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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

I want to write about good sounds. Sounds that soothe, that delight, that hearten. It’s either that or you’re going to hear about how I was up at 4:30AM again with the noise, and there’s only so much either of us can take of that.

This is the Carol Lynn Maintains Sanity blog. It is not an attempt to be funny or clever or even interesting. It is merely a reminder that there are lovely wonderful sounds in the world.

I’m telling you, my nerves are frayed. I’m coming a little undone. It is not pretty.

But good sounds. Good and excellent sounds.

Sounds like ocean waves. The low roar of a wave rolling in, the crash as it hits the beach, the susurration of it pulling back into the vast ocean beyond before collecting itself to do it all over again. I could listen to ocean waves all day.

There is not enough ocean in my life.

There are ocean sounds on my meditation app which are pretty decent and sometimes I play them if I can’t sleep and they will be soothing and pleasant. But my brain knows there is no ocean so it’s not the same.

Other water sounds on the app just remind me of a bathtub, which is not relaxing. It makes me think of dirty white tiles.

Moving on.

Seagulls. They have to be on a beach though. It’s not the same when they are sitting in a parking lot. I love the cawing that you catch above the waves and the wind in your ears.

Cats purring. Better yet, a cat on your lap purring. Better yet, a cat lying on top of you in bed purring while it keeps you warm. Few things are better in life than waking up to a furnace of a cat thrumming on your chest and purring in your ear.

There is not enough cat in my life.

Wind. Roaring wind, wind rustling leaves, wind blowing around the corner of a house. Anything wind does is ok by me, as long as it’s not going to land me in Kansas.

Walking through fall leaves. The low rustling and swishing and crunching, the occasional twig snapping. A deer appearing from behind the trees and for a minute you only know it’s there because of the crunching leaves but you can’t see it until suddenly you can and there is a giant head of antlers in front of you, staring at you with the same startled look that you are staring back at it with. And then it jumps off to a burst of crunching and crackling and snapping until all is silent again and all you hear are your own footfalls.

There is not enough crunching leaf in my life.

Fire. A fire crackling in a stove or fireplace, snapping branches, crumbling newspapers. Quite possibly a crackling fire with a cat on your lap and some wind roaring around the eaves.

Piano music. I mean, a lot of music is nice, or at a minimum preferable to what I usually hear. But if I had to pick an instrument to listen to it would be piano. I like acoustic guitar, I love saxophone. I enjoy a good trombone or a lively fiddle. But if I’m just going to sit there for a while and listen to a single instrument, piano wins every time. It is a very rich and complex sound that has the ability to transport you to an entirely different state of mind.

Thunder, and in the absence of a storm, fireworks. I like the rumbling booming rolling cracking sound of thunder. It’s one of the few sounds this place gets right. Thunder rolls over the hills and mountains so you can hear it for miles and minutes at a time.

Rain. Rain on the roof, on the windows, on the grass, on the sidewalk, on your hat if you happen to be caught out walking in it.

Cicadas. Cicadas, to be fair, can become disconcerting if it’s a brood year. They can get kind of loud and screechy, but it doesn’t last all day and night like some other sounds I know that shall not be mentioned. It’s also an organic sound so there is something comforting in knowing it’s happening naturally and for a reason and not because someone in a corporate office somewhere decided to implement a useless safety requirement but we’re not talking about that I swear to Zeus on Olympus.

Crickets are nice. Once in a while a cricket gets stuck in the house or the garage and you hear this one lone chirp forever and that always makes me sad because I want to let him go free to find his family. But crickets are hiders if nothing and it is impossible to find them if they do not want to be found. I like hearing them outside at night.

Also other birds. Seagulls are good for beach listening but other birds get points for singing in the woods or in your back yard or basically anywhere. The sounds are so diverse. Tweeting chirping twittering cawing trilling warbling. Honking, gobbling, clucking. Hooting is particularly nice and soothing. Long sounds, short sounds, high pitched, low pitched, and if you’re a mockingbird, rusty gates and car alarm sounds.

I said I wasn’t going to be interesting but all this talk of sounds made me think of a podcast called Twenty Thousand Hertz, which is about the “stories behind interesting sounds.” If you have not listened to it, I highly recommend it. You can find it here.

Among other things, they talk about the art of psychoacoustics, which is a fancy way of saying that all the sounds you hear all day long – the clack of your computer keyboard, the thunk of your trunk closing, the click of your phone turning off, the snap of your umbrella opening – happen on purpose. There are audio designers and engineers who create those sounds, whether it’s by manipulating the physical design of an object or by electronically creating a sound.

From now on, every time your car door makes a swish-thud as it closes, you will know that someone in a lab somewhere moved a few parts around, added space in the cavity, adjusted a gasket, changed a pin, or otherwise engineered the design for no other reason than to make a very specific sound.

Famously, BMW created an electronic engine sound that was not the actual sound of the engine, but the sound people wanted to hear – that thrumming rumbling roar – and simply piping it into the cabin.

I also learned that there is a thing called misophonia which a fancy way of saying “getting triggered by certain sounds.”

And sounds that are especially annoying? They will, in fact, cause emotional distress and cognitive impairment. So the next time I forget whether I added salt to the bread dough, I won’t feel so bad. I will just blame it on the terrible incompetent sound designers who thought BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP BEEPBEEPBEEP was a good idea.

And then I will picture myself in a house on the ocean with a cat on my lap and the wind in my ears and a fire in the fireplace and some piano music in the background and crickets in the yard and maybe, possibly, for a fraction of a second, I will feel sane again.

Photo: more cat, because you can never really have enough cat. He used to purr like a boat engine. It was delightful.