and makes noises

Like silence, but not really silent...
Just that still sort of quiet
Like the sound of a page being turned in a book,
Or a pause in a walk in the woods.
Like silence, but not really silent...
Just that nice kind of quiet,
Like the sound when you lie upside down in your bed.
Just the sound of your heart in your head...

(Lyrics from the Matilda musical by none other than Tim Minchin who is purportedly working on a Groundhog Day musical)

I wonder how much noise pollution there was in Punxsutawney circa 1993. I’m guessing not a lot. Except that they’ve got electricity so there would be the hum of transformers and whatnot. It’s midwinter so the crickets might not be making the noise they’re making outside right now as I write this. The rooms at the Cherry Street Inn do not all have their own TVs, so Phil probably wouldn’t hear the neighbors’ TV like I do right now, either.

In the Global North, we don’t much have actual silence anymore. In Uttar Pradesh, so-called “silence zones” are even suffering from noise pollution. And a recent Daily Mail article suggests that there’s danger in the constant noise, even if it isn’t excessively loud:

We are surrounded by the sounds of the machinery that make our lives comfortable and convenient. The constant thrum of traffic, the thunder of jet engines overhead.

But when we have to listen to these noises for too long or at the wrong time, they can inflict silent and stealthy damage. Increasing evidence shows this damage isn't just to our ears, but to our blood vessels and hearts.

Nor is this just a problem for people who live near busy roads or under flight paths. New research suggests noise pollution also causes harm in places such as hospitals.

There’s always something. Hell, this computer keyboard is so loud I just had to turn up the volume on Groundhog Day on my iPad. My phone, oddly not on the usual vibrate setting, just made some noise as a tweet was received. The computer on which I write this entry—that’s got a good hum going. Earlier, the dishwasher was running in the kitchen—that was pretty loud for a while.

Still, the apartment is what I would call quiet. Relative to its normal. Kids are gone, cats are upstairs, it is just me and the technology. I barely even got out today, was busy most of the day with some end of the quarter schoolwork, getting some flashcards together to study for my final exam in comm theory tomorrow night. I had to make a quick trip to Staples for a few things, and I went out to get the mail. Otherwise, it was me and the technology and the silence, alternating mostly between those last two. A long time ago—it seems the first time was Day 25 – it’s like yesterday never happened I brought up the usefulness of the likes of Netflix to fill the hours we think are empty.

(The fan hooked to the thermostat just turned on, adding its voice the modern hum.)

For the record, I did watch some Netflix today, and some YouTube. I also watched a movie. Once my schoolwork is done for the quarter—a final tomorrow night and one the night after, and I’ve got to grade some exams this weekend—I will get into my projects for the summer. I’ve got a handful of books to read, two for this blog, one partly for this blog and partly for the more formal version of my prospectus in the fall, another for that prospectus. I’m toying with a short story to write this summer, I’ve got a LEGO-involved short film to try to put together, and I’m sure I’ll come up a good LEGO build or two to take up some afternoons. There’s speech team coaching to be done through the summer, getting some events up and running for the fall. There’s spending time with my kids, playing some of the games I’ve bought recently. There’s this blog. My life isn’t any more silent than this room is.

I think I want to find some silence this summer as well. There’s a scene that never made it into Groundhog Day involving Phil stripping out of his clothes and walking off into the woods and snow. Though he did so to go freeze to death, and I would leave my clothes on, I could use some time in the woods, at least a good hike away from the city.

I remember a This American Life episode on mapping; one of the stories was about a guy who mapped the ambient noise in his life. His name is Toby Lester and here’s a bit near the beginning of the story:

I found myself sitting in this little office listening to the heater and staring at my computer and suddenly realizing that yes, in fact, the computer was humming as well. Not nearly as strongly, but it was indeed humming. And that brought me to bring a little pitch pipe into the office and figure out what the two notes were.

He figured out that they computer and heater were playing a major third interval, “traditionally interpreted as happy” so his mood should have been good. But, then there was the telephone, which joined with the other two, created an augmented fourth, which he learned the Catholic Church---which “had assigned different meanings to numerous musical intervals back in the Middle Ages”—called “the most reviled sound of its time—feared as the ‘diabolus in musica,’ the devil in the music.”

He measures the hum of his refrigerator (b-flat) combined with his microwave (f-sharp) where he might heat up a bagel in the morning. And he explains the results:

Not a great way to start the day, really. And let's see, what would that be? “Active anguish in the context of flux,” according to [Catholic critic Deryck] Cooke.

A sort of conclusion was reached:

Toby's research led him to Plato, who once wrote, "When the modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change." It sounds preposterous at first, but might there be a connection between the low, constant humming of our industrial culture and the dissonant mood of anxiety and irresolution that seems to characterize our century?

I wonder what the crickets and the computer and the refrigerator and—is that a truck driving by? And there’s the drone of the neighbors’ TV again, just loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to be identified (the specific show, I mean). I paused the movie and stopped typing to concentrate on the noise, and a motorcycle drove by and the crickets closest to this building grew quiet, but crickets farther away kept going…

I wonder if Phil Connors knew all the sounds of Punxsutawney. Could he walk down a street and know what music was playing in one house, what TV show was being watched in another? I’m probably going camping in August (after this blog is complete), but it will modern camping, and there will be a lot of people camping close by and they will have their radios playing music, I’m sure—

recall, last year, camping, I watched Groundhog Day on my iPad beside the campfire.

—so there will not be silence. The closest thing will be out on the beach at night, but then there will be the noise of nature, the tides. Maybe I should try a sensory deprivation tank sometime.

Or maybe actual silence would drive me crazy.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to find a quiet place, but not to stay there, just to visit.


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