31 October 2014

You can compose your own music

Nights are quiet times.  The city shuts down bit by bit and at one point you also shut down.  Then you get silence.  For most of the day and even sometimes late into the night, however, we are surrounded by sound. 

There’s always someone saying something.  There’s a TV on.  Someone is playing music.  There are household sounds of people moving about, things being washed, someone dropping something followed by a sharp exclamation, a door being opened or closed and so on. 

There are also ‘outside sounds’ even at night.  There’s bound to be the sound of vehicles even in the middle of the night.  A motorcycle inevitably announces its presence.  And then there are creature-sounds.  A dog barks somewhere and a few other dogs respond.  There are crickets. The wind in the leaves.  The odd bat flapping its wings. 

Day sounds are worse, especially if you live in a big city, even if you are in school.  Our lives are made of sound.  Maybe it’s because silence is so rare than they say it is golden.  Precious.  So what do we do about sound? 

Well, there’s all kinds of ‘sound,’ including music.  That’s ‘good sound’.  But there’s more bad-sound than good-sound.  If we could have only ‘good-sound’ then it would be easy and even fun, but that’s the problem with sound in general – it comes in a good-bad mix.   It is not easy to separate them. 

A bunch of vehicles driven by impatient drivers during traffic hours do not give us divine music.  Add to this several shops blurting out different kinds of loud music, vendors screaming out the ‘goodness’ of whatever they are selling and other everyday street sounds and you get something which might give you a headache. 

But in the movie ‘August Rush,’ there’s a little boy who takes all sounds and ‘hears’ harmony.  It’s as if he has a mind that filters out all the ‘bad sounds’ and keep only those sound that together makes music.   August Rush is a character in a film.  So he’s not exactly real.  But maybe there’s something in the film.  Maybe if we just close our eyes and listen for a long, long, long time, we will be able to soften the hard sounds and lift out a melody.  Even in the middle of the day in one of the busiest parts of the city.  

Let’s think of it in another way.  We meet a lot of people in our lives.  No one is perfect.  There are people we like and people we don’t.  There are faces we think are pretty and faces that are not so pretty.   And even in a single person, if we think hard enough, there’s good and bad.  If we thought about our own lives, we will see that there are good things we’ve done and things we are not proud of.  But we remember mostly the good parts, don’t we? 

Like memories.   We have all experienced sad things, bad things have happened to us and we’ve done things we are ashamed of, but we tend to think of the sweetness.  We remember the kindness of a particular teacher, the breathtaking view from the top of a mountain, the coolness of the breeze  and the fragrance of Araliya in a temple rather than that day when we got drenched in a sudden shower that came down just after we got off the bus (without an umbrella). 

So maybe we can filter out things.  The bad sounds.  Or else we can make the bad sounds work by fixing them along with better sounds.  Maybe the tooting of horns is music.  There’s a nice ‘drum beat’ when someone is making kottu.  Maybe conversation is nice because laughter runs through it just like a single note on a flute while violins and other string instruments play out some melody.

It’s easy at night.  Less sounds.  Less ‘human sound-clutter’.  The natural world when untouched by humans tends to have easy music.  Someone once said that when you really, really, really understand music you begin to hear even the slightest sound.  Imagine if we can actually hear a leaf growing, petals unfolding, the movement of gravel when it rains. 

Maybe we don’t listen enough.  Maybe we see too much to hear enough.  Maybe we should close our eyes more often.   Those who have visual impairments, they say, hear better.  Maybe they are more appreciative of the music that surrounds them.  Maybe they are always making music.  Maybe we can too.