It wasn’t because of the thought of a fire and potential suffering somewhere connected to a fire alarm, it was more primal than that. It was the sound itself.

When I was a small child I remember seeing a movie, and only now I think back that it was probably the original Anne Frank movie. It was a world war two storyline and there was the sound of the SS cars and trucks, sirens blaring through the streets as they set out to tear the Jewish from their hiding places. The sound of those sirens haunts me down through the decades.

This week, we skyped with an old Japanese man who is a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki. He spoke of the silence immediately after the bombing, how the world went silent. No human sound, no animal or bird sound. Complete and utter silence. He could not tell if it was seconds or minutes, eventually he heard himself calling for his mother and for Buddha to help him. Then the human cries rang out over his cries.

His description brought back to my mind the floods we experienced in 2011 when so many people lost their lives. I remember the silence as the waters encroached and the animals, especially the birds left the area. Silence that was unnatural and frightening. Nature knows, it speaks through silence.

Now that I live in the country I notice sound more acutely. When I spend the weekend in the city I feel the pressure of sound – cars, planes, neighbours and their activities, children crying and playing – and by the end of the weekend I want to run back to the natural sounds of my home.

I wonder if we pay enough attention to the sounds in our environment, of our selection or of our tolerance, and how it shapes our human experience.  I know that, especially when I am tired or stressed, that sound can be the “thing” that tips me over the edge into stress. Sound, such as the howling siren of fire alarms and movie sound tracks, can stay with me for days, even years it seems.

I hope your day is filled with the sound of laughter and love today. May the sounds you hear bring you comfort and joy. That is my wish to you this day.

13 thoughts on “sound waves

  1. Beautifully written piece.
    I have a ‘thing’ about sound. It physically hurts me to have screeching noises around me (like you get in a teachers staff room at playtime or in a parrot house) and I become agitated if there are more than two sounds in the room: TV + kids + wife = pain.
    The lack of modern noise allows a person to focus on older sounds like rainfall, birdsong or wind …. nature’s not mine.


  2. I really appreciate this post. Having tinnitus, I have to protect my ears from loud noises like revving engines, power tools, and overly loud music. (I’ve noticed a number of TV shows and films crank up the musical interludes after their characters have spoken so softly or mumbled through a dialogue that I’ve had to turn up the volume to hear them.) My children however don’t seem to notice the noise at all, and shrug when I complain about not being able to hear them. Wait ’til they turn 50 and start noticing their hearing has gotten worse….

    I don’t understand why the mainstream culture allows and even encourages this intrusion of noise into our personal lives. A number of us cherish quiet, or at least the low thrum of natural sounds, running water, a bird’s whistle, wind blowing through trees. While many city planners are talking about high-density housing being more energy efficient and that such cities should be the wave of the future, I think I’d like nothing more than a house in the country with no neighbors or adjacent businesses.


    • I know what you mean! I have tinnitus as well and I can’t stand clanging sorts of noises. I can’t eat in those small cafes that are full of clanging and scraping and coffee machine noises and I really don’t know if I’m going to be able to stand the builders being here renovating our bathroom – just the thought of it makes my shoulders hunch. There were some workman here yesterday fixing some flooring and the apprentice just kept letting the screen door slam shut and that almost drove me to bashing him to death.


      • Coffee grinders and espresso machines are the worst! I can’t stand sitting in busy coffee shops because of them. Power saws and wood chippers also drive me crazy. Earlier in the month, the city was going from street to street in our neighborhood, trimming the trees on the boulevard. The noise was so bad I finally jumped in the car and drove to the library, where the noise level is guaranteed to be tolerable. (The head librarian is old-school and won’t even allow teenagers to giggle and whoop as they enter the building. She sends them out and orders them to make a more quiet entrance or leave.)

        Good luck on the remodeling. The last time we had workmen in the house, I wore earplugs.


  3. Great piece today. I remember a siren from my childhood, a long wound-up call for the volunteer fire department, a siren that had doubled as air-raid during the Cold War. It was like the howling of wolves that never sleep, something I can hear even now, thirty years later.


  4. Dad was living in London as a kid during the bombings and as an adult whenever he watched a movie or tv show where that was happening he would get goosebumps from the sound of the bombs droppping – that whistling sound they made would just bring it all back to him.


  5. Beautiful writing!
    Glad to know Hangaku Gozen and Jane feel the same as I do about noise and sound in our daily live. Now I have gained a courage to write to NHK, our seminational TV station, to review the volume of background, frontground rather, music while talks.


  6. Noise pollution and light pollution are the two last frontiers to conquer. Just went to SD today to endure 1-1/2 hours in the dentist chair. Couldn’t wait to get back to the hill. Soon as I got there, I breathed several deep sighs of relief.


  7. Very nice piece FD.
    As a young adult I became aware of sound. I stopped mentioning what I was hearing or heard as people would snicker at me. For example, I can walk down a busy city street and hear a bird sing or call over the noise of the streets. When I lived on my Mountain it was like heaven, the crackling of the bushes when an animal, unseen, would make its way through the woods to where ever it was going. The tall trees hitting each other when the wind blew fiercely would make a very distinct sound. And of course the multitude of bird species was amazing to listen to and occasionally see.
    Then there are the sounds you mention, the ones you don’t forget, that live deep within.
    Well done my friend, well done.


  8. I live near freeways and just off the main route to the local major hospital. I hear sirens CONSTANTLY. And now the police helicopter has been out every night for the last week. I can’t figure out if they got a new pilot, more funding, or if it’s some new crime wave – but it drives me nuts.

    I tend to get SUPER paranoid if things get too quiet because I associate that with an earthquake about to strike.


  9. More than one it has happened that I visit your blog and you talk exactly of the thing I have been thinking about.
    In our house, both the husband and kid are music buffs and listen to music every waking minute of the day, and go to sleep playing music.
    Much a I love music, I love silence too. During holidays, by the end of the day I am so exhausted listening to music all day. Like you said, it pushes me over the edge when I am already worked about something.
    Today was one such day when I lost it. That set me thinking if it was just me who is intolerant to constant man-made sound, or if there are more like me.
    Your beautiful post is quite food for thought.


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