The Sound Librarian
Sounds are stored by loudness, pitch, origin, space, behavior.
Sample channel: different doors opening, prison cell metal industrial very heavy syncopation. doors shut, locked, or not locked. Plastics, crickets, splish-splash—can be bundled. “Horror” or organic scraping. I was working on an ambient bundle, close-space.
What’s the rest for? I’ve been having an eating problem. Tommy won’t understand. Some sounds are hot and widen. Mom said God’s voice was like yeast. There’s a horde of notions at my inner ear. It’s better to be under trees where there are too many paths for sound to reinstate. I was lucky grandma died.
Tommy had drawn a card with a possum juggling severed hands, sitting on a basket of apples. The inside said, I don’t think you’re schizo. At first, I loved it, then the words joined, dancing, and I felt hurt. I agreed with him, but I brought the pills anyway.
Skin is a great sound barrier. Being one big ear or having many would hurt. I was looking forward to using grandma’s exercise machines. Although I go to the gym to hear labored breath turn with machine space. I asked Tommy to sketch workout machines that had dildos attached on the seat, or that came up from the base, to create a collaborative system of aerobics-pleasure. He said, other people’s ideas die inside me. The corpus is corpuscle, copula virgule, graphemic sponge.
I had fifty-seven more close-space ambient sounds to process, sort, label, and back up. I worked for the SoundMuse sound effects studio. There were librarians or designers. I was a librarian, assigned to an insect/vermin bundle. The sounds were skin-like and frantic. There were whole collections for cloth-tearing, female orgasm, people sitting in chairs. I would’ve liked any of those better.
I’d given my television to grandma last Saturday.
Before I left, Tommy and I were having sex with my mom on the phone. She was upset. I muted the phone once we got turned on and didn’t stop. This is when mom realized she hadn’t told me grandma died. Earlier my therapist had said: you’ll have to go on the antipsychotic. I had been telling her about the faces in her orange carpet. Mom agreed I could go stay at grandma’s. Tom looked bored. Don’t fucking look in there! he said when I spread his butt. I wanted to put a microphone in it to capture the tone. It’s not a room, he said. My last job was room tones. The cleanest tones are made by cracking in the space before so the vibrations coil. The room tightens and you can see it. It could’ve been a long conversation with Tom, but after I filled him in on the therapist and my work project I said, just let me go there.
Hearing a recording is like being in a developing photograph. Grandma’s house was muffled. Small white circles in the wallpaper, which at first weren’t discernible. Haven’t we all been violated? I wondered. I told Tommy a house is a crude extension of the body. It has bowels and ears like us, I said. I read that in a book about torture. My grandma had moved the TV in front of her bed, but the cord didn’t reach the plug. Is it worth it getting to know someone imaginary?
The more I listened, the sounds really were like the inside of my body. Little legs push thoughts, the dead collect. Looking at the green outside, I wondered about rough analogies between sounds and colors. Randomized overlapping tones that make up varying intensities of presence. Dry wet exterior. People think they like white noise, but really it’s pink—a lower pitch that bottoms out. A process of internal selection and pairing. My pink growing up was my mom’s print store. Paper arriving and leaving, being filtered, and spit out of machines. I sat under the big rolls of colored paper writing heavily plagiarized stories no one read. Green noise is supposed to be nature. When I put on the track it reminded me of water dripping on my forehead while being fucked. Toleration; the annoyance I accept because whatever else is going on is okay.
The horrible, beautiful possum with the horrible, beautiful note. I put it on the fridge then moved it by the window. I told myself, process thirty more insect tracks then you can go in the woods with the green noise and see what happens.
I started riding my bike to my therapist’s in February with no sweater because she thought the cool air would help me stay in my body. Insect sounds were oddly expansive and difficult to withstand. I liked to listen with my eyes closed but stopped for fear while they were closed I’d replicate. I looked at the other sound project folders on my laptop. Close-range combat and blood gore. One track was like thousands of dinner plates and men in a yelling match. Hearing the body beaten at different velocities and angles or blood land on metal or wood was reductive. The sound collapsed feeling to an instance of contact. Slapping and splashing. Not so much blood the mind can’t think it. Beating after beating with no beginning or end. I wondered if this could be used for a therapy to change the goal of violence. It seemed to me the violent sounds inside of the body were underexplored.
I wasn’t interested in what was happening around me as much as I wanted to get through it. And the ants had no correlation with the sounds people sent. They weren’t good at getting around each other. The metal table with lots of little soldered shapes had no direct route to the bunch of fake flowers grandma had stuck through the center hole. Lots of ants seemed to die or fall asleep along the way. I left my journal at the table and took off my sweater, too.
I thought the woods started at grandma’s but it was behind the neighbor’s. There were statues in the yard, little girls bending over looking for things. One boy positioned off alone, staring. The house was purple and seemed to attract the light.
In the woods, faces were forming. I didn’t understand who was saying, I don’t like that! don’t touch me! I tried to remind myself of the sound of the body sack, gut-punched. In each of the trees was a different body caught at the moment of impact. Before the tree could swallow and clear its throat. There was no green noise or not enough. The trees were the same color as my arms.
On my way back in, grandma and her friends were at the table taking turns reading from my journal. We didn’t understand what vermin is, or what’s trying to get out of the assholes? grandma said. This hurt my feelings. Can you help me? I asked. I could tell the small wind of my breath went on an indirect route through their heads. Stop listening to these awful sounds, grandma said. Have a hand, she said, offering one from the basket.
Note: This story references Elaine Scarry’s notion, in The Body in Pain, of doors and windows as “crude extensions” of the senses, and it draws inspiration from acoustic vocabularies found across online sound effects archives.
ETHAN FORTUNA is a trans writer and visual artist. He is a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University and received his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston as a Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts Interdisciplinary Fellow. Fortuna's work can be found (under the name Devereux Fortuna) at TAGVVERK, bæst: a journal of queer forms and affects, Waxwing Magazine, Triangle House Review, and elsewhere.