The Sounds I Miss

So far, I do not like UVM very much. This is partially due to external circumstances, such as the cultural differences between Vermont and New York City, and partially due to internal circumstances, such as my stubbornly nostalgic mindset that refuses to embrace change and constantly misses my old life. I face these issues on an everyday basis, and they are reflected in the sounds of my daily life.

If there is one thing I can say is better about college than high school, it is that my classes are not as early. Despite this, I still need two alarms to have any chance of waking up, and procrastination in the form of repeatedly hitting the snooze button is my first act of every weekday.

Since I am still tired, I prefer to make myself breakfast as opposed to going outside to a dining hall. This semester I usually wake up before my roommate and try to be quiet, but when I recorded the sounds of pouring and eating cereal, I realized it was not quite as quiet as I thought. I also like cereal because it represents the usual, seeing as I ate cereal almost every morning for both elementary and high school.

When I finally have to walk outside, to go to my classes for example, it is usually colder than I’d like it to be. I can only speculate that this is the reason for this next sound becoming a much more prominent part of my life, but it could also be the change in my natural environment or something else all together. Whatever the reason, I feel like I’ve had the longest cold of my life.

When I get back to my dorm, I am usually tired. One of my main sources of happiness here is listening to lively, danceable music that makes me feel good. Aside from the fact that I love this song, another likely reason it uplifts my mood is because I saw the group at a very fun on-the-beach concert with my cousins and sister in France this summer, so it brings me to a happier, more comfortable, and better time.

If I am honest with myself, I realize that listening to music is one of my main forms of avoiding overwhelming feelings brought on by the thought of homework and other daily responsibilities. In an effort to deal with this better, I have started to make To-Do lists more and more regularly to organize my thoughts work more efficiently.

Unfortunately, writing the list is often the most successful part of my day in regards to getting my work done.  Part of the reason for this is the clutter in my room. A few times per week, I make some half-hearted attempts to organize my desk before starting my work.

When I inevitably give up on this idea and once again come to the realization that my room is not conducive to working well, I often go to the library. By the time I get there it is already pretty late into the evening (9:20pm in this recording), which I don’t mind, because it is less crowded, which means less people for me to listen to and get distracted by (I don’t like the silent floors because I feel like every sound I make is way too loud).

When I don’t have homework to do, I go to the UVM Men’s Basketball games. I am a big basketball fan, and it is fun. With the lone exception of the raucous crowd showing for their nationally televised game, the games would benefit from a larger (and much younger) crowd.

As a funny symbol of my inability to embrace this university as my new home, many nights when the UVM team plays have coincided with when my beloved New York Knicks NBA team plays, and I often rush back to my dorm after the UVM game to catch the end of the Knicks game on my computer.

Due to the fact that I often work late into the night in the library or watch basketball games, and I always ate dinner late back home, I take full advantage of the late night dining services provided at Harris-Millis. I usually go alone, but the fact that its so late and pretty empty makes me mind less.

When describing the three listening modes, composer Michel Chion writes about causal, semantic, and reduced listening. I did not focus on semantic listening—interpreting messages through communication—for this paper because I have conversations far less often than I used to (Chion 50). While recording these sounds, and while listening back to the recordings, I was forced to focus much more on the “traits of the sound” themselves, which is reduced listening (50). However, it is causal listening, or “listening to a sound in order to gather information,” that Chion says is the most common, and this holds true for me in not so obvious ways (48). While sounds like the alarms tell me it is time to savor my last few moments of sleep, and sounds from the UVM crowd signify how lively (or not) the atmosphere is, (and are obviously examples of causal listening) much of my causal listening comes from the lack of sounds I pay attention to, which signify to me that I spend too much time alone.  When it comes down to it, I think of my time here at UVM as being characterized mostly by silence: the unhealthy amount of time spent doing nothing in my dorm room, the meals eaten alone, the work I do at the library. Seth Horowitz would argue that the reason I feel this way is because I don’t pay attention, therefore I hear without listening. After recording the sounds of these seemingly silent activities, I would have to agree with him. As I write this in my otherwise silent room, it occurs to me that I could have recorded the sound of my typing, because it is in fact quite loud. Despite the fact that I don’t live in silence, what I really miss from my past is what R. Murray Schafer would call keynote sounds and soundmarks, the sounds that made up my environment. As Schafer writes, “Noises are the sounds we have learned to ignore,” and coming to college has resulted in noise having a much larger and unwanted role in the sound of my life.

Works Cited

Chion, Michel. The Three Listening Modes.

Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape.

Horowitz, Seth S. The Science and Art of Listening.



Main Theme to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Depicting the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in film would be no easy task. True to its form, the narrative is a collection of memories from Douglass’ time immersed in the cruel, scary, and unforgiving world of slavery. Although Douglass recounts many fascinating and gripping tales that would leave moviegoers satisfied— albeit angry and disgusted, as they should be—much of the narrative’s power and impact comes from Douglass’ musings and opinions about what he experiences. Despite this fact, I would not make a documentary, because I find that they usually resonate less than well-made historical dramas. As a result, in an effort to compensate for the lack of narration, I think the music of the film should assume the complementary role to the scenes that the narration did in the book, providing an extra layer to the overall environment and feelings created by slavery. In the essay that follows, I will describe what is essentially the theme song to the movie, which would play in the opening credits to set the mood, and which would also be heard at various other moments throughout the film.

The main keynote sound would, not surprisingly, be the harsh crack of a whip. I would like to use the whip in place of a snare drum. I think interesting things could be done with the beat, and especially the whip sound, that would mirror the feelings of the time period. For example, a slight echo would be placed on the whip sound, causing it to repeat and fade out, but not completely before the next “snare” hit. In this way, the sound of the whip would never completely disappear, thus reflecting the lasting impression the whip has on the slaves. Its not as if the whipping happens and then it is over with; on the contrary, the torturous whippings serve as a constant reminder of the slaveholders power, the pain stays long after, and the memories and scars are forever. When recounting his first six hellish months with notorious slave breaker Mr. Covey, Douglas writes, “scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a sore back” (36). Another component of the song would be the unusual time signature of 7/4, because this is not a rhythm we are accustomed to hearing. Even with the whip/snare falling at regular intervals, it would take a while to get used to it. The reason for doing this would be to reproduce the feelings of the slaves in regards to the violent whippings—despite their regularity, the slaves can never fully get used to them or accept them as commonplace, normal occurrences.

Another sound that would be in the song, probably just at the very beginning, would be a dark, ominous, and somewhat ambiguous growl. The growl would symbolize two things: the rumblings of Douglass’ stomach due to hunger, and the growls of a beast—a beast that the institution of slavery attempts to turn all slaves into. Douglass repeatedly references these two themes as facts of slavery. Douglass speaks of the “painful gnawings of hunger,” and writes, “A great many times have we poor creatures been nearly perishing with hunger, when food in abundance lay mouldering in the safe and smoke-house” (31). It could be argued that this hunger fed his rebellious nature, because he is willing to accept harsher conditions and many more whippings if he can “get enough to eat, which is not the smallest consideration to a hungry man” (34). The other theme the growl represents, the dehumanizing of slaves, is another thought that occupies much of Douglass’ time. He writes that when he is broken and slavery has engulfed him, he is “a man transformed into a brute,” who is worked to such exhaustion that he spends his scarce leisure hours in a “beast-like stupor” (38).

Although the film adaptation of this narrative would surely include much of the later portions of the book, where he learns to read and write, educates himself, starts to earn money in Baltimore, and eventually gains his freedom in the North, I do not think that the music should change during those scenes. Throughout the narrative is a pervading sense of secrecy, a constant reminder that although he has escaped, most slaves are not as fortunate. Slavery continues to exist. He continues to live in fear of being betrayed and kidnapped back into slavery, and his anger at the injustice of it all persists. Although he is now free, in the eyes of many, his identity is that of a runaway slave first, and a human being second. Since the music should be setting the backdrop in the film as his thoughts do in the narrative, the sounds of the growls, and even more importantly the whip, should be heard throughout the film, signifying that that his tale is not one of success, but of first steps; that although slavery is in his past, he will never be able to forget.