Monday, February 13, 2012

"What I Hear"

It was about one o’clock in the afternoon on a cold windy winter day when I decided to do the "Soundwalk", and so I bundled up and went for a walk for tuning my ears to the sounds of the streets of New York. I live on the Upper East Side, on 92nd street, between 1st and 2nd avenue, so I started by walking down 2nd Avenue. The major construction work along the avenue made me realize right away that it would be better for me to make a turn and walk away and find a quieter place. I wanted to be able to focus on some more “subtle” sounds perhaps, and not be overwhelmed by the loud construction noise. Luckily, I found a sunny spot on the corner of 89th street and York Avenue, and a place to sit down and listen to the sounds around me.

The first sound that I “heard” was the cold wind blowing right on my left ear, it was a relatively soft sound, which varied continuously according to the speed of the wind. I could hear it because it was right in my ear, otherwise I probably would not have noticed it. Then came the sound from what I realized to be the engine of a heating unit right from the building behind me. It must be nice to be inside a warm apartment now, I thought to myself, and continued with my listening activity, taking a note that the sound from the heating unit was not too loud, and more like a constant humming noise in the background.

Traffic made the major loud sounds and noises as cars went by across the avenue. The traffic sound varied with very loud noise from big engines of buses and trucks, and a somewhat more muted one from small cars and far away traffic. Sound that quickly changed from soft to loud to soft again for cars going fast and a more solid load sound for slow cars, and then the loudest from a UPS truck waiting at the traffic light.

I then got distracted by the sound of wheels of suitcase dragged on the sidewalk, it was an ongoing sound that changed just a little based on the surface and bumps on the sidewalk, and then I heard footsteps of people walking by, it was a soft and flat sound. Next, I heard people talking somewhere behind me. I didn’t have to turn my head to tell that it’s a women talking to the doorman in the building behind me, she sounded louder and demanding, and he was softer and accommodating. And then some other people coming down the street, and the sound of light chains, I had to look up – dog walkers, and tiny hardly noticeable sounds of dogs’ paws as they walked by quickly and softly.

A roaming sound was coming from the sky above, it was a helicopter slowly hovering up and away and disappearing in between the tall buildings. And then back to the sidewalk, footsteps again, but this time more solid and short, a woman on high heels. And then some more talking, but this time in French, it came from a woman talking to her child. Back to traffic again, I heard higher sounds this time. I realized that these were some squeaking car breaks that should be fixed. And then a few car horns, short but loud. I then could detect the sound of remote whistles, although faraway, still noticeable, these were policemen directing the traffic a few blocks up the avenue.

Lastly, I noticed what seemed at first as an unusual, somewhat softer and erratic type of sound. It was the wind again, moving and shifting around small dry leaves and papers on the sidewalk around me, they made tiny clicking sounds as they hit the hard ground on and off. This was the sign for me to wrap up and go back home before the wind picks up again and blows in my ears.