Popular Posts

Sunday, 14 October 2007

sound fellows, poets.

Caitlin Moran writing in the Times a week or so ago, set me idly thinking along a track along which I often idly think. Showing a touch of envy towards those - these days everyone except her, it seems - who has a £1 million 3-year research project to study, well, anything you can think of, it seems, she came to focus on a £1 million 3-year research project to study soundscapes. Town soundscapes. The results were taken to suggest that we who live in these comfortable, human enclaves called towns, away from the brutish life with which we would otherwise have to share our existence, actually like the sounds that designers try so hard to filter out for us. Apparently we like the sound of skateboards and the swish of tyres on tarmac. We certainly prefer them to the noise of animals trying to kill each other or having violent sex. In future, architects and designers, it was proposed, should try to manage these sounds on our behalf. Filter them, yes, but not filter them out.

So what was the track along which my thoughts were again sent idly roaming? Well, I have often wondered whether and to what extent the soundscape in which we are brought up influences, for example, our musical preferences. Moran's musings extended my familiar thought-track into the realm of poetry. Those sounds with which we are most familiar and have therefore come to love, hate or apathetically filter out, do they help to determine whether we like or hate Schoenberg's Piano Concerto or prefer the classical scale? Or heavy metal? Would the day-in, day-out and nightly sounds of beasts clashing and mating predispose us to the music of Schoenberg, with its lack of the usual hierarchy of pitches focused on a single, central tone - with its lack, in other words, of any unifying foundation? Or would the reverse be the case? What about a £1 million pound 3-year research project to discover if there is any significant difference to be found when comparing the musical tastes of town and country folk?

Interestingly (how relevant?), there is something called ambient music. Here is a quote by Eno: "Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." He had just come out of hospital and was bedridden. He was given a CD, which with great difficulty he put on his music system, only to discover that one speaker was producing no sound and the other was set very low. He was too incapacitated to correct it, but listened to it anyway. It suggested another way of listening to music - as ambient sound.

Patience! I am getting round to poetry. Coming up now, in fact. The interesting/ignorable hypothesis interests me, but attempt to apply it to poetry and there is a difficulty: the fact that poetry is not just sounds, but speech sounds, which it could be argued, vary significantly as between town and country and so contaminate the discussion. They vary geographically, of course, though to what extent the divide is a town/country divide, would probably be difficult to establish. Either way, how do I exclude the influence of speech sounds from the results of my £1 million 3-year study? Would rhythm perhaps be a way forward? Would our ears be tuned differently by a rural ambiance as opposed to an urban one? Would either rather than the other favour an appreciation of Gerard Manley Hopkins's sprung rhythms, for example? Perhaps there is room for another £1 million pound 3-year study - on whether there is a geographical (say north/south) poetry divide.

Here is a quote I found interesting (from Adam Matta, beatboxer), back with music, but very close to (some would say incorporating) poetry:"I am definitely trying to integrate the urban and percussive elements of hiphop and beatboxing with some of that abstract sensibility, as much as I enjoy painting the urban landscape. It’s the rhythms of the city that have interested me since I was two years old, but, for instance, when you watch traffic gather and disperse at an intersection, they start to resemble flocks of birds, or water flowing, elements that speak to patterns of nature, and they start to locate man’s relationship to the concrete construction. Hip hop is a way to harness the chaos of urban life and to layer your impressions of your relationship to that landscape." Interesting: visual rhythms inspire his music and it is the urban scene, not the rural, that he finds chaotic. Could others be influenced by aural rhythms, the way he is by visual ones? And if Adam could be so influenced at the age of two, could not some be influenced, but below the conscious level? (For how conscious can we be at the age of two of what influences us deeply, and how?) Perhaps we are all influenced, in ways we can only guess at, by ambient sounds and rhythms, visual and aural, way below the conscious level.

No comments: