Elevator music: The forgotten noises of ambient sound

In considering the sonic content that makes up my life, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of passive noise, sounds that I don’t even notice because they’re so commonplace. In this Audiography, my “Elevator Music,” the passive, background sounds that facilitate a day to day existence are documented in context of the role they play in everyday rituals and habits and what implications they hold.

BLINDS: After you wake up, you can usually hear the sound your roommate makes when opening up the blinds to let the sunlight in. There’s been much less of it, now that it’s really winter. The blinds sound almost crudely mechanical, a utilitarian noise byproduct of another action.

PILL: The shrink wrapping around your morning medication is really way too complicated for reason to explain but you crack it open anyways – the sharp, popping noise is a ritual of sorts that you just as easily forget as soon as you swallow with some water

HANGERS: The soft “snick, snick” of a plastic hanger gliding over the aluminum bar in your closet makes an appearance whenever you consult your wardrobe: However, this noise is muffled by your mental chatter before it can even be considered as a noise worth giving attention to.

DOOR: The sound of a door – a smooth swish, the gentle “click” of validation, and the louder sound of locks slipping past each other as you tug the door open is so commonplace that it transcends association with any one emotion or state of mind. You hear in the morning and late at night; when you’re tired, anxious, excited, or resigned; alone or with a huge gaggle of people. You here it when you want to go home to the dorm, and when you want to really go home go home because you’re sick of the day to day noise that crowds your thinking spaces.

BREAKFAST: When you’re having breakfast outside of New World Tortilla before it opens in the few spare minutes before your math class starts you focus on reading the paper online, or checking your e-mail or finishing an assignment. The concurrent burble of the morning time around flows you – the clatter of dishes, beeps and creaks and the radio fading in and out, maybe making a brief cameo in your steam of consciousness but never really elevating itself to “the object to be observed”(Chion, 1994). These sounds remain “a vehicle for something else,” (Chion, 1994), just a small blip on your radar reminding you that life continues outside your own bubble of consciousness.

SNIFFLES: The byproduct of the pervasive cold weather, the integral soundbit of a snuffling stuffed nose doesn’t even get a head turn of recognition anymore.

SALAD: The noises of eating are often dubbed over by conversation or forgotten, if your mind is busy. They’re frequently gross and never enjoyable, so no one complains when they settle to the bottom of our consciousness.

LINESUPS: As you try to desperately finish your programming assignment for computer science class before it’s due, the chatter your friends make fills the space around you like it often does, a sort of soft, ambient padding against the admittedly silent and jarring sound of being alone. It does however tend to decrease productivity.

FUEGO: Another sound of utility, you barely even notice the flick of a lighter anymore as you light candles or watch your friends have a cigarette.

HOMEWORK: Music fills your room as you whittle away at this week’s assignments. You’re so attached to that dear machine, it would seem as if you’d be attuned to the clicking keys, but this noise is covered up by all the other traffic running through your mind.

If the resonance of sounds “entails adjacency, sympathy and the collapse of the boundary between the perceiver and the perceived” (Erlman, 2010) then even the most seemingly insignificant noises contribute to the stage life is acted out on. Considering these resultant noises through a new, more critical lens let me “take control of the sensory experience” (Horowitz, 2012) I have everyday and see the soundtrack of my life in a new light.


Works Cited

Seth Horowitz, The Science and Art of Listening (New York: The New York Times, 2012)

Veit Erlmann, Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality (New York: Zone Books, 2010)

Michel Chion, “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Comp. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012