The New, the Old, and the Changing

I’ve noticed two strikingly contradictory things about life at college. First, I’ve noticed how different it is from life at home. I see my family only for short periods of time over breaks, I have a completely different sort of workload, I am perpetually meeting new people, and I am beginning to live independently. Second, I’ve noticed how ironically similar college life is to life at home. Somehow, a part of me expected that my whole life would change immediately on August 24 when I moved in. This, of course, was not true. Although I am certainly transitioning into a different stage of my life, and my setting has shifted from New Jersey to Vermont, I am not a different person and much of my daily life is the same. In my Audiography, I have separated my daily sounds into the sounds that have not changed from high school, the sounds that are new to me at college, and the sounds that have not changed but are now regular for new reasons. The list is not in chronological order, and although I have included these sounds because they are regular, not all of them are daily. Rather, it is a compilation of normal sounds organized according to how they represent the recent changes in my life.

Many of the sounds I hear daily and their meanings have not changed since I came to college. For example, I have woken up every day since sixth grade to an alarm, and this particular blaring alarm has done the job for the past two years. After the alarm comes the sound of my electric toothbrush. The rustle of papers always has and always will mean reading and studying, two very regular activities in my life. Finally, I included Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles to symbolize all the time I spend listening to and playing music, which constitutes a large portion of my life. Although I apply Chion’s “semantic listening” (Chion 50) when interpreting music, most of these sounds hardly register in my attention anymore.

The transition to college, though, brought many new sounds. Though I am now accustomed to these sounds, each initially sparked my “causal listening” because I would listen to “gather information about its cause” (Chion 48). Perhaps the most apparently different sound on my list is the sound of the University Heights staircase. I no longer notice it, but the loud echos of doors, footsteps and voices struck me early in the year. The cold, empty ring of the staircase is a sound which I rarely encountered at home, and, upon moving in, it reminded me that I now live in a dorm with hundreds of other people. The sound of my own breath and footsteps when walking to and from class is another sound which is newly regular. To me, it signifies the increased independence and solitude of college life. The sound of waiting for the campus bus is also new to me. Although I have ridden many busses in my life, I have never done so regularly. Now, I am accustomed to the sounds of passing cars while I wait at the bus stop. Finally, the sound of Brennan’s represents the change in my daily eating experience. At home, most of my meals were spent either snacking in the kitchen or sitting down at the table. Now, all of my meals are spent in crowded dining halls. I think this marks a significant shift.

Finally, I shared two sounds that are not new to me at college, but have changed in the reason for their regularity. The first is the sound of boots in snow. At home, I was accustomed to this, generally when walking to the school bus. However, my hometown has very few sidewalks, so I would rarely walk outside during the winter, opting to drive instead. Now, I hear this sound on my way to and from every class. It has become much more pervasive, and will be heard almost any time I leave my room. The other sound is the wind at the top of Mad River Glen, a ski area. I have skied every winter since I was two years old, and the top of a ski mountain is a very familiar sound to me. However, I no longer associate it with being on a ski vacation with my family or the high school ski trips. Rather, it is now a sound that I hear whenever I manage to catch the bus for a casual day on the mountain.

As Seth Horowitz would say, I “keep most sounds off [my] cognitive radar unless they might be of use as a signal” (4). It only took me a matter of months to assimilate them into “background noise.” The echo of the staircase and the crowds at Brennan’s once caught my attention. Now, I no longer notice them. An interesting point, though, is that I tend to notice often the sounds that have not changed since high school except in meaning. The wind at the top of Mad River Glen caught my ear not because it was new, but because it now lacked my family’s voices. My whole life did not change in the transition to college. Still, many of the more meaningful changes can be mapped out by their sounds.

 Works Cited

The Beatles. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Abbey Road Studios, 1967. CD.

Chion, Michael. “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 48-53. Print.

Horowitz, Seth. “The Science and Art of Listening.” New York Times. 9 Nov 2012. Web.


2 thoughts on “The New, the Old, and the Changing

  1. I find your first paragraph about the sounds that have not changed to be really interesting. I still find it startling how we can become so entrenched in a certain routine that, as you point out when discussing the music, the sounds become relatively mundane and inconsequential. I also found your paragraph concerning the stomp of boots and the wind of a mountaintop to be particularly captivating. I too notice the natural rhythms of the footsteps surrounding me during the day. I too enjoy the standing on top of the world and have for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite aspects of mountaintops is the fluctuation of sounds, and how one minute the wind might be whistling and the next a clear silence encompass the peak. I appreciate your differentiation and really enjoyed understanding some of your life’s transitions and routines.

  2. I like how you point out the change in the meaning of sounds, such as how the mountain sounds the same, but it’s different without your family. I think that this is an interesting aspect about the transition to college life; many of the things we hear are the same, but they hold a completely different meaning due to the new friends, places, and context.

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