Monday, December 13, 2010

Same Place, Same Sound - Or Is It?

Coming back to familiar places, you always notice that they do not feel quite the same. The reason, in most cases, is you: you've been away, you've changed, and you're returning with a different perspective. This has been true for me in many ways since coming back from three months in Europe - but perhaps the most striking difference about home is that it sounds different. It sounds better! Having a baseline to compare to, I'm reminded of just how much my hearing is progressing.

Take airports, for instance. From my many travels back and forth to California over the summer, I've come to associate airports and airplanes with tune-ups in hearing. At first, they almost made me physically ill. That first flight back from California, almost six months ago, is something I shudder to think about. A great shapeless blob of sound hovered over my head, roaring and pulsating, so that reading - concentrating - thinking - became impossible. But now, the thrum of activity, and even of the engine, is just there, keeping me company. Now I can hear the different sounds in that large roaring cacophony, from when the engine gears up to when the wheels screech as they land to the various footsteps and announcements and voices in the airport. Loud and clashing, yes, but more subtly so.

The same is true for my house: not only are its noises more tolerable, but they are more complex. The new whirs and clicks and noises I'm noticing have me confused, and I have to go through the whole process of racing around figuring out what they are. I'm hearing more noises from farther away, and I've found that when I'm sitting in one room I sometimes know exactly what's going on in another, just by listening. How strange and amazing. It feels almost like ESP. This is not the same house that I knew three months ago.

My first day home, I sat down at our piano and struck a note: middle C. It rang forth, smooth and so beautiful that I literally gasped. Same house, same piano, and three months later it sounds so wonderfully pure and resonant, so different from the almost mechanical notes I heard over the summer. My brain is starting to interpret music as, well - music.

In the yard, the chickens roam about, clucking and crowing. I recognize their noises instantly as chicken sounds. But here, too, something is different. I'm hearing them from way, way across the yard, and they sound more richly layered, more complex, more - I don't know - chickeny. I'm noticing more different tones and subtleties in their clucking, almost as if I can interpret their moods. Too bad this doesn't stop them from being annoying. I'm still apt to shout, "Shut up!" when one rooster gets his tailfeathers into too much of a wad.

Who knew one place could feel so different, so much richer, based on the quality of sound I find there? My ear is working on finer and finer auditory skills, and the amount of texture that gives the world is astounding. It's starting to be a little more than just "noise." Now I've just got to listen to some of the specific songs I heard over the summer, return to some of the same listening exercises, go to more familiar (but yet changed) places, and see where all that puts me!

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