This morning at 8am my neighbours had their front drive ripped out.
Meanwhile I was deep in dreaming that I was by a river. The image was quite a romantic one of a picturesque river meandering through field surrounded by vegetation. But it was strange because it sounded like a much wider, fast moving river where the water rushed powerfully downstream. It rumbled with a sharp shrill that had a metallic twang like aggressively grainy white noise. As I stand beside the river, I inspect the scene indifferently without a hint of the usual reverie I would usually except of myself at such a sight. I was just there and so was this river.
But as I am gradually ripped into consciousness, my passivity towards the scene quickly fades to a enthusiastic irritation as I became aware of the industrial clamour ambushing the inside of my ear holes before my alarm has had the pleasure of doing so.
I realised that the sound of the metal blade of a drill cutting through concrete tiles outside my window had been seamlessly woven into the soundscape of the river. I also realised then how little I usually hear sound in my dreams. But this was quite the startling composition; the industrial flow of an idyllic river landscape.
It made me think about geophony vs anthropony and the usual binary way of defining these sonic categories that is set up when what we really want to say is natural vs unnatural sounds. But I’m quite interested in moments when the two collide and bleed into eachother, making these definitions hard to disentangle. The biophonic example of birds mimicking human made sound and thus altering the balance of the natural sonic ecology illustrates this well but less I have thought of the how the soundscape of mountains, rivers, rain wind might have changed through recent industrial and extractive histories. With the Thames but 10m from my window, I lie in bed wondering if the river will ever sound the way it did it my dream. What if someone living 200 years ago heard the sound of the river today and couldn’t recognise it?
I watched a video recently on how rivers in the UK have been manicured to have neat and even banks but with the effect of stripping them of their filtration capacities and increasing chances of flooding during heavy rainfall. But the video only talked about the visual changes to the river. The river that we recognise today as an iconic river would not only have looked very different but probably also sounded very different. So from this I’ve become curious to explore some kind of sonic history of the Thames. And more broadly I’m curious to explore how in tracking geophonic soundscapes over a sustained time can we become aware of acute changes being made to those landscapes. But I’m sure this is already in full swing by geologists and ecologists everywhere.
I struggle to sleep that night, lying awake as the first cars begin their commute. As I lie there, I imagine the river again and that the low growls of the car engines driving past my window are the sound of the water flowing down stream. This river stutters past in strange torrents, flowing at a spectrum of paces as the oncoming traffic provides the meditative backdrop to my drifting into peaceful dreaming.
Surrounded inescapably by noise pollution here, is this a form of sonic recycling? A way of creating post-natural soundscape assemblages. Or maybe its just a way of coping with something that feels so immutable as the burning of fossil fuels, so heck if you can’t beat them, join them. Is there potential danger in this coping mechanism, training myself to become desensitised and docile towards to these soundscapes of emissions and industrialisation, allowing myself to accept that the sound of a combustion engine is as natural as a river?