Hail? Nary…

March 7, 2012

A few days ago, when snowflakes touched down on Ithaca at last, a hush fell over everything. And in that hush, I was able to really listen to the sounds of snow for the first time this winter, a sound I can only describe as thousands of microscopic foil candy wrappers being unwrapped simultaneously. I regretted not having equipment sensitive enough to record this sound. Others have done that very thing—most notably John Hudak and Stephen Mathieu in their album Pieces of Winter, for which they took contact recordings of snow as a basis for electronically generated compositions. Yet even as I lamented my lack of means, a sudden hailstorm unleashed its relatively recordable sounds on my apartment complex. Thinking I had an opportunity, I switched my portable recorder on and left it outside my door until the storm abated. Yet when I transferred the file to my computer, all I heard was a mechanical whine and none of the tiny flecks of sound I was hoping to explore in greater depth. It turns out that when I opened my door to place the recorder outside, the cold air rushing into the apartment had triggered my heater to kick in, and since the unit pokes out of the wall right beside my door, it was its hum that I’d managed to capture on tape. Disheartened, I quickly erased the recording and forgot about it. But then I began thinking about the sound I had discarded. Might there not have been something to hear in the voice of a machine? Was it only because it was unnatural that I rejected it? To be sure, certain recordings have turned just such sounds into immersive listening experiences (murmer’s We Share A Shadow comes to mind). Let this be a lesson to find potential in every sound. -Tyran


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