Arms & Ears Race


Hawai’i, 2014

If you read this blog with any regularity–hi Mom–you might notice the recent flurry of quotes. I’m a hoarder of pithy sayings and I needed a place to share them and justify my collecting. Most relate to sound or, to me, reveal some subtle epiphany. You might start with these: Aldo Leopold on the little guy; James Agee on night sounds; Douglas Adams on listening to the apocalypse; William Blake’s dawn chorus; Alexander Pope on solitude; Carson McCullers and the THIRD.

The excerpt below comes from the inimitable Chuck Palahniuk. His novel, Lullaby, imagines an aural virus of sorts–an African culling poem, which, once read, kills the recipient. While the work is uneven, it’s a provocative idea and relates to my post on weaponizing sound and reminds me of the viral limitations of audio. Happy reading.


The muffled thunder of dialogue comes through the walls, then a chorus of laughter. Then more thunder. Most of the laugh tracks on television were recorded in the early 1950s. These days, most of the people you hear laughing are dead…

Up through the floor, someone’s barking the words to a song. These people who need their television or stereo or radio playing all the time. These people so scared of silence. These are my neighbors. The sound-oholics. These quiet-ophobics… This siege of noise…

At my apartment, the ceiling is pounding with some fast music. The walls are murmuring with panicked voices. Either an ancient cursed Egyptian mummy has come back to life and is trying to kill the people next door, or they’re watching a movie…

People who would never throw litter from their car will drive past you with their radio blaring. People who’d never blow cigar smoke at you in a crowded restaurant will bellow into their cell phone…

These people who would never spray herbicides or insecticides will fog the neighborhood with their stereo playing Scottish bagpipe music. Chinese opera. Country and western.

Outdoors, a bird singing is fine. Patsy Cline is not. Outdoors, the din of traffic is bad enough. Adding Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E Minor is not making the situation any better.

You turn up your music to hide the noise. Other people turn up their music to hide yours. You turn of yours again. Everyone buys a bigger stereo system. This is the arms race of sound…

This isn’t about quality. It’s about volume.

This isn’t about music. This is about winning…

You dominate. This is really about power.

Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

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