A splash. A slop. A swish. A crash.
The sound of water is a very easy reference to pull from memory.
I’ve been sticking a waterproofed piezo mic into various bodies of water lately, and learning a lot about the sound of water.
The times when I achieve a classic ‘watery’ sound, the trickling of a stream, lapping of waves, the gargle of ripples, is when I position the microphone in some way that it creating some kind of disturbance of the water. For example if I position the microphone in the stream so that the water hits it and create a little pocket of air around it or if I allow the microphone to graze the pebbles below. But if I just suspend the microphone underwater, out of reach of the surface or the bed, the sound is very uneventful. In part due to the limits of my very diy silicon-coated piezo mic, but it’s also made me think about how the sound of water is always created through waters interaction with non-water. Water hitting the microphone. Water hitting the sand. Water swirled in a glass. Water churned by wind and crashing in on its self. The sound of water, as we classically know it, relies on a kind of disturbance or disorder.
Today I set up a sound sender and receiver underwater. The sender downstream and the receiver upstream, about 0.5 m apart, thinking that the sound picked up by the receiver would be a distorted, watery interpretation of the voice recording that I was playing downstream. But in reality what I heard was quite a clear and legible rendition of the sound file I was playing through the underwater speaker. It seems obvious in hindsight, but the sound of water is very different to the sound of underwater. And sound seems to travel very well underwater, which also makes sense.
I am reading a lot about holes lately, fascinated I think by something which is defined entirely through the absence of matter. The metaphysics of holes is a pretty nerdy and jargon protected corner of philosophy that if you aren’t a philosopher (like me) has you wondering pretty quickly but also at the end of a 13 page essay on how to define holes, so what?, the exact same question that would infuriate me when asked by my dad at any of my degree shows in critical design. But really, so what? Why is defining the topography of a hole interesting?
In a similar fashion to the water/nonwater question, the existence of a hole relies on there being a non-hole. A donut hole does not exist independently from the donut.
“The hole is a permanent companion of the non-hole”. (The Social Psychology of Holes, Kurt Tucholsky, 1931)
This logic extends to most things I would say. Most of the time things are defined not by what they are but by what they are not. They exist because of the negative space that renders them into existence. I am this because I am not that. The hole is a necessary component for shaping the non-hole. But this also relies on some kind of border or membrane that separate them.
The concept of being alive is only maintained by the knowledge that there is such thing as non-life, aka death. Therefore life only exists because of death to render aliveness a state that exists in opposition to something else. What is the border then between life and non-life?
Is death merely the absence of life in the same way that the donut hole is merely the absence of donut, or is the hole a material thing in and of itself. Why do we say that this bucket has a hole, rather than this bucket is perforated? The hole here is assigned thinghood, given an identity beyond merely being the existence of an absence. Does absence have matter? Is absence a ‘thing’? Is death some’thing’ beyond just being the absence of something?
What counts as a hole? Me and a friend recently founded the Society for the Appreciation of Doorways and we gave our first presentation at a writing workshop last week, but today it dawned on me that doorways are really just a domesticated hole. We opened our presentation with our favourite game of “Is it a door?” where our logic for what constitutes a door gradually unravels into absurdity with each round revealing the slippery identity doorways. Doors are a type of hole that have a lot a cultural meaning assigned to them, a lot of religious relevance and act often as a metaphor for something else. They are an adorned hole, but the hole is still the essence. Because the hole is so distilled, it is impossible to be essentialist about holes. They must pass through some other form of social engine before this position is relevant. Sure you can be an essentialist about doors, but not the hole.
“The strangest thing about a hole is its edge.
It’s still part of the Something, but it constantly overlooks the Nothing—a border guard of matter.
Nothingness has no such guard; while the molecules at the edge of a hole get dizzy because they are staring into a hole, the molecules of the hole get… firmy?
There’s no word for it. For our language was created by the Something people; the Hole people speak a language of their own.”
Hole people?! Yes please.
“The hole is the only premonition of paradise down here. When you’re dead, you’ll first realize what life is about.”
This is the last line of the text. It struck me first because the word paradise is a favourite of mine, derived from the greek for “enclosed park” which I’ve always found quite funny and exposing that our word for paradise essentially translates to contained. I don’t know if it was used in this way intentionally, but truly it is only the hole that can point us to paradise. The hole, the edge of the hole is what creates the non-hole and the non-hole is the realm of the human. The non-hole is the realm of culture and this is where paradise exists.
I am looking for the hole. The hole world and the hole people. (moles?)
But back to water and non-water. The sound of water is perhaps found at the edge of the hole. The interface between something and it’s ‘non-‘ counterpart. We are made aware of something when we are brought to this border. Just as Heidegger says that you only notice something when it is broken. Only when there is a break-down of some sort, does this object become conspicuous. There is a rapture that inserts disorder into former orderliness.
Sound signifies a rapture.
But by this logic, any interaction is a form of disruption that brings us into contact with the edges of ourself. The human and the non-human. But then again it is easy to locate the edges of ourselves.
The sound of water (as we classically reference it) is actually very exciting (at least to me), because it’s a kind of sonic cartography of how water relates to non-water and the sound of the underwater is just the sound of water relating to water. So actually there isn’t much to hear and any sound you do hear is probably pebbles crackling in the distance or the surface of water breaking (again, non-water). This is so interesting to me because if the sound of water is really just the sound of the absence of water, then what other things that we think of as essential are actually just an expression of absence.
“Everything that exists is possible only on the basis of a whole series of absences, which precede and surround it, allowing it to possess such consistency and intelligibility that it does. In the famous example, any particular linguistic term gains its meaning not from its own positive qualities but from its difference from other terms.” Mark Fisher
My fascination with the tire tracks made across my local beach have recently come into the foreground of my interests. In part, I think, due to their holiness.
‘Tracks’ are something entirely formed in the host object by an absence, by a hole (also if it can be considered a hole is up for debate, does a hole require a passage between two openings or is an indent also a hole?). Other examples of this include the way marks can be pressed into the skin, footprints and I think also when light gets exposed onto the eyeball and creates dark shapes every time you blink, although that is much more ephemeral. It’s funny how many of these things don’t actually have a name. Language really was created by the “Something people”.
I am drawn to how the ‘track’ is often impermanent. The sand is pushed back into the hole, the skin returns to it’s former shape, regular eye sensitivity returns. But the track is an absence that alludes to some former presence. The hole hints to a past. A hole in the ground often even touches the past. Is the hole a time machine? The hole as ephemeral matter.
In casting the holes, the hole ‘guest’ becomes plaster, where usually it is air. This plugging of the hole does not kill the hole. Even if you filled in a hole with the same material as the hole host, does the hole ever die? What if holes were actually permanent.
Anyway, this is going down a metaphysical rabbit hole so I’ll tune out and go read about silence, vacuums, voids, noise and probably death.