16 - Soundwaves on the shore
When I was a kid, my dad once puzzled me by declaring that silence was never completely silent, and sometimes it could actually be quite loud. He was an ardent music listener, so perhaps he was talking about expressive pauses between notes. Perhaps he was talking about the whoosh of blood through your ears when there’s nothing else to hear. Did he mean there was always something to be heard, even in the quiet, or does the silence itself actually have a noise, and if so, how does it make it? I am attracted to this last, spookier answer, but these questions have tantalised me on and off ever since. Why did I wait until it was too late to ask him what he meant? Probably because I get so much more mileage out of speculating than knowing.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my kitchen listening to the constant roar of what I’m guessing must be the mysterious “digital inverter technology” deep within my fridge. Pre-covid, my kitchen was, most days, a happy soundscape of live music courtesy of a group of ultra-enthusiastic bellringers at the church up the road. While some might find them annoying, I could happily listen to these bells and their virtuosic peals of gladness all day long. But this Saturday, like every day over the past year, the belltowers of the town have been silent, except for a single one which tolled in mourning at 3pm today. Apart from that, this year so far, the only bells to be heard have been the calls to prayer from the religious communities, the convent, if my walk takes me right along the esplanade, or the abbey, if I turn left. Today I turned left. The tide was out and I walked up the beach and, because speculation is more entertaining than fact, I’ve imagined my whole walk as a meditative pilgrimage from kitchen, up the beach to the abbey and back again.
I thought today too, instead of a ‘Feetmap’, I’d paint a soundmap of my walk along the shore and back. Find in the painting the whirr of reel and plop of cast bait as two anglers waded slowly along a bar of sand… sharp shouts from the seagulls, the crunch of shingle on the beach, the softer squish of wet sand and the occasional surprise explosion of popping bladderwrack underfoot… I’m sure you will find many many more in the layers and layers and layers of sound to be mined, before you get right down to that elusive sound of silence.