Objects do not speak. In rare circumstances, they appear to speak, in tones our ears are not trained to recognize. These apparent attempts at communication, the apparent tonal exchanges, are understood as “sound.”
Cell phones do not speak. But the manual input that took place the night before, the scrolling and pressing of 6:00 am, empowers it with an apparent voice. 6:00 am hit, so the hand-held device spoke, apparently. Incessantly. The repetition of a singular tone, so perfectly spaced yet alarmingly disorienting, triggers a host of other sounds – rustling sheets, creaking springs, groaning mouths.
Coffee does not speak. But the brewing process gives it a tongue, or tongues, fuming along with every ounce of vapor. The kettle hisses lightly, its lid rattles unevenly, to no particular pattern. The grinder is more unforgiving; you will not miss that voice. Even more so than the alarm, the Burr grinder penetrates the solemn morning kitchen like a freight train. Perhaps the most delicate of sounds is birthed when the fresh grinds bloom, in the womb-like cone filter, rising steadily but in no hurry. As the bloom dies down, like a deflating souffle, its bubbles burst, and the vapors that say “hey, this is coffee” permeate the several cubic feet of airspace surrounding its deflation.
Subway stations do not speak. But the unforgiving ticking of the internal clock resuscitates the concrete blocks and steel rails that make up these underground Batman caves. Up and down the escalators, on the “fast” lane on the left, shoes and pumps click sporadically, hurriedly. Eyes dart to and fro, wrist watch to cell phone, back to wrist watch. Coughs here and there, chatter elsewhere. Central Command blurts out something over the speaker, only to be buried in the business of busy-ness. From afar the tunnel illuminates, the train announcing its arrival with a not-so-authoritative honk. Again, the doors fail to shut on the first try. Bells go off, and the doors re-open, re-close, re-open. Hear the eyes roll. Newspapers rustle, and someone’s Beats headphones blast beats that sound like that other song with beats. Phones ring, “I’m on the metro, I might lose….” Lost. Doors closing.
Sidewalks do not speak. But the season tickles it just enough to evoke giggles and sighs. Summer comes, and the sizzling summer sun beats down on K Street. Old partners and young associates, seated outdoors in the one of many kitschy cafes and bars, chatter about and clank wine glasses. Autumn comes, and the orange and golden brown leaves lightly tap the sidewalks at the end of their descent. Visiting winds roar through the fallen, twirling them left and right, choreographing their every move, conducting their every sound. The chatter and wine glasses are no more, as if the winds have hushed them indoors, muting them from the sidewalks. Winter comes, and the leaf chimes are no more. The visiting winds sound empty, their howls become prolonged symphonies with no interludes or arias to speak of. The shoes and pumps, the clicking of heel to cement, accelerate and become sharp staccatos. It’s cold. Spring comes, and, well, spring comes. Alas, through all this, one sound fails to change. The lone saxophonist at the subway station continues his hymns, wrong notes and rhythm and all.
Offices do not speak. But the paycheck is the meth that powers the addiction, and more meth. Keyboards click, stop, and click. Outlook chimes, and more Outlook chimes. The printer sounds like it has a cough. The stapler has a weird soothing effect, but it has more to do with the physical motion of stapling than with the sound. Debbie, please come to the front desk. Debbie, please come to the front desk. Another motorcade. One, two, too many motorcycles, cop car, cop car, Suburbans, two more; is it Obama? Who gives, the siren is just as annoying. Outlook chimes. Printer coughs. Knock on the door. Keyboard clicks. More Outlook chimes. Damn, Bill Gates.
From daybreak, people enable objects to speak, apparently. People empower objects with voices, apparently. Immersed in sound, people decline to differentiate sound from noise, floating along with their alarms, their grinders, their subway trains, their Outlook chimes. Immersed in noise, people cannot differentiate sound from sound; everything is the same, repetitive. Immersed yet unaware, unwilling. Unable.
But sound is here.