A Biography Of Noise

I rarely ever lived where it was truly silent.

Where I grew up, the remnants of the once massive montane industry in my hometown created a backdrop of braking trains, scrap metal being dumped on top of piles of more scrap metal by a magnetic crane, warning sirens, and the like.

It never struck me as noise but as very musical, and I still tend to quote it as my biggest musical influence (if in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way). The fact that I lived a mile away and there was nothing in the way except pastures and trees might have helped.

Trains braking can be ear shattering when you’re standing on the platform, but sound beautiful from a mile away, when the tracks become the string and the train becomes the bow. Some of the facilities have since been shut down, so it does sound a bit different nowadays. I never made a good recording back then, unfortunately.

Once, I must have been 16, I traveled to a small village, which I still remember because it was astonishingly silent, in a way that I had never heard before. No industry, no Autobahn anywhere close, no wind, no insects. In 2013 I visited Manhattan as a tourist for a week and it was astonishingly loud. It seems amazing to me that people can live there. When I came back, even my hometown seemed silent, and I got a hint of how the people living near the Niagara Falls must’ve felt when they were woken up by silence because the river froze (if that’s a true story).

I lived in Karlsruhe for a while, and other than the sound of the tram (line 6) it was fairly quiet, but that only resulted in the lawnmower noise of the neighbors stand out more on the weekends.

Then I moved to Barcelona, and it’s loud, in a way that was hard to get used to in the beginning. There’s the near-constant hum and hiss of the city, a little like a constant backdrop of brown noise. It’s hard to record anything out in the field. People are loud, and fireworks are a popular pastime throughout the year. And while the city is famous for it’s modernist architecture, acoustic concerns didn’t seem to have any priority when newer districts were developed, such as Can Baró, where I lived for a while. The thin walls made from terracotta bricks, the narrow streets, everything seems to amplify the sound and create resonances rather than dampening it. You’ll know what your neighbors are doing, who has a crying child, who has marital or alcohol problems. You’ll hear these people even if you’ve never seen them.

In 2020 I moved to a quieter neighborhood, but since there were new housing developments close, my mornings have been accompanied by rhythmical hammering echoing through the valley for a while now, and the workers who don’t seem to have or walkie-talkies or the like, otherwise, why would they constantly be shouting?