One Coffee, Every Sound

I spend a lot of time listening to music. At home, in the office, walking around, running. Constantly, other people’s thoughts and voices or created sounds in my head. It’s cosseting; good and bad.

I cut myself from much of the outside world: partly because I’m a broken romantic and music is a form of role play; partly because conversations on buses are only ever going to be slightly depressing.

Things occurred to me as I blithely looked at a tired man wait for the lights to turn red:

  1. Sean O’Casey, JM Synge — or another of those Irish Realism playwrights I read and forgot about as soon as possible — claimed to never have written anything new, only assembling what he overheard into drama. Eavesdropping as creative practice.
  2. Matt’s Bureau of Small Observation is a great thing. It’s enjoyable to read, and it’s an enjoyable practice to do. Picking one thing to notice and taking the time to notice it, occasionally using $5 words to do so.
  3. John Waters’ anecdote about Edith Massey as a car passenger. “Car, house, lawn, pretty lady, red car, telephone pole, lawn, lawn, lawn.”

I decided to note every benign sound that I encountered on the short journey to and from collecting this morning’s coffee. No music, no other voices – only the moment and sounds of the Real World.

Here is a live documented, fiction-free practice of noticing every sound:

Distant hum of the dual carriageway.
Wheels grinding gravel as van turns a circle.
A stalled engine.
Rippling doppler down the gennel.
Electricity running through the pedestrian crossing.
A heavy door clunks to.
To my right: a stifled cough, a spit.
Dragging feet, tired Tuesday feet dusting the pavement.
Rattling double decker.
The gravel under me, scratching as I go.
Extractor fan whirring against the constant bacon fat fry in the builders’ cafe.
Leaves gently scratching leaves.
A pigeon flaps away, ungracefully slapping its wings against fat body.
Thin, tinny drone of electricity at a substation.
The gears of a bike, pushed along, clicking quietly.
Carrier bags rubbing against denim.
Lock clipping the wooden door frame. A brittle scrape.
Hissing steamer; gurgling milk.
Anonymous Motown-type music underneath a wall of chatter.
Beeps and coins, chinking against each other.
Grinding, grits flying against metal.
Slam of metal against metal; dull thuds with a ringing end.
A posh voice, high pitched and resonant, cutting through the noise.
Potwasher’s spray hissing out from the back.
Dropped pipes reverb from the construction site.
A yell, somewhere over there.
Whirring of a pulley.
The click-click-click of a dying gas lighter.
Small rope whipping a metal frame.
Shuffle of letters.
A football, bouncing on the floor, echoing the street.
Indistinguishable bass from a Subaru’s boot.
Beepbeepbeepbeep from the pelican crossing.
Door insulation softly brushing the frame.
The stilted thud of the automatic lock surrendering.
Slow padding up the stairs; occasional clink of shoe on metal edging.
Dragging hiss of wedding ring on bannister.
The dry, circular drone of the lift.
A sniff from the room next door, organs.
Keys chiming.

I’m not sure if it conjures a sense of space or environment, or even the journey. It’s not poetic, or supposed to be. It’s the thing.

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