The absence of sound is not something that I’ve had much experience with in my life. Most of my waking hours are soundtracked by some form of music, whether it be radio in the shower, music to get ready by, old tapes in my car, new music at the office, playing music on the air, scouring the blogs in my afternoon, earbuds while working out, dinner music, pool music, nighttime vinyl, music to get sleepy to. Rinse, repeat. Wherever I go, whatever I do, more than likely I’ll find a way to make sure music is playing. It’s not even something I think about, just something I do. I’m sure it has cost me a few relationships through my life, but luckily my wife is just about as obsessed as I am, so it works out.
The biggest difference in us is that she can relax. She can hit the beach with a book and take in the sound of only the waves. I like the waves as well, but they get me thinking of beach music, or even new-age music, and then I think, “Hey, I should try this out with some Dick Dale.” Or Enya, considering the moment and mood. So, all of that’s to say, again: I don’t spend a lot of time not listening to music. Which is is why the last few weeks have been particularly weird. With our home life still being up in the air with the flood junk, it has not been easy to always be able to have a song on play. There’s been a big deal of back and forth and here and there, with each place that we’ve stayed at having its own parameters and challenges. No Internet, no Spotify. Music packed in boxes (or washed away) means that I can’t reach for whatever is handy. And honestly, with all of the stress that has accompanied life lately, I’ve been in rare form of not always going for the play button. I even caught myself walking around the yard last week enjoying Earth’s own soundtrack.
There are plenty of cliches I could throw around right now about getting in touch with nature, rediscovering my center, but honestly I don’t even know if that has anything to do with anything. For me, it’s been more of a reset button and the silence is only because the system is rebooting. Don’t get me wrong, I love nature. I love camping, hiking, all of it. I think that’s what made SONICBerheim at Bernheim Forest so appealing. Did you hear about it? I wasn’t able to go to the first one, but on the next couple full moons, they gather select musicians to make live music that incorporates the natural sounds going on around them. I thought maybe that would be my ticket of inspiration. Something to get the door open again, like it was a form of writer’s block or sound fatigue, and I just needed the right combination of the two to get kickstarted.
Speaking of writer’s block, it’s been interesting timing because I’ve also been reading a lot of old interviews with Beach Boy Brian Wilson, a man that has famously battled many forms of it throughout his years. The thing that has always got me about Brian is that he hears things much differently than any of us. For the lot of us, we hear music in an almost two dimensional sort of way. If you think about the way you hear a song, it’s like it’s laid out on a piece of long paper, slowly rolling past you, all of the parts mixed in one large, finished chunk. Wilson seems to hear each part as a living thing. He hears all of the minute interactions like a busy intersection of cars, trains and people. He can see the full dance that’s happening within. I mean, think about how hard it is to do one thing with one hand, and an entirely different thing with your other hand, and here a guy like Brian Wilson can imagine a 30-piece orchestra and hear all of the parts individually at the same time.
Right now, that’s a completely overwhelming thought, and maybe partly how I got here in this space where I don’t mind sitting to hear the sound of a garage door making its ascension, or the crickets and bullfrogs after the summer rain, or even the sound of silence, a complicated orchestra in itself conducting all around us. Which reminds me, maybe I should go listen to some Simon & Garfunkel.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.