May 20, 2020
As we all avoid one another, report from home, and muffle our mouths in makeshift coverings, things have hushed into a quiet. Yes, there are the newfound sounds in songs from separate windows showcasing neighbors coming together and scheduled bursts of noise to thank our healthcare workers. There are still the voices of roommates and dogs barking with increased satisfaction as their human pals are home for even more hours of the day. There are still the birds that whistle early, now more often greeted with my own tired eyes as sleep schedules have fallen to the way-side and divisions between days are blurred. There are still the sounds of sirens whining in the distance. The sounds have remained of course, but there is a new quiet in the loss of a sound we can no longer access.
This new quiet is discussed in an episode of the podcast, Invisibilia: an absence of the lull of people gathering that hints at our inaccessibility to gather; a signifier of our lack of communing despite our communing nature. Hanna Rosin, one of the hosts of the shows, recovers “recordings of the world that existed before that world ever fell silent and ever knew that the world could fall silent in that way.” She begins to recall crowded trains, barbershops, people in cafes -- all now a distant memory but a reminder of humans as the social creatures we are.
"The lack of voices in commotion, conversations tangled up, is something that we can only hold in memory and recordings now."
I think I have always had an affinity for the murmur of gathering. My favorite sound: the sound of voices of a party downstairs- a remnant of my conditioning as the youngest of a family of hosting parents and siblings. Therefore, it hit home and heart to hear Hanna Rosin offer the public formed murmurs and to realize that we unknowingly took them for granted.
The -scape that these sounds once existed is not something we can access at the moment. Where crowds can no longer form, there is a quiet. The conference attendees are not shuffling experiences before a keynote. The conglomerated projections of an audience falling to a hush at the sight of a performer taking the stage is missing. The roar of a cafeteria despite insistence from lunch mothers to use inside voices is distant: the cafeterias are empty. The lack of voices in commotion, conversations tangled up, is something that we can only hold in memory and recordings now. In Invisibilia, Hanna Rosin shares this pain. When I first heard the recordings she shared, my heart sank and my eyes welled. We never knew we’d have to miss a sound that at one point was something we’d likely consider noise.
There are new realities though. This frequently stated “unprecedented” time has us now isolating ourselves and listening to voices shared over wifi. Our quiet is seen in the empty streets, the birthdays now moved to online rooms, the things on “hold.” The quiet of what’s not being heard reminds us.
"Sing loud and savor the sounds and noises we do hear - because it means we’re still here, we’re still breathing."
We don’t know how long these realities will remain or the anxieties that will linger dissuading us to touch just anyone, gather just anywhere, appear with our mouths unprotected. All we have is a memory and spotty wifi creating a remix of chatter. As I wait, I will do my best to savor the quiet, but I encourage you to make some noise as well. Sing loud and savor the sounds and noises we do hear - because it means we’re still here, we’re still breathing. As for all those we’ve lost, absorbing us in a deafening silence, let them live through us with the noise we make.
If you’re interested in hearing the recordings offered in Invisibilia, listen here.
I’m partial to the show as a longtime fan so I recommend listening to the whole thing, but if you’re just hoping to reminisce on the sounds I discussed, you can hear about it starting around 32:35.
Pictures of crowds “crowdsourced” from my community in Boston! Thank you to those who shared, I hope we can responsibly take fresh ones soon!