Cemetery Of Sounds

30 08 2011

So I was listening to Bob and Tom this morning on the radio, and sandwiched between a rather lengthy dialogue on dog names and a skit featuring songs with cowbell, was a short bit on Sounds We No Longer Hear. The one that stuck out the most was the sound of a phone booth closing.

Yeah. When was the last time you used a phone booth? Even the iconic red booths in London are disappearing, and most are simply there for decoration…sans phone.

Which all got me to thinking. Surely (“Stop calling me Shirley!”) there should be a cemetery where dead sounds go to reside, a place to be remembered, even revered, by generations to come. For there are many sounds that have already taken up residence in this purgatorial state (or are looking at buying a plot).

Like the following:

  • The sound of a VHS tape ejecting (or being loaded)
  • “You’ve Got Mail!”
  • A manual typewriter carriage return
  • A rotary phone dial
  • The hiss of an audio cassette
  • A dial tone (if you have cut the cord, that is)
  • The sound of film being advanced (or rewound) in an analog camera
  • The screech of a 56K modem trying to connect
  • The sound of a cash register making the sale (cue Pink Floyd’s Money)
  • A call center worker based in the US

Interestingly, there are new sounds that have arrived to take their place, as well as throwback sounds that are more metaphor than anything. The fake shutter click sound on my DSLR camera is intended to evoke memories of cameras gone by. The classic old telephone ringtone on my iPhone hearkens to an era much before my time.

And think about how many people reflexively jump…in church, in class, in restaurants…when they hear the familiar 3-tone chirp of an incoming text message. My God, for a brief moment there, everyone thinks they are supremely important or something. “Where R U?” Yeah, sure. Now that’s important.

But sounds truly are an important artifact of cultures, eras and societies, as are smells. They are our sensorial fingerprints on the picture window. But they, just like the kids who smear our own windows, grow up, leave home and eventually die, only to be replaced by the progeny of Progress.

I can only imagine what the sounds of tomorrow will be like. Beeps? Blips? Pulses? I’m sure it will take getting used to, especially for all of us (yes, that means you who are reading) who have grown up surrounded by other sounds. For these new sounds will be alien at first. Disruptive. Maybe even an intrusion. But they will be welcomed and embraced quickly by our young, for they will know no better. Or different.

Change is continuing its march, like Sherman from Atlanta to the Atlantic. It’s taking no prisoners, leaving those who remain to bury the dead, be they sounds. Smells. Luddites.

But there is one thing for which I am happy has not yet changed, and that is being able to listen to Bob and Tom. I listened to them in the early-1980s on their home station, WFBQ Indianapolis. It’s a sound I remember well (“Q95…Kick-Ass Rock ‘N Roll!), yet it still elicits a response from me 30 years later.

Kind of like those incoming TM tones. “I’m right here. Reminiscing about yesterday, but looking for tomorrow. Where R U?”

Dr “All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away” Gerlich



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