Noise

Damselflies

The free campsite by the dam was quieter after Easter. Two large tents were still set up among vehicles and effects – two couples, judging by the arrangement of camp chairs on each tent’s ‘front lawn’ – but no one was visible and the tents were quiet. Shore edge, raupo and this, delicate and autumn-red; damselflies, turquoise-blue and scarlet, darting, immobilised, hooking up; pukeko trying to retrieve scattered beads; a black shag posted at the boat ramp. Crickets sounded everywhere, invisibly, noisy but not noise.

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BBC Radio 4 are currently broadcasting David Hendy’s series Noise: A Human History. So far, I’ve heard a couple of episodes from different points in the series. One includes a 1930s recording of Confederate veterans of the American Civil War demonstrating their ‘rebel yell’ – a battle cry more yowl than yell, unmanlike, intended to unman the enemy. The other refers to Neolithic monuments in Orkney and possible uses of sound in rituals there. At the Ring of Brodgar, Hendy demonstrates the way in which sound echoes within the ring, louder and more distinct the nearer the centre you are. In Maeshowe, a chambered cairn, he finds ‘a handcrafted space of silence’ which may have been used in incubating dreams and visions or otherwise undergoing transition and recovery. He also notes, though, that the construction of the space means that sound made here reverberates and accumulates, with tonal frequency and infrasound leading to a state of un/consciousness between wakefulness and sleep and promoting a sense of disorientation. Within the same space, then, two possible routes to a liminal state of being – one through sound excluded, the other through sound contained.

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