A Small Sound Tapestry example from Hannah Hinchman's book
There is a Boeing 767 flying through my office. It is nighttime in the mountains in the winter. It is approximately 19 degrees outside, and completely still, calm and quiet. Yet right now I am being bombarded, literally, by a giant fly who would like me to turn off the office light so he can…most likely…die.
The house is popping and sighing in the cold. My “unusually loud” (spouse’s description) keyboard strokes, the whispering, continuous hum of the computer and the dog’s occasional snorts and whines are all I can hear in this little insulated cabin in the woods. And the fly.
I have been thinking a great deal about the sounds of the natural, and unnatural, world after leading an activity during Stalking Education in the Wild where participants created “Small Sound Tapestries”, an idea I found in Hannah Hinchman’s book, A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place. A sound tapestry is a visual representation of the sounds in the natural world around you.
It is a fantastic activity for all ages. You sit, listen, and sketch what you think the sound looks like in color, size, and movement—you allow the sounds to overlap, stand alone, or otherwise define themselves on paper. You seek to capture the visual essence of all the small sounds, and the layers of sound, around you.
Headphones are no longer complimentary on domestic flights
Armed with colored pencils and our journals, my fellow naturalists set out to sketch the shapes of the sounds around us. After the sounds of crunching grass underfoot faded, the depth and richness of wind sounds filled Olin Gulch. There was the deep, constant rumble of the wind through the Ponderosa Pines on either side of the Gulch; the mid-tone oscillating, undulating, vanishing wind through the deep grasses in front and beside me; then the almost shrill and pointy bits of almost winter air zipping past and above me—the memory of which I carried with me later while my earlobes throbbed with pain as the blood finally flushed out the cold. On my tapestry, I also recorded the shriek of an irritated Stellar’s jay, the brief whir of a small and brave insect, the sneeze of a friend…and the interminably long interlude of a jet planes’ approach, fly-over and departure.
Of all the sounds on my tapestry, that one was the most constant, the biggest and the ugliest. It was neither a small sound, nor one that I could ignore, so I stuck it at the bottom of my page, titled it “Annoying Jet” and tried to move on. But it roared on and on. Even after it was gone, I could still hear—in the rumbling of my brain—those engines 6 or 7 miles above me.
Gordon Hempton recording for Soundtracker
A week later I read an article in The New Yorker entitled “Letter from California: Blowback” regarding a campaign to ban leaf blowers in Orinda, California because of their impact on the “soundscape” and overall health of community members; and tonight, via Mountain Gazette, I discovered Nicolas Sherman’s film, “Soundtracker” about Gordon Hempton—a sound recordist who is trying “to find and record the vanishing sounds of nature in an attempt to capture a disappearing sensory experience.” In a New York Times article, Hempton says, ‘‘We have become insensitive to listening,” he said. ‘‘The most important thing you can do to become a better listener is to simply go to a naturally quiet place and allow your senses to open up again. When you become a better listener to nature, you become a better listener to your community, your children, the people you work with.”
So I’m off to listen to the not-so-distant howl and yip of the coyotes, the crunch of a pinecone beneath shifting horse hooves, and the vanishing hum of the soon-to-be-very-cold-jet-propelled-fly that I just let outside.