Sounds & Notes from London

It may just sound weird but I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking of the woman who sells The Big Issue outside the Waterstones on Gower Street. Not that I am unsympathetic towards the cause of The Big Issue but there is something eerily scary about her voice. I even avoid going to that part of the Waterstones but still every visit to Waterstones is full of reminiscences of that sound. This gets me to think if there is a hierarchy of senses in a way that we end up remembering more visual experiences or associate sounds with visuals and then in a similar order may be taste or smell or touch. In most cases it is the visual experience that one recalls most often or if there is a visual associated with a sound or a smell or a taste or touch it becomes easier to remember. Is this the reason we take more pictures than we record sounds or has the medium somehow adopted itself to a hierarchy of senses which perches vision right at the top? Is this the reason we have more apps or platforms that make it easier for us to take pictures, record our visual experiences and share with others?

I think about sound as a photographer. I’m not a “good photographer” but I do it enough that when I’m out in the world I see things in terms of what I would like to see again or that I would like someone else to see from a particular perspective. That’s my guiding principle with pictures. I wonder why exactly we have such a different relationship with sound as compared to how we relate to images. We have music, of course, but that’s not like photography at all. Music is the brush of a paint on canvas or a sculpture or graceful curve of an atrium. But music is not photograph of sounds.

I found this group on Soundcloud, Sound Art, that advertises itself as interested in ambient recordings, but in practice it looks more like another place for people to post their sick jams. What I want is a place to hear things that people record in the spaces around them. This seems reasonable to me: An app with just one button to record and another to share. I’d have fewer “friends” than on Instagram, in the realm of sound, but there would surely be some. And some who use the app would be pushed to find better and more interesting sounds, and to appreciate those sounds in new and different ways.

It’s worth discussing why this audio-sharing network would be so much smaller than the visual ones and why there would be less interest. For starters, vision is the dominant sense. All I really need to prove this is to ask which sense you would rather lose, but it’s still important to look a bit closer than that. Research has shown that up to 85 percent of our perception, learning, and cognition is mediated through vision. Just think of absolutely anything you enjoy: “running,” “chocolates,” “plants,” or “cats.” If you’re an average person, you saw those things in your imagination. (Possible exceptions, like “sex,” are an interesting digression, however.)

On Instagram people share subjects. In my experience, they don’t share very much ambience. There is very little to be found in the sense of a place on photo sharing sites. Rarely do I get a chance to “like” a photo of a room or some field. This is a shame. I’d like to be better able to share environments and ambience in general. We’ve reached a particular point in evolution and technological advancement that we don’t need to dote on vision anymore to survive or at least not as much as we used to. We have a vision-based internet and given that the internet itself doesn’t exist as an actual space, in the sense of needing to be spatially navigated, perhaps sound just needs a better advocate than websites that autoplay horrible music.

So: a sharing network for sounds. Someone build that. I’ll be your first member.

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