What does your workplace sound like? We’ve recently been struggling through having builders working in our office prompting the passive aggressive recordings of background noise to send to estates (recorded but unsent). Once the hammering had stopped for long enough for reflection to creep back in I began to think about how the qualities of sound affect one’s experience of space. It is widely acknowledged that senses other than sight are significant in embodied experience but I had not, until now, thought much about how to go about considering it. The experience of sounds in places is about much more than what can be electronically recorded. What is its colour and what is its shape? Does it have a personality – awkward, cacophonous, nervous or overwhelming?
So for this entry in the Human Seasons I will attempt to describe the quality of the sound of the space I am in rather than simply photograph it.
I am sitting in the office and I am alone. It is quiet but it is not silent. A chattering silence perhaps. The noises that reach my ears are gentle. The most constant of the sounds is the hum of the fan in my desktop computer, which blends seamlessly with the sound of the wind outside the windows, occasionally swollen by the swish of passing cars. While I can hear the cars I need my eyes to notice the pedestrians and cyclists who pass silently (to my ears at least) below. When I close my eyes and concentrate I can hear a faint, high pitched whine, perhaps from the lights. Against the background canvas of the quiet there are the small sounds which bubble up suddenly and then vanish almost immediately. The tapping of keys on the keyboard as I write. The distant voices of people somewhere else in the building. The echo of a door shutting somewhere out on the mezzanine. The footsteps of someone walking past. And I know if I wait a few minutes more the clock tower bell will begin to chime out the half hour. These are the sounds which make up my common, everyday, silence.