By Nicholas S. Racheotes
Do you share my romantic appreciation for life in ancient times, when the world overflowed with lovely natural sounds? Children laughed, bees hummed, potters’ wheels spun, and the hooves of draft animals gently massaged the fields. Roosters crowed us awake, and nightingales sang us to sleep.
Why, there was even so much to inspire poets in the less pleasant assaults on hearing. Swords and shields clanged, the riggings of ships sang in the wind, and women screamed newborns into earthly existence. In silent monasteries, pens whispered the treasury of civilization onto parchment. The smith’s hammer rang, and church bells either welcomed the village to services or warned of disaster.
Nowadays (does anyone say “nowadays” nowadays?), it’s as easy to imagine a world without the amplified human voice as it is to picture a snowstorm while vacationing in the Caribbean. It’s as possible to embrace encompassing silence as it is to hope for a widespread electrical blackout.
Then came cacophony! Even the word is onomatopoetic.
Children certainly play as they always have, but now they do it with earbuds planted on either side of their heads accompanied by processed music to their video games or hits blaring through the speakers in the gym. We awaken and fall back to sleep while our favorite downloads play. In the office, the crepitation of keyboards is relieved only by log-on signals or the acoustic summons to read the latest incoming—often thoroughly annoying—email, text, or whatever.
I deliberately omit the delivery room. However, once babykins is born, how many moms and dads wish for the silent kitchen, free from beeping appliances of every sort? In my little town, bells don’t ring in empty or repurposed churches. As for the digitized voice, we’ve learned to appreciate its fault accuracy in auto-tuned music, to tolerate its regular failures on our phones, and to think that every sportscaster has pipes of gold.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that we’ve gone all negative here. The new noise is a sign of our evolution, prosperity, and long life. This case is as easy to make as setting the timer on the microwave oven.
We have come, with a very few rare exceptions, to ignore the noise. Wait just a minute—I can’t think because a tricked-out motorcycle just drove up the street, drowning out the background music that I listen to while writing. If not for all that has followed the invention of the noisy steam engine, we wouldn’t have global warming. I almost forgot to mention the effect of modern warfare and the automobile on life span. There is little that the bard can derive from gunpowder warfare except for unparalleled devastation. Although, one can’t deny the effect of fatal car accidents on rock music.
But I promised not to go negative. Yes, and I’d better keep that promise. The fact is, we cannot stand the silence and we can barely abide the quiet. Why? Because both signify our being alone with ourselves. And why is that bad? I’m not getting trapped into that discussion, at least not in this essay. Anyway, I’m going to my downloads now for one of my favorite sounds—the sound of the Beastie Boys.
— V —
Nick Racheotes is a product of Boston public schools, Brandeis University, and Boston College, from which he holds a PhD in history. Since he retired from teaching at Framingham State University, Nick and his wife, Pat, divide their time between Boston, Cape Cod, and the rest of the Western world.