Join GORDON RUMSON
on a tour of some of the fragments of forgotten sounds
Dedicated to the ultimate hitchhiker --
In the beginning was the Word.
Douglas Noel Adams
But what was the word and what did it sound like?
The world was created when the gods laughed.
And how did their laughter sound?
Science gives us the Big Bang. A Noise. Typical. Science makes lots of
great technology but a hell of a racket too.
When Tolkien wrote his Silmarillion his creation fable was based
utterly on music -- and music like that of the 19th century romantic tradition
with themes, countersubjects and development sections. A veritable Sonata
But we have no idea what these sounds were like, no way to know. No ears
to hear. Even if we had giant radio antenna sized ears, the sounds are billions
of years away. But Science is tuning in, listening for the echo of God's
So many other sounds are gone. The terrifying sounds of the dinosaurs.
The roar of the sabre-tooth tiger. The voices of our ancestors.
Ancient cities. Ancient cultures. Scattered remnants of lives, of literatures,
of architecture. And so much silence. Our history is made up of reams of
pictorial and literary data and next to nothing for the ear. It is as if
we watched a film but without sound. Yes, we could get the story, but how
much of the character would we lose?
What songs did our ancestors sing on the grasslands of Africa? What were
the voices like when the Pyramids were built? What was it like when Confucius
spoke? What chants were heard in Afghanistan when the now destroyed giant
Buddhas were carved? Did Blake mention how noisy the dark, Satanic mills
were? What was Chopin's voice like? Is there anyone yet alive who recalls
the sound of the post-horns in Europe? Even the American TV network NBC
chime (a major sixth falling third) may be a lost sound.
But is it possible to catch a faint sound from out of the distance? Can
we know what our ancestors sounded like? Can we know their music? Can we
know the soundscapes (to use a term by Murray Schafer) of their cultures?
One can hear the silence that is all that remains of our human sonic
Copyright © 4 June 2001 Gordon Rumson,
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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