Sound isn’t just about the tone or loudness. It’s about the quality of sounds and the feelings they trigger. The memories the soundscape evokes. The crack of a baseball bat and cheers from a Little League game at the nearby park. Kids getting called in for dinner. Bikes whizzing by. Seagulls screeching as they try to steal french fries near the beach snack stand.
Growing up, at this time of year there was the sound of the community marching band practising for the big end of summer parade. At the start of band practice, there were a lot of squawks and out of tune toots. But over the weeks and months, the drum beats got tight and the horns sounded awesome.
Did anybody complain about the discordant music drifting out over the community as the band learned to play together? Or were people proud to know we would be well represented by parade day? The sound of marching bands still brings back my sense of summer with fresh mown grass and strawberry rhubarb pie.
Now there is a new summer soundscape tradition. A new neighbourhood and new neighbour throwing a Canada Day party every year with about 50 guests. They bring in a jazz band that plays outdoors. Long breaks between songs. Over by about 7:00 pm. No fireworks. No squealing tires or honking when guests leave. It’s something the locals look forward to.
Loss of sound can have just as much meaning. One of the homes nearby has fallen silent. It isn’t a good thing. The owner passed away recently. Gone are the daily walks with his little dog, the sound of his voice chatting with the neighbours and making jokes. The occasional bark or whine when his dog was happy or excited. Now our hearts grow heavy when we hear the dog whining and crying. Not understanding where its master has gone.
I listen to my soundscape and worry about the growing noise covering up the birdsong and natural neighbourhood sound rhythms, even the annoying pigeon with its woot WOO woot…woot WOO woot.
On a Saturday morning I sit out on my catio around 7:30 a.m. Enjoying my morning coffee. The engine noise starts first as people head out for their day. Thumps of music bass and motorcycles vroom. Aircraft drone overhead. Hammering and saws start at the new house construction. Heavy equipment roars and back up beeps shatter the quiet as road construction begins. A helicopter comes into hearing distance. A neighbour starts up their pressure washer and another blows leaves.
I wonder if this is the forever future of soundscapes. Will society ever realize that noise is unnecessary? Easily controlled with technology and action plans. Noise is an archaic leftover from olden days, still ignored by governments, manufacturers, and people who think noise is “fun”.
July 18, 2019, is World Listening Day. When you listen, will it bring you fond soundscape listening memories? Or will you regret the loss of community soundscapes before the rise in imposed noise?
Jan L. MayesMSc, Aud(C), RAud
Author, audiologist, educator, quiet activist, playing with words.