A Sound You Will Never Forget

Is there a sound from your past that you will never forget? A memory so vivid that even reading this question takes you straight back there? If so i’d love to hear about it & via the comments on the previous post heres one from Brendan Hogan (thanks Brendan!)

“Did you know that there are hundreds of species of cicadas and that in places where there are many species living together (like the jungle’s of South East Asia) they take turns singing throughout the day? It is possible even to tell the time of day with a margin of error of only five minutes; just by listening to which species of cicada is singing at that moment. Most sound like a horror movie sound track but once, when I was sitting with a group of monks in a monastery on top of a fogged in mountain, I heard a cicada sound that sounded exactly like a violin section playing one continually sustaining note. I will remember that forever.”


A sound memory that will stay with me forever similarly occurred while travelling in another country & culture. Late in 2007 I needed a serious break from work, having just finished six months working on 30 Days of Night, so I decided to go to Japan for six weeks. I spent the first 3 weeks based in Tokyo, getting lost lots but slowly learning my way around the city & visiting nearby regions. I then headed south to Kansai region & I had been there a week when I got an email from a friend in NZ who had just got a new job & as he had a few weeks off before it started he decided to come join me & suggested a road trip. So he met me in Osaka & we planned where we wanted to go – we had both previously been to Naoshima, a small island in the Japan Inland sea which has a number of incredible Tadao Ando designed art galleries on it, so we decided to revisit it & figured since we were in the region we should check out some of the other islands in the inland sea. I was keen on Awajishima as I knew there were two major works by Tadao Ando there & then my friend suggested Shodoshima. Now the weird thing is, any Japanese people we mentioned visiting Shodoshima to tended to scoff, as if theres nothing much to see there… but for some reason we persevered & I am so glad we did.

We caught a ferry over to Shodoshima & drove all around the island & then headed inland, as I had read there was a pretty stunning gondola from about half way up the mountain range. And we weren’t disappointed. I suffer varying degrees of vertigo, not so much panic as bouts of anxiety, but I decided to base my level of concern on the Japanese tourists who were in the same carriage as us & they didnt seem to be even slightly nervous… Once we got to the top the views were stunning & I managed to record a whole tribe of monkeys, who had an obvious system where adult monkeys acted as lookout & if you got within 100m of where the young monkeys were playing the guard monkeys would shriek & shake the trees to warn the rest of the clan… But that wasn’t the most memorable sound of the day…

On the way back, driving down through forests we came upon a beautiful old temple & without saying anything we decided to stop & have a look. The main temple was up quite a few steps & parts of it appeared to be built into the actual rockface. As we walked up the stone steps an older Japanese man came wandering up the other steps, carrying some gardening tools & a big bag of leaves & weeds. He grinned at us & said hello in english & asked where we were from & then wandered off…

We had a look around the temple, without going in & then at the surroundings – it was a beautiful location & I stopped to record some echoy water sounds that were coming from a gap in the rocks, and I heard my friend go back down to the temple & then heard him doing the traditional hand claps outside the temple & a few minutes later he called out to me to come… So I wandered down & here was the gardener we had met previously, although now he was dressed in full robes & invited us to go into the temple. So we took off our shoes & walked inside & from the main room there was a set of stairs that literally went up into a cave. We followed him up the stairs & came to a small antechamber that was above the temple & had a bit of a view, but from there was a set of really steep metal steps that went up about 5 metres! So we followed him up there & entered what was truly one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever been in. There was only a little natural light, but the room was glowing from from more than 50 soft lamps, and as our eyes adjusted I noticed the beautiful big metal bell. The priest asked us our names & then lit a small fire, lit a large handful of incense & then proceeded to perform a ritual prayer for us. As he chanted he would occasionally hit the big bell & the resonance of both his voice & the bell combined in that chamber to just the most astoundingly beautiful sound I have ever heard. As soon as we got to the upper chamber I asked the priest if I could take a photo, to which he shook his head no. Just before the prayer started my friend nudged me & pointed at my little H2 recorder & I didn’t hesitate & shook my head – this was to be a memory, not a recording. I will remember those sounds forever.

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