Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sonic Feng Shui

    In an article he wrote for The Atlantic, author Toby Lester details how he has mapped all of the ambient sounds in his day-to-day world. Waking to the unfamiliar silence of his new apartment, Lester describes just how hyper-aware he became to the sounds. He says that "without recourse to radio, tapes, CDs, or television, I suddenly found myself aware of -- no, listening to -- a sort of secondhand music emanating from the machines and appliances nearby." As Cage pointed out with 4:33, we live in a world on constant sounds of some sort. They're inescapable. And in today's world of modern appliances, central heating/air, refrigerators, computers, televisions, etc. we're in the presence of an incessant hum, a drone of electrical appliances and modern conveniences. After Toby Lester began noticing the sounds that he lived with in his home and office, he took to examining, them. What exactly was he listening to day in and day out? "My alarm clock woke me [...], as it does every working day, on a distinctly musical note (B natural, to be precise). I shuffled sleepily to the refrigerator, which kept up a stoic hum (B-flat) as I reached into its guts for a frozen bagel. The bagel I subjected to the resolute drone (E) of the microwave, which concluded its efforts with a ding! (the B-flat an octave above the refrigerator hum) just as my teakettle began to whistle (A). Later that morning my subway train pulled me into town with a weary whine (F), and the office elevator deposited me on my floor with a relieved bleep (C-sharp). I entered the code (C) of the security system with a staccato flourish and was at work." As I read Lester's descriptions of the music he lives with, I muse on the effects of music on mood, of various notes on the emotions, and then can't help but ask: If our appliances contribute a minor chord to our lives, can we subconsciously be put into a depressed mood? If our office sounds hum in a major chord, can we be made more cheerful workers? I see the potential for some sort of harmonic Feng Shui, an analysis and alteration of the sounds that you live with in order to make you a happier/more relaxed/more productive etc. person.

 You can read Toby Lester's article here.

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