A Day With Jack, My Dog

Begins: 8:09 February 9, 2013

Ends: 8:23 February 10, 2013

            This 24-hour and 14-minute section of my life begins on a frigid Vermont eve, as my dog, mom, and I jump in the car to drive home to our 20×18 Foot, waterless, three room skiing camp. It used to be a hunting camp but the moose head and rifles shipped out about eight years ago when my mom stumbled upon the hidden oasis. With a bubbling brook, willowing pines, miles of snowy kingdoms, and infrequent snowmobiles, this house has been a haven for rest, relaxation, and escape.

My day begins at 8:09 the night before with Jack quiet and unnoticed in the back, and my mom’s distinguished voice cutting in above the loud and bumpy noise of the car rattling over the road. The first two recordings capture these combatting sounds of the drive home. My mom’s voice represents all three of Chion’s methods of listening, causal, semantic, and reduced because I’m listening and I know it’s to my mom, processing the words she’s saying, and I’m also catching the strain in her voice. On the other hand, when my mom isn’t speaking the ambient sounds of the car, the tires, the gravel, and the snow, are heard as a simple causal background and don’t undergo the reduced listening gaze. This contrast between the two recordings displays an interesting correlation between what humans might consider ambient noise, and what they might focus on more readily and understand more fully. As I listen to my mom’s voice, I can’t help but hear the effort in her voice, also known as her intonation. When the ambient noise returns to the solo stage, it seems almost subconsciously ignored. Since there isn’t a human voice speaking words that have meaning, the hearing sense returns to its most basic and easiest function, causal listening. Much like Horowitz discusses, it seems as if since nothing “dangerous or wonderful is [any]where within the kilometer or so that [my] ears can detect,” I am at ease and paying very little acute attention to my surroundings (Horowitz 1). Because I was comfortable and safe in the car, my auditory alert system was diluted and fuzzier.

 Next comes a short excerpt of couch life from inside the cozy camp. The thirty-four seconds of camp ambience, represented by my mom’s cooing of my dog and her subtle typing, are overlaid with another more prominent level of sound. Whilst I was surrounded by the natural rhythms of my home, quite comfortable and at ease, I was also using technology, my laptop, to watch a short bit of BBC’s Planet Earth documentary series. The squawking of birds followed by heavy flapping and screeching exceptionally simulates a short auditory experience of a jungle. I think this soundscape would greatly interest Professor Horowitz because of his interest in the apparent attack of technology. What is most interesting is my paradox of immersing my mind in sounds and images of nature, through the use of hearing’s worst enemy: the humdrum of modern technology. Horowitz claims listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction an information overload,” but it seems technologically simulated nature is becoming extremely effective as we progress (2). I would question whether this is a positive or negative development in our auditory relations with our machine world and the natural world.

The next morning begins my daily maneuvers, which appear as a semi-routine when taken as a group of three. My first task, as every other morning I get the chance, I turn on my computer, rub the sleep from my eyes, put some water on to heat, and throw on Twiddle’s When it Rains it Poors. Next I scratchily get dressed for the day, today’s different though; it’s an adventure day. I pull on Under Armour, Hot Chilly leggings, warm socks, a breathable athletic shirt, and then toss on my Patagonia pullover. The shifty sounds of this short excerpt lead up to the actual boiling of the water, followed by the short pour into the teacup. With my uplifted mood and preparations both checked off for the morning, I’m ready to begin in earnest, a walk with Jack.

The earliest sounds of our excursion are my two attempts at capturing the natural stillness surrounding us. For so long, the only harsh sounds of my atmosphere are my heavy footfalls, but when they stop, a total silence encompasses my auditory world. But then, as I stop to record and take a sip or water, the faint murmur of snowmobiles approaches, and quickly grows to a harsh berating mechanical sound. Again my mind turns to Horowitz, Chion, Schafer, and maybe even Bijsterveld, as I contemplate the type of sounds, causal and reduced, their historical and cultural ramifications, and their current source: technology. This juxtaposition of silence with manmade interruption is interesting, but not alone. The very next recording captures another brief technological intrusion, the car driving by, followed by the crisp beat of my footsteps. Only between them, there is another notable exclamation of sound. My quite estranged voice, to mine own ears, cuts through the crunching snow to signal my ingrained need for lingual communication.

The walk continues a, little more organically, with Jack’s sniffing layered above the quiet birdcalls subtly crisscrossing around the immediate area. It’s an ineffable moment of natural peace and I’m grateful to have captured it. A while after, we finally reach the main road, and are immediately bombarded by the roar of commonplace automobile. Silence recaptures its hold briefly, only to have it shattered by a cluster of cars roaring by. Now Jack and I are resigned to a period of repeated and equally jarring mechanical interruptions. We amble rather soundlessly, more for the reason that the ears are forced to be ever wary of incoming cars, and unable to catch the nuances of the breezes and river nearby. A pity the Mad River couldn’t make an appearance, but maybe another day. The monotonous necessity of the causal listening reminded me of Karin Bijsterveld and her inquiries within Listening to Machines: Industrial Noise, Hearing Loss and the Cultural Meaning of Sound. Specifically, she discusses the necessity of hearing within industrial settings, but it seems to me that even two-lane Route 100 has become a hub of technologically caused noise. Everywhere, not just in the factories, are the harsh interruptions of human mechanical culture.

Luckily only about fifteen minutes go by and we find a side road, laden with quaint residences, that parallels the highway, but with a major reduction in auto-noise. This recording captures the crescendo clacking of Jack’s claws upon the gravelly and deteriorated pavement. What most interests me is the dynamic of Jack’s approach. How it goes from quiet, to a climactic and powerful sound, and suddenly dies when he reaches me, and his other goal, an ear-scratch. I found this little snippet to interest me more musically than many of the others. As a beat boxer, I am always subconsciously on the lookout for interesting sounds or effects to replicate. How I somehow managed to get my recorder going just before he trotted contentedly over to me I will never know, but will forever be thankful for. I imagine it might also interest Chion in terms of sound type and resultant effects.

To finally wrap-up this day of some mixture of companionship with Jack, nostalgia with my mom, my regular routines, serene nature, and invasive industry, a cascade of noise and refreshment washes away the trance of the auditory adventure. The shower’s surround-sound effect, coupled with the physical effects of the cleansing water sweep away the soundscape of the day. As soon as the curtain pulls closed, the sound sphere of my perception shrinks and returns to dorm-life mode. I am readying myself for the nearly constant murmur of human interaction, whether it be music, conversation, or movement. I reflect on my day and realize suddenly what a wonderful day with my dog that was. And then I decided to write about it.


Works Cited

Horowitz, Seth. “The Science and Art of Listening.” The New York Times, 11 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

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

Schafer, Murray. “Open Ears.” Thinking About Sound. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 25-39. Print.

Bijsterveld, Karin. “Listening to Machines: Industrial Noise, Hearing Loss and the Cultural Meaning of Sound.” The Sound Studies Reader (2012): 152-64. Text.

 Twiddle. “When it Rains it Poors. Somewhere on the Mountain. 2011. CD.


Below is a sequence of my 12 recordings, played as read. Another can be found by following this Soundcloud link and starting at the bottom, and working your way up.

Driving Home on dirt road Driving Home Two Pulling i Driveway Planet Earth Watching twiddle 30 second morning Getting Dressed in the morning Pouring Tea Water Silence Penetrated by Snowmobiles Car followed by walking Sniffy Puppy Getting to edge of the road Jack Walks to Me taking a shower, Sugar loops at beginning?