ALL THE SOUNDS

On a cool October morning in 1972, I woke up with a plan: I would write down every single sound I heard on that day.  As soon as I was aware of a sound, I began to record what I heard in a small notebook.  At the end of the day, exhausted, I fell back into bed and noted the last sounds I heard; the final sound was “breathing.”   In the following days I went through the notebook, deciphering my scribbles and working out the grammatical kinks, resulting in a 60 page typed manuscript.

Since that day I’ve contemplated repeating the exercise, but the world is infinitely noisier now than it was back then.  In any case, the piece stands on its own: a lopsided record of an ordinary day, made extraordinary by a single-minded focus on sound.

Here are a few excerpts from the Sounds piece, interspersed with images to complement, rather than explicitly adhere to, the narrative.  I noted the time sporadically throughout the day, whenever I thought to look at a clock.  In this excerpted version a line:  ___________  means I’m skipping ahead to a later time in the day.  I begin here at 9:30 am, a few hours after I woke up.

9:30am

light switch turning on

light switch turning off

stomach grumbling

sparrows chirping

blue jay calling

door opening

clothes sliding against each other

door closing

clothes falling on chair

paper falling on the floor

door opening

paper bag rustling

jars hitting each other

door closing

door opening

glass hitting the counter

door closing liquid pouring door opening

door closing

blue jay calling

___________________________

20171017_115508

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1:13pm

page turning

lid screwing on

swallowing

glass hitting other glass

paper rustling

biting

chewing

bell chiming

my voice

voice

match striking matchbook

paper sliding across table

paper rustling

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my voice

voice

footsteps

siren whining

horn honking

bell chiming

liquid pouring

voice

my voice

footsteps

humming

chairs scraping the floor

voices

footsteps

banging

match striking matchbook

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footsteps

crash

sirens whining

papers rustling

crash

piece of wood hitting table

voice

my voice

whistling

paper tearing

sandpaper sanding wood

swallowing

fingers scratching head

voice

my voice

burp

laughing

___________________________

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6:40

truck passing on the street

feet stamping

hands clapping

fingers snapping

elevator door closing

laughing

cooing

voice

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

footsteps

door opening

door closing

my voice

___________________

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voice

slide projector motor running

laughing

voices

chairs creaking

whispering

paper rustling

cigarette pack dropping into bag

voices

coughing

pad rubbing leg

blowing

laughing

slide projector clicking

voices

laughing

voices

laughing

slide projector clicking

____________________________

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8:40

my footsteps

ladder hitting the floor

my voice

voice

whistling

traffic passing on street

chewing

bus passing on street

hand rubbing my hair and face

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator running

fingers tapping

elevator door opening

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voice

radio

voices

laughing

whistling

plastic rustling

horn honking

voice

my voice

kiss

voices

kiss

laughing

my footsteps

my voice

kiss

my voice

nibbling

subway passing by

burp

motor in clock running

 

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*

 

A few words of explanation: Early that morning I made a decision to record sounds by naming what made the sound, rather than spelling out what the noise sounded like. I quickly realized that trying to write down the actual sound I heard was impossible, in most cases. Using a tape recorder to make an actual recording was not a consideration, because my primary interest was in exploring the relationship – or the space, in a way – between the sensory traces an object makes (our perception) and a record of those traces, a concern that interests me to this day. *

What is different about a sound you hear and the mute, written words that describe that sound? What is lost and what is gained when you step back from direct experience, and put something – in this case, the written word – between you and the experience? What does a day look like when the traces that are left of it are only a written description of the sounds that were heard and some bits of memory? How is the shape of the day itself altered when one sensory component of it moves into the foreground?

I was in my final year at School of Visual Arts in New York when I made the Sounds piece. I had moved back to my parents’ house temporarily, after losing a shared Brooklyn loft and all my belongings in an unfortunate incident. Each morning that semester I awakened to the quiet of suburbia, then I commuted by bus to the city and took the subway to school or to my part time job as an artist’s assistant at a studio on Irving Place. On this October day I went to work first, then walked to an evening art history class, probably with Carter Ratcliff.  Thankfully, those classes were usually a lecture with slides, and were relatively quiet.  But as soon as my friends figured out what I was doing, they made their best efforts to interrupt any quiet that would give me a rest from mad scribbling in my notebook by producing an assortment of difficult-to-describe sounds. A few are seen above, along with my foot-stamping frustration. Unsurprisingly, it was for me, a day of few words.

I used a small notebook to write down what I heard that day. When I was in a quiet place I would hear the page turning. Later, when I typed up the piece, I chose to follow the same page spacing as in the original notebook, so that “page turning” appears at the top of some pages. The piece was submitted as part of my final work for a fine arts degree, and was well received. Now the paper edges have softened, the cover is tattered, and rust is slowly eating into the binder’s metal insert.  I hope to transcribe and digitize it one of these days.

An earlier post on this subject with photos of the original manuscript is here.

The photos:

  1. A light fixture for sale at ABC Carpet and Home on Broadway, in New York City. I took the photo in New York on October 17, 2017, exactly 45 years after I made the Sounds piece.  What goes around comes around; the artfully distressed wall behind the light is reminiscent of the way walls actually looked in downtown lofts in the early 70’s. It wasn’t chic then, it was just what existed.
  2. A rope-tied rock serves as a polite barrier in a path at Seattle’s Japanese Garden.
  3. A view of trees outside a window. A small piece of blue glass in a wood frame rests against the window.
  4. A collection of insects at an eccentric museum inside a Roman Catholic seminary in Mount Angel, Oregon.
  5. At the Seattle Japanese Garden, workers erected a tarp to protect plants while they worked on a new addition to a structure in the garden.
  6. Hoses on the old wood floor of an auto repair shop in Ferndale, California.
  7. The view across the street from the ABC store window where the lighting fixture photo above was taken. This view hasn’t changed since I was in school.
  8. A single rubber glove dropped on a sidewalk in Seattle.

 

 

* A concern with investigating the difference between objects as they are and as we perceive them was prevalent in the 1960’s and 70’s art world. It was a time when conceptual art questioned art itself, and minimalism was beginning to battle it out with post-minimalism, a term coined by art critic Robert Pincus-Witten, who taught at SVA.  Dorothea Rockburne, one of a number of working artists who taught at SVA then, would often bring up Kant in connection with ideas like this one, from Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

 

 

 

 


65 comments

  1. I remember you mentioning this project; it’s quite an interesting exercise. Strangely, when I finished reading, I felt as though I were in a dissection lab, with the pieces of a now-lifeless day arrayed across the table. On the other hand, when I saw your photo of the pinned insect specimens, I thought that was equally appropriate, since you recorded the sounds of your day and “pinned” them as surely as those insects. Just think: you were decades ahead of Pinterest!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a neat project, and time capsule, in sev’l ways. Another few years, not sure who’ll be able to identify the sound “slide projector clicking,” I would be able to summon it up, because I’ve seen these artifacts, from the Ancient Land of Kodak, actually in use, basically electrified magic lantern shows, right? (Just teasing!)
    Just now, I closed my eyes and thought about what I was hearing, and it was a bit overwhelming, to try to catalog like that, but interesting! Tiny creaks from the walls, during a quiet stretch, a fan sound and very faint grinding from the laptop, etc, I don’t know how you sustained this for an entire day

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I also think this is a fascinating exercise in awareness, and it shows how much sensory input our brains suppress each minute. It is remarkable how many sounds I can hear when I close my eyes. Thank you for sharing this experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating project, Lynn. It’s quite the opposite of a project I tried (and continue to try) in which I don’t hear anything. It’s not easy but there are days that I don’t interact with anyone and I find those days very peaceful.
    I like all of these images but #5 is my favorite. All of your photos are beautifully composed but it takes a special eye to see something special in the mundane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • But you still hear plenty of interesting things on those days, right? I think we need down time more and more; we forget its value so easily. Thanks for letting me know you like that photo, a not-so-easy-to-like image. I’ve been photographing things behind tarps every chance I get, it’s a little like the photos behind conservatory windows, but less predictable. Thanks for being here, Ken!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, I’m hearing impaired and if I don’t use hearing aids I’m pretty much in my own world as far as sounds are concerned, so it’s easy (for me) to turn off that stimulus whenever I want (or need).
        There is a mysterious quality within #5 that appeals to me. I can only imagine what’ under that tarp!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating idea, Lynn. I could hear the sounds as I read the list and it is a reminder how many sounds there are that we choose not to hear in a day. Slide projector clicking…a sign of the times. Your images, to me, are as quiet as the list is noisy. You practice the art of seeing so well and these meditations are beautifully captured. Wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a wonderful and fascinating post! Calling it different just does not do it justice! Of the pictures, the insect collection was a jolt (I collected butterflies 40 years ago, for awhile) and really got to me. And of the words, I really like the mention of slide projectors, and lift the (elevator!!!) door opening and closing sequences get towards the surreal. Wonderful! A 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That makes me happy, Adrian. I like the rhythm of the lift doors opening and closing too, and there are similar passages with cabinet doors, etc. Re the insect collection, if you look closely, it’s messier than a typical museum collection, which I thought gave it a certain poignancy. That whole museum was a trip – I bet you’d love it. It’s a very eccentric assemblage of stuffed animals, birds and other specimens, some of which are beautiful, and odd bits of stuff from all over the world, having to do with nothing in particular – quite surreal actually! Thanks for your open-mindedness and enthusiasm.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. As a very visually-slanted person it surprised me that I was far more engaged with the sounds than with the pictures in this fascinating post. Extraordinary, too, because your posts are always a wonderful treat for the senses but always through images – so this was doubly compelling, being so different! I also think it’s a very interesting exercise going back to projects done decades ago. I too was an art-student in the 1970’s (in London) and well remember the influences of the thinking in the art world current at the time – a dance that I felt in tune with then, but which later I fell out of step with. I love the time-capsule element as well – it’s a treasure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting to hear you were an art student at around the same time, in another big city. For me, they were very exciting years, and I can’t say I’m out of step with what was happening then, but I moved in different directions afterwards, and it’s been somewhat difficult to incorporate the sensibility into what I’m doing now. It’s a process, bringing the ideas of that world to my photography. After the 70’s, I couldn’t relate well to what was going on art world-wise or pop culture-wise. Now some of the concerns of the 70’s are back and are “new” again, but we know better. 🙂 I’m not surprised that the sounds were engaging – well, that’s what it’s about! 🙂 We just don’t pay that much attention to sounds, but it’s not hard to “see” that there’s an equally compelling world in sound as there is in what we’re looking at.
      Thanks so much for your presence here, and your comment; they are appreciated!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Your reference to Kant also reminds me of David Hume’s bundle theory, where references like ‘chair’, are actually only a bundle of various sensations that we group together and name as such.
    I love this exercise – how difficult and exhausting, indeed! And it’s so interesting to thing about the differences between description and actual sound and how that affects our experience of it. For one thing, in your choice to use names of sounds and then your format of linear list through time, my mind immediately tries to connect the names and understand the event that was occurring and the flow of events rather than imagine or hear the actual sounds that are mentioned. I felt driven to ‘see’ and understand your day and quickly left the idea of sounds behind.
    I think this still would have happened if you wrote letters to represent the actual sounds, since I would have worked to interpret what they were – to name them. My brain is so trained by language to name everything and by my linear thinking to set those names in a series to define events.
    Very interesting post is such a dynamically different way. Thanks for taking the time to edit and type it out for us, and for giving us both history and different perspectives to consider. I’d love to reblog this on my Reality With a Twist Books blog, if you’re willing to give permission. I think that group would appreciate your observations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not familiar with Hume’s bundle theory as such, but it reminds me of other ideas I’ve heard and have felt made a lot of sense. (Thank god we can bundle sensations, imagine the chaos otherwise!) 😉
      Thanks for bringing the Hume reference to the table. Your description of what happened when you read the excerpts is interesting. We’re trained to look for narratives too, right? And we’re curious about people. Maybe that played a part – especially since you’re a writer, I would think the natural curiosity about people’s lives would compel you to imagine a narrative. Correct me if I’m wrong.
      I’d be happy to see this re-posted. I should put some effort into getting it “out there.” In the meantime, thank you for doing that, and for your thoughtful comments – I’m glad you’re here!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank YOU for that comment, I appreciate it. And from someone who’s an expert at paying attention, it’s even better! I hope you know how much I enjoy your walks and your narratives, even if I don’t say so all that often.

      Liked by 2 people

      • For me, that is the great benefit of blogging — it motivates us to pay attention, to be (dare I use the word) mindful. Blogger and reader, we support each other, and live richer lives as a result. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Your post had me focusing my attention on some thing(s) or sound(s) that hadn’t occurred to me previously. I think back on how sounds and music had to constantly be playing in the background (that was city life or was it just early adulthood?). As I moved gradually farther and farther out of a city, there seemed to be more interesting sounds to hear without it (at least not constantly). Except, of course for the buzz of the weed wacker, or lawn mower, or the occasional logging truck… I’m discovering the new and different sounds of critters and birds in the latest location. There are times during different parts of the day when I notice that sounds seem to take a nap. I’ve learned so much about paying attention from your posts.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a moving comment, Gunta, thank you. I’m glad life has settled down enough so that you have the space to pay attention to sounds, sights, smells and feelings that escaped into the ether before…and to share that.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. clever composition Lynn…and love your photographs…and the words…each of them have a sound/song…accepting that noise as part of our lives…as my yoga says they are neither good or bad sounds…just sounds…well tougher for me 🤓 …the song Ukiuq from The Jerry Cans is playing as I reread…have a quiet day after a busy weekend…and happy birthday! hugs and all creative things your way…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love this!! I’ve been getting back into field recording recently and starting to build a few ideas around sound+image, so your post is of particular interest to me. Have you heard of Jez Riley-French? He does very interesting things with sound recording, I was listening to him talk recently and he was saying that our ears are becoming less responsive to individual small sounds now as we have so much to listen to. It’s an interesting idea to think of repeating your experiment as time moves on, our sounds are so linked to time..an inspiring post, thankyou!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cath, and no, I don’t know Riley-French but I’ve googled him and I’ll be checking that out next. There’s no question that most people must be experiencing sound very differently from even fifty years ago. So much to listen to, so much to look at – if only we had built-in breaks. It’s hard to make yourself stop. On the other hand, I have to recommend another recording! 😉 It’s Dreams of Gaia, put out years ago by Earth Ear and still available. It’s a compilation of “soundscape artists” or “sonic visionaries.” Here’s a description: Disc One is a real ear-opener, featuring surprising and engaging natural soundscapes, two excursions into urban soundings, and a taste of composing with transformed field recordings. Disc Two is more subtle, asking us to enter into a state of “deep listening.” It features longer cuts, arranged as a day cycle, from pre-dawn to the middle of the next night, with each voicing of the planet being long enough to begin to cast its own particular spell.
      If you don’t post about what you’re doing, I’d love to hear about one way or another – maybe an email.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That sounds interesting! Perhaps in the future our bodies will evolve to go into “sleep mode” when it’s all too much..! I’m thinking of posting some ideas soon when I’ve worked out what I’m doing with it all, I’ve been longing to bring sound into things for a long time but couldn’t quite work out how until now! Hopefully I’ll have some more time over the summer to explore..anyway, thanks again (for all that you share!)

        Liked by 1 person

  12. What an interesting project this was, Lynn!
    I can also see how it could be maddening if there were lots and lots of different sounds around you.

    I love the photographs you chose for this post, especially the 7th one.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the link, it’s great. I should have remembered (unlikely!) and linked to your post above. In any case, I went back and reread your entry. I commented on that post and a few other early ones but I don’t see the comments – maybe there’s a lag. Thank you too for the remark about the balance of words and images – something that takes more than a little doing, as you might imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. A brilliant project Lynn that left me with great respect for your stamina. Inspired by your post, I tried it myself while puttering around the kitchen and finally gave up in exhaustion after only about 30 seconds 🙂 And I live in a very, very quiet apartment. It was mostly me creating all the sounds.

    I find your photos a nice counterpoint to the text: stimulation of a different order taking place in silence.

    Given your talents, have you ever considered this: Composing a poem entirely of these sound descriptions in the order they occur, but editing out those that interfere with a more coherent narrative? Or ordering them in some other way for poetic effect?

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 It’s just MUCH noisier today than it was then, isn’t it? Or maybe, if you weren’t plagued by background noise, we’re just a BIT older than we were then. Keep in mind that I wasn’t straining to discover every single sound necessarily, I just wanted to make a different sort of record of the day. I wanted to see how the exercise would change the experience of the day. I imagine there were many sounds that were missed. I’m glad the images worked for you, it was a bit tricky coming up with images that complemented the text. I haven’t really thought too much about other uses for the text, except that I still want to make a small book of it, and it would be fun to do a sound recording of someone reading it. But playing with the order? No, that’s intriguing. I feel wedded to the order, like it’s the only thing saving this from chaos…and I like certain repetitions….but on the other hand, why not reorder them or pick and choose, and create something from that? Thanks Alan!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. What a great project to focus in and focus out! It’s like using a camera to develop the art of seeing except it’s the art of hearing. Either way, a way to enrich life by really paying attention. And great photos. All of them!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Your photos, so special and beautiful, also evoking sound in my phantasy. My dear Lynn, this project may be an “old” one, coming to us from a passed century. It awakens memory, but is quite actual all the same: I often think (and suffer) the world has become very noisy, human noise above all, while natures sounds are fading (less insects, less birds …). If you would try to repeat this protocol nowadays, you would’nt be able to write fast enough.
    Thank you for sharing a bit of your – equally creative – past.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ule, I’m glad you enjoyed the images, as well as the Sounds piece. You’re right, unless I went to Antarctica, I wouldn’t be able to get half the sounds I would hear today onto paper. When I find myself in a really quiet place these days, it’s always a huge and pleasant surprise.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Very interesting post! I like the combination of sounds and fotos very much and you made a good choice with the pictures. I never read something like that before and it was a strange but nice feeling to follow your sounds. Interesting how brain and phantasy translate the words describing the sounds to us! One can feel it. A very multidimensional experience 🙂 I agree with Ule: today there may be much more noise in our world. Again an inspiring post. It is always interesting to try something new in our reflection of the world / our surroundings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad to hear your comment about choosing the photos – that wasn’t easy. Glad you had a multidimensional experience, too! Yes, there’s way more noise now, and when I do find myself in a truly quiet place – somewhere far away, in nature – it’s a moving experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m in awe of your project—both for your having done it and for your idea of doing it. . . . If I’m having a hard time falling asleep, I sometimes note (mentally) all the sounds I hear in the room and outside. I’m always surprised by their variety—and by how interesting they are when you really pay attention. . . . I like how we don’t even need to know the context of the rope-tied rock to enjoy your photograph of it, so simple. Again, your artistry reveals itself most of all (to me) in the shallow depth of field in your photograph of the insects. Question: How can a construction tarp look elegant? Answer: Have Lynn photograph it. I love to photograph hoses, and yours are some of the best hoses I’ve seen. I like the desaturated look in this photo, but mostly I like the graphic quality to it. . . . Thanks for the link to Carter Ratcliff in Wikipedia. I love what he says about artists’ intentions.

    Like

    • Thank you so much…it’s good to hear you like the images, too. It was tricky picking photos that worked here, but on the other hand, I did have some photos, like most of these, that don’t fit well into any other posts I’m doing, so in that respect, it was good tohave a place to get them out there. And get feedback, like yours. Part of the reason for the shallow DOF in the museum photo is that it was really ahrd to get a decent angle, so I went for that look and then I think I may have added a little blur to the edges, something you can do in Color Efex. 😉 That translucent tarp was something you would have noticed and photographed too, I bet. And the hoses? I was in photographer’s heaven! It was a very old auto repair shop, and we were able to walk right in and chat with the repairman as he worked. He has great vintage vehicles in there. The entire town is vintage, and proud of it, but not preciously so. We were fascinated by the balance this small town has achieved. E.g. pristine home & storefront architecture including an old-fashioned grocery store and a hip coffee/kayak building business that serves excellent espresso and rings your sale up on an Ipad OR using a big old brass cash register, depending on payment method. And no pretense, just calm, welcoming people. Check it out:
      https://www.visitferndale.com/architecture/
      https://www.google.com/search?q=ferndale+CA+tipple+motors&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwji5ufjlLjbAhUE-lQKHZ4MBkUQ_AUIDCgD&biw=1920&bih=915#imgrc=_
      I hope to get around to a post with some photos from the town.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Didn’t know about the blurry edges in Color Efex—thanks. And thanks for the links. Quite a nice-looking little town. . . . You could always do a My Favorite Photographs post. 😉

        Like

  18. A fascinating and daunting project. And I love what your choice of images says as well about the experience without spelling it out. Touching on that perception/reality/conception conundrum. Much to think about. I think that the ripples of this one will be dancing on the surface of my little pond for quite some time.

    Like


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