Sunday, June 24, 2012

History of a House in Sound

I suspected the house would feel different with Chester the cat gone and indeed it does. Besides the omnipresent food dish and water dish and such gone, the impulse to call “Cheeessstter!” when entering the house, the absence of his moving shape going from room to room, it’s also the sounds I miss. The house is strangely quiet without his meows or even the sound of his dragging back legs on the wood floor. The empty nest is emptier and part of it is a diminished soundscape.

But this morning there was an old familiar sound that warmed my heart— the cry of a baby in the middle of the night. It was granddaughter Zadie’s first night in our San Francisco house and it was music to my ears. Now it’s morning and the house is filled with coos and gurgles and raspberries and exuberant shouts and I wouldn’t trade it for any symphonic work yet composed. And it made me think of compiling in my head an aural photo album of my 30 years in this house.

My older daughter Kerala was already two when we moved here and Talia came along two years later, so the sound of middle of the night crying was part of the early soundscape. A baby, then another, from the neighbors upstairs quickly followed, so we had quadraphonic stereo sound. Then a different crying as the girls tortured each other, occasional peals of little girl laughter together, the upstairs kids' footsteps running down their hall, the shouts of all four plus neighboring kids in the yard, the splash of the bath at night. Stories coming from those old plastic record players (I know, dating myself here), the kids muttering to themselves doing homework and studying for tests. Later, the theme songs from their piano lessons, all the way up to Theme from Forrest Gump and Schumann’s Arabesque and cassette tapes of New Kids on the Block and Spice Girls. Teenager phone conversations, the giggles of gaggles of teenage girls come to visit or spend the night. And so on.

When the chicks leave the nest, they not only depart with their wing-fluttering bodies, but with their chirpy voices as well. Not only is the house emptied of their physical presence and all the paraphernalia—jackets on the coatrack, full closets, stuff spread out—but also their sonic presence. A strange quiet rings out, yes, at times peaceful, but also bereft of the animation and chatter that brings life to a place. So now here it is again, with little Zadie proclaiming her presence with all the powers of her voice— and in the not too distant future, the sound of her running feet, the pleasure of her conversation and the music of her singing while she works and plays her way through the day. Silence is golden, but song is also and it’s a pleasure to hear it again. 

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