Last night I finished the very interesting Noise: a Human History of Sound and Listening by David Hendy (Profile Books). This is the book of a series originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
Hendy explores various sound/noise timescapes starting with the overwhelmingly natural and early toolmaking sounds of prehistory, and wondering about the mysterious lives lived, and sounds made and heard, by those who ventured to paint startling animals deep inside caves such as Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc. Through the great oral poems of classical Greece and the great political oratory and rhetoric of Rome; and the dominance of bells in pastoral medieval Europe through to the noises of catastrophic change and turmoil heard during the great ages of colonialism and revolution, Hendy makes you think about all the new sounds that people would have made and heard for the first time, and how sound punctuated and steadied the world – anyone who grew up in a small town where the fire siren went off everyday at noon knows what I mean. The rise of machines, with all their whirrs, chatterings and mechanical thunking, during the industrial revolution, leads into the final chapter of the age we find ourselves in now, a time of amplified sound and the low hum of cities, a world far noisier than we realise it is, we are so used to it.
It is well written, informative and wide-ranging with touches of popular science, history, anthropolgy, psychology and travel writing – one of those excellent books that provides something of interest for everyone and captivates you into learning things you’d never thought you needed to know. I sat down to read it in the ‘quiet’, by which I mean by myself, without any music playing in the background but became intensely aware of the local hospital helicopter burbling and buzzing as it took off and landed, the buses going by on the street and the people talking as they arrived next door…what noises will you notice?