Hearing all the Sounds

Forty years ago this month, I listened very carefully to all the sounds I heard one day and wrote them down in a notebook. The resulting 60 page work was later submitted as part of the requirements for a Fine Arts degree at what was then the wonderfully progressive School of Visual Arts, in New York City.

I have thought about my “Sounds Piece” many times since then, especially when the anniversary of that day rolls around.  Wherever I might be living, it always seems that my sound environment is far, far noisier and more complex than it was back then. I thought it would be interesting to do another sound piece twenty years later, but even in 1992, the world was so much noisier than it had been in 1972. It just didn’t seem possible.


I can’t share the whole piece here, but I have set below some pages from it. The first two list each sound I heard from the moment I awoke that morning until about two hours later. I had placed a small notebook & pencil next to the bed the night before, so I would be ready. (The “shower” wasn’t mine – someone else was in the bathroom and that was the first sound I was conscious of as I woke up).

I was already struggling with the question of how to identify and record the odd sounds we don’t normally think about, as well as the usual ones. I quickly realized that the best – or easiest – way to describe a sound was to simply name the thing that made the sound, a “once-removed” process I didn’t like, but felt forced to use, to lend consistency to the writing. Of course, writing rather than recording sounds directly is already a once-removed method of conveying auditory experience, but I liked the idea of translating the auditory sensations onto paper. I wanted to see what that would look like – like a peculiar diary? – and I was curious to see how this extra layer of activity would affect my day.

A page from mid-day:

I attended classes that day, and as soon as my friends got wind of what I was up to, they began making odd sounds that were very difficult to describe. I was so busy writing I hardly spoke all day. A few people bothered me, or followed me, or kissed me.

I was glad to get away from school, but all the noises outside – from the street to the subway – were hard to capture. Made me grind my teeth!

That night I scribbled with a worn out brain, but I was determined to complete the project.  I had produced a beautifully skewed record of one day – the perceptions of one of my five senses, filtered through my brain and crudely recorded on paper, had left an oddly complete, yet incomplete trail of clues to 16 hours of  everyday life.

Here, the final two pages of sounds (there’s a typo in there):


Since then there have been many nights when I couldn’t sleep because my son was crying in his crib, or it was summer and they were dredging the harbor, or people outside were yelling. I would long to live in a place where the last thing I heard at night could be my own breathing.


Has anyone else tried to list all the sounds they heard over the course of a day?  I don’t know, but today, unless you do this far away from cities, it will be very hard. Many more layers of sound litter our lives now compared with a few decades ago. We live in a sound and noise polluted world, just as we live in a world polluted by so much other extra stuff. Paring away some layers from time to time and allowing yourself to just be, in a less busy environment, becomes more and more attractive.

If it seems like a good thing to do, take a minute and listen to every sound, one by one. Just listen.







The Weekly Photo Challenge is a Foreign One…

Such an evocative word, foreign. Lately I’ve been taking it personally – feeling foreign myself. Scratching my head and wondering how a non-native fits in around here.

I’ll never be one, even if I try to insert myself into that picture:

I must come to terms with – no, I must get over feeling like a foreigner.

After all, if I were in this situation, I bet my feelings of being foreign would be more troubling, more complex:

(Photo taken by a Marine in Afghanistan last year – that’s my son on the right)

It’s tricky though – the nomads below would seem like foreigners to most people I know, but the Buddhist prayer wheel and the text resonate with me strongly enough to think that these people would not feel foreign to me:

                                                       (Screen capture from a TV program, 2004)

Some people have trouble connecting to anyone and are lifelong foreigners in their own land. I suspect that’s the case with the maker of some sculptures J. and I stumbled on two years ago, in a remote corner of New York City –

off a busy industrial road, through a gate,

beyond an abandoned trailer,

along the edge of a polluted marsh:

We went back several times. The place appeared to have been deserted for a long time. We wondered what foreign ideas and feelings gripped this person’s mind, and we hoped that making sculpture eased the strangeness. We delighted in the inventiveness, we respected the artistic choices, and wondered at the wonder of it all.  But undeniably, a feeling of foreignness hovered over this place.

More posts on the theme of foreign can be found here:


Weekly Photo Challenge: City

Better late than never…Jakesprinter’s Weekly Photo Challenge is “City”.

Which city shall it be?  Washington DC?  Penang?  Blaenau Gwent, Wales?  Janjanburh, Gambia?   Those cities caught the fancy of the maker of this sign post in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.

But I haven’t had the opportunity of traveling that far afield. I hope you’ll be satisfied with images from two US cities- a few are quite atypical of cities. But then, I love the atypical!

Lower East Side, NYC street scene (worth a thousand words, I bet – what’s going on here?)

A glimsp into a Chinese Buddhist temple, also on New York’s Lower East Side.

At Liberty Street and Trinity Place in New York,

caddy corner to the World Trade Center site,

a November evening rain lights the sidewalks with warm reflections.

Just a few miles away on Staten Island’s south shore,

a large flock of Brant is settling in for the evening,

with the Verrazano Bridge gracing the distance.

That’s Brooklyn across the bay.

The lines of this Frank Gehry gem, the IAC Building, exemplify the openness to new ideas that cities at their best embody.


I couldn’t resist photographing this landmark through a fence covered with a morning glory vine gone to seed.

An alley near Pioneer Square, Seattle.

Exploring the nearest alley provides relief from the egoistic facades of cities.

Not that I don’t appreciate a nice facade, particularly when it’s complimented by a scrim of spring flowering branches.

When facades play off each other

just as the sun sets

on a January afternoon

(on New York’s High Line),

that’s nice, too.

Cites are exciting and they’re full of opportunities. I learned that when I first visited New York…and I never forgot.

More “City” posts at:



A few days ago I downloaded an Android app called Photogrid. It puts your phone photos into collages.

A shake of the phone produces a new arrangement (you pick frame styles & colors) –

Here’s a grid of road trips in the Pacific Northwest:

Here’s another arrangement of the same images:

This one is a mash-up of



rain on the car window (near Seattle of course)

a hand,

and street shots in New York & Seattle:

I don’t think you can change the placement of the images by dragging them around – that would be even better.

But sometimes random choices produce juxtapositions you wouldn’t have thought of, and they’re really nice –

(yes, John Cage figured that out long ago).

I think I like this one best:

And the app is free!

Stark Silhouettes

This week’s Photo Challenge from WordPress:  Silhouettes.  “The proper definition of a silhouette is ‘the outline of a body viewed as circumscribing a mass.’ In photography, often we achieve that effect by putting light behind the object whose silhouette we want to capture, effectively darkening out the features of the subject instead of highlighting them.”

In my mind, a silhouette is not necessarily a “body” and not always a dark object against a lighter background.

You might agree after you scroll through to the end…

In Philadelphia, a statue of a Civil War hero (Union side, of course) points the way amidst a jumble of architectural styles.

In New York City, the Prince Street Station has wonderful public art on a MUCH smaller scale – a series of silhouettes of  people going about daily life, exactly like you see in the neighborhood.

Here, a homeless person, a yoga student and a musician –

And here, a workman and a smoker – an activity now practiced only outdoors, but be careful, not everywhere!


A biker snaps the sunset in New York’s Battery Park.

In another borough,

a look up at dusk reveals the beautifully twisted structure of a tree:

Near the west coast,

fog and rain are

closing in

on Hurricane Ridge

in Olympic State Park:

And back in New York, in the forgotten borough of Staten Island, a reverse silhouette –

a Brugmansia blossom hangs

in perfect balance

at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden.

More bloggers have posted their silhouettes here:



Down, down, down…



lovely, even




Or especially so.

Photos taken in Bellevue, Port Angeles, and up on Hurricane Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula, all in Washington.

BIG Weekly Photo Challenge…

“BIG. It’s larger than life, it’s unexpected, it’s the protagonist in a scene…”   The Daily Post has spoken. So, some ideas:

Oh Darlin’, you are ONE BIG MESS!  I love how you embody the essence of haughty disregard for my opinions. (And what big eyelashes you have!)

At the opposite end of the clean and pure spectrum, an oversize buddha stands tall at Dia Tang Temple in Lynnwood, WA.  At this temple, they make some pretty BIG PROMISES:

Number 11? Not so keen on that.  But I’ll burn incense all day for number #27.  Oh, and I could use some #21, too.

Ko-kwal-al-wwoot, the Maiden of Deception Pass, is 24 feet tall. She looks out for the Samish Tribe. Pictures of her being carved and installed are here:


Cedars like the one she was carved from used to reach truly amazing size in the Pacific Northwest. The “Old Grandmother” below was torn from the forest many years ago, but the wound still seems fresh, doesn’t it?

There is loss and there is gain.  A BIG HEART must have been behind this project:

What’s this? Two dollars, given to us by a stranger on a street corner, performing an experiment in Anonymous Kindness,  in a small town in Washington. The card instructs the owner to do the same, leave the card behind, and keep the spirit going!  The experience created some BIG SMILES…and I think it’s going to keep on creating them. I haven’t decided how I’m going to give my dollar away and reach out with an anonymous act of kindness yet. Any ideas?

More BIG solutions to the Weekly Photo Challenge at:


Weekly Challenge: Happy

A weekly Challenge set by The Daily Post  (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/weekly-photo-challenge-happy/) asks us to share our images of “Happy” using a gallery – collage format that’s new on Word Press. Too bad the gallery format didn’t work for me, but it doesn’t matter – here, some images of happiness:

This glass sculpture spins atop a pole in the grass next to a lake, where its’ bright colors catch the light: pure joy!

More happy:  a bouquet of wildflowers that I just picked along deserted railway tracks.

Family and pets…

And art in unexpected places…

Inside a huge old tree someone has put together a mandala of found objects.

Sometimes the art isn’t a surprise, but the view from underneath it is…

Seen from underneath an Alexander Lieberman sculpture, Seattle’s Space Needle echoes the bold curves – a happy surprise .

Another unexpected scene that made me happy: taking a walk and happening on a mock battle on the lake. (These are the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain, trading cannon fire on Lake Washington, WA.)

Friends make me happy, but they probably don’t want their pictures in public view.  This guy, however, clearly doesn’t care who takes his picture or where it might end up – he’s too busy for those worries:

I cannot see a Great Blue Heron without feeling happy, and thankful. They are my totem birds, and whether standing at the edge of a small pond in New York farm country, stalking crabs in a marsh on an island in New York City, or flying overhead on deep, wide wing strokes, they always give me a thrill.

Delicious Weekly Photo Challenge

Jake’s sunday post challenge for this week is “delicious“. Context can be key in creating deliciousness:

Who can resist? Pat Hains, of Hains House, outside Olympia, WA, is a baker par excellence. And she has love and warmth to spare. Staying at Hains House means dining outdoors on hearth baked pizza (that you helped make), waking up to a spectacular huge breakfast, and getting a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie send-off.

What rain? Food truck dumplings in Chelsea, NYC, taste even better in a downpour.

Turkish coffee – smooth, intense, and satisfying – especially when attended to with gentle precision and served with care.

Fresh picked herbs – delicious. Even more so when plucked from a kitchen garden scratched out of the earth on the grounds of the Buddha Ariyamett Aram Temple in rural Connecticut, and offered to a passerby (lucky me), roots and all.

Baranek Wielkanocny , a Polish Easter custom, here embodied in a little lamb made of butter. Made more delicious from the warmth of families sharing Easter dinner.

Cheetos aren’t usually my idea of delicious, but really, it all depends on context – the right time, the right place and so many other variables come into play to fire those delicious neurons on our brains.

Weekly Photo Challenge: MINE!

What a loaded subject!  This week Sara Rosso asks us to Share a picture that means MINE to you! and posts a mouth-watering photograph of her morning cup of Joe. Food definitely springs to mind, especially that morning cuppa, not to mention the life-sustaining afternoon espresso, which I’m going to go out to find in about 15 minutes. Some people posted photos of their loved ones – another sure bet in the “mine” department. I don’t want to repeat those themes. Here are some thoughts:

Mine for a moment, a lovely Fritillary butterfly rests on my fingers (it was tricky to photograph it with the other hand) on a warm June afternoon in the Adirondack Mountains. Those magical times when a perfectly wild creature allows you into its world can be stunning reminders that the world gives and it takes away on a schedule you will never be privy to. I try to be ready and be aware.

An antique creamer once belonged to my maternal grandmother; now it is mine. Inside, a yellowed fragment of paper bears her writing: “This belonged to a tea set of mine when I was a little girl.”  Who did she think would find her note? My mother must have seen it, and after she died and the pretty pot came to me, I read that note in “Momar’s” distinctive hand with wonder. Who will call it mine next?

These old silver spoon handles (and other objects) “were removed from the stomach of a woman patient in a mental hospital” in New York. They’re on exhibit at a tiny museum in the basement of a private library in Pawling, NY. The label continues, “The woman appears to be in good condition and is still swallowing metal objects.”  It could be that her cravings were due to a lack of some nutritional element, but I doubt it. I wonder, what was her sense of  “mine”?

I love to wander and explore. Sometimes I find amazing things, like a stash of broken pottery, at least a hundred years old, washed up onto an industrial shoreline of Staten Island, NY (yes, I jumped the fence).  It’s a very long time since anyone called those pieces of crockery “mine”, but for now, I do.  I pick flowers when I wander too, and they are mine to admire for a few days. Sometimes I make a map of my wanderings; it’s very much “mine” but I get excited if I can share it with someone who also delights in odd peregrinations (you know who you are!).

But if “mine” is more about what’s unique to me than about what I posses, then the “most mine of all” is probably my artwork.

What are your thoughts – what’s the most mine of all in your world? More ideas can be found at: