Thursday, 27 August 2009

The buzz on the street

'Cars hiss by my window' sang Jim Morrison. It occurred to me yesterday that it must have been raining when he wrote that. It has been a very dry August in my neck of the woods so when it rained I noticed the difference in the traffic noise drifting across the gardens from the main road. The dry whoosh to which I had become used had taken on a wetter note: this hiss alluded to in the song. I may have been slow getting there - it's forty years since The Doors released LA Woman - but I was pleased with my realisation.

A friend and I were discussing the sound of wind in beech trees recently. They have thin, flexible leaves with an emphasis on quantity rather than size. Morrison compared his cars to 'the waves down on the beach'. Beech leaves have a similar quality to waves over sand but drier, if that makes any sense. It occurred to me that before the massive deforestation that has accompanied agriculture and industry mankind would have been very attuned to what we now consider subtleties. A forest is, to use a phrase coined by David Toop, an ocean of sound constantly providing information for all who can read it.

I used to consider the sound of traffic as merely noise; the audible equivalent of the electromagnetic fog that some believe has contributed to the decline of bees. Whilst I would still prefer it gone it is part of the environmental soundscape and I have to make the best of it. Knowing it's been raining , even before I open my eyes in the morning, is a start. What use I can make of knowing there's a boy racer working off his testosterone or that the police are going somewhere in a hurry I'm really not sure.


  1. Nice observation. I will listen to the trees here more carefully.

  2. I'd be interested to read your findings. I'm surrounded by limes here which I like to think have a less dry note than the beech. I must make some recordings and compare - I can't trust my memory on this. I've been told the Inuit have many different names for snow, depending on the type. I like to think our forebears in the great European forest could have told me what sort of trees were nearby with their eyes closed. I do remember a chap on TV (Blue Peter?) who could distinguish, blindfold, the models of twenty different cars just by hearing their doors being shut.