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Power of sound

Nicole Toczauer | Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sound. You’re always exposed to it. You hear it, you can even feel it, but sometimes you don’t even recognize it. Until you notice a silence.

In my Moving Media class this semester, I’ve begun looking at, or in this case, listening to, things in some very different ways. We were recently assigned this project: Recreate a space or feeling simply by using sound.

Now, this doesn’t seem too difficult. Get a recording device and go on an adventure around campus recording random things, right? Not quite. As soon as we stepped out of class, I felt like I was constantly searching for odd sounds. Sounds you wouldn’t pay much attention to otherwise — the hum of fluorescent lights, how footsteps sound on different surfaces and the “horrible noise coming from the evil box underneath the window” … Buddy the Elf then imitates the radiator. I digress.

But listening to things differently is strange. Especially with voices. It’s amazing how many different sounds a voice can make, how it can transform pitch and volume and how subtle accents can play in. How one whisper can stand out in a silent room or the way voices rumble together in a crowd. Add in the weight words can carry when you listen to the content of the sound, and you’ve got something extremely powerful. Just think of famous speakers like Martin Luther King, Jr. Words can lead a crowd; they can inspire.

As for my project, it’s actually quite overwhelming having to isolate one theme to work with, but it’s been a new experience. As a photography major (yes, we exist), I work in stills. I don’t have to worry about temporal aspects of a piece or the connotations sound and rhythm carry. This is something I love about photography, but also something that can be limiting. But since I get the opportunity to work with it now, I love getting to delve into sound. It’s beautiful.

So even if you’re rushing around, stop. Listen. Spend a day just listening to the world you live in. It’s an interesting one. Even if something seems completely mundane to you, like the sound of people walking the paths on South Quad towards DeBartolo, it could be that very “everyday” sound you’ll remember once you graduate. Sounds can take you places in that way.

After listening to the glorious sounds on campus — the hubbub in La Fun, your friends’ voices, the chattering squirrels and whatnot — pop in some earphones and spend your day with a personal sound track. I’d recommend “Where is My Mind” by the Pixies for anyone with an excessively early or late class to walk to — since it hasn’t seemed to be raining lately (hallelujah), which is honestly the perfect time to listen to that song.

But after that experiment, compare the two. Both are centered completely on noticing sound, just in very different ways. As for me, I’m going to continue enjoying this experience. This project was a good reminder for me to pause, listen and notice the place in which I was living in this one little way.