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.”

Wow!

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.

6 Responses to A Sound You Will Never Forget

  1. Dan says:

    Perhaps the “echoey water sounds” were a suikinkutsu?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suikinkutsu

    One of my greatest sound memories is first hearing one of these in a temple in Kyoto. Although I’ve since bought a CD with several suikinkutsu recordings on it.

    • admin says:

      I do know of Suikinkutsu but have never heard one (will definitely seek one next time I’m in Japan) – this was literally a cave with a stream in it, heres a photo of it (i’ll find the recording of it later too) – behind the grating was a small bubbling stream…

  2. D. Kristian says:

    There was an old empty metal book rack (the kind that you spin around when shopping for paperback novels) that just corroding away in the supply room of my Arts class .

    When you would slowly spin it, the plaintive rusty squeals would be reflected in its metal frame, resonating for a good 20 seconds or so after it had stopped turning. It sounded absolutely incredible, like a waterphone through a vintage plate reverb.

    All that remains of this sound besides fond memories, is a bit that was “sampled” with portable cassette recorder, badly spliced with shortwave static into the tail end of a song (circa 1983) . I would consider that book rack to be my own equivalent of Delia Derbyshire’s famous lampshade, a fluke of furniture doing double duty as a musical instrument.

  3. admin says:

    Another sound I vividly remember was an industrial accident near where my studio was in central Wellington, maybe 8 years ago. I was walking down the road about 8.30am to go get breakfast & I walked past a building site. The building was an addition being added to a large commercial site & they were pouring concrete into the second story… I was walking on the other side of the road from the building site & just as I was walking past there was a sudden huge roar & complex crashing sound & then deathly silence for about 4 seconds, then people started shouting & groaning etc… It seemed the area they were pouring concrete into had collapsed through to the ground floor (someone got their calculations wrong?) There wasn’t much I could do but I was very glad to read later in the paper that no one died. But for a few seconds it felt like the whole city stopped, all traffic sounds disappeared & the world was silent…

  4. Rene says:

    I have two.

    The first is actual real live gunfire. I’m 30 and only recently have I come into contact with real live weapon fire. My perception of that sound of course comes from what mics and speakers are capable of capturing and reproducing, but when I went to the shooting range down in a canyon with some friends I was blown away with the hugeness of that sound. It was for me a stark illustration of the limitations of our medium.

    The second is the ambiance outside of my grandmother’s house in El Paso. For my whole childhood I thought that El Paso was a gigantic bustling metropolis. I remember asking my grandparents to drive us up into the spaghetti bowl, because we had no such thing where I grew up in flat, square Lubbock. It had been probably ten years since I’ve been back there, but I returned for my grandmother’s funeral this year and brought my little recorder along with me. I live right in the middle of a very noisy Dallas, Texas and when I sat outside my grandmother’s house in El Paso I was struck at how calm and serene everything was, right there in the middle of town. No wind, no traffic. Just birds.

    It had always been that way. It sounded just like it did when I was a child, but my perspective had shifted dramatically.

  5. My unforgettable sound is that of a tornado. This weather event is seen as rare for us in the UK but we actually get more than the USA for our land mass.. This tornado came past my parents house by 30 feet! It had cut across the village then came past our place. I was 9 years old. Like a jet engine roaring and roof tiles smashing it was one of the loudest things I have ever heard. Not one I will forget either.

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