I don’t think I could have made a really big noise count this week. I walked through the 4th of July fireworks in the park and at the beach. I rang a small bell (as did over one hundred others) to send my roommate and her new husband off to wedded bliss. I also sang along, loudly (although I have an untrained voice) to the eleven hymns in their wedding program. I joined in on a neighborhood street festival today (currently audible from my window). When I really think about it, the sounds that matter are often part of a larger chorus.
Noise Intercepted Collaborators
Laura Wetter - Artist
Why do I want to participate?
I want to contemplate sound in new and more intentional ways, and to see how others respond to similar experiences.
So many sirens seem to be in the air with the onset of summer. Today I witnessed two cars slam into each other at the intersection of Broadway and Wilson, which happened as the passers-by (and probably at least one of the drivers implicated in the crash) stopped for a police car and an ambulance and their variations of warning. My piece occurs in the place where similar, but different sounds collide.
I am known as a “quiet” person. I find that many of my current sound-producing activity falls in line with this ethos of quietude. But even a life conducted at low volume levels can be entirely frenetic and energy draining. All week I have been produced steady hours of bicycle-wheel humming, shoe-to-pavement thumping, body-in-water splashing, fingers-to-keyboard clicking, and paintbrush-to-canvas scrubbing.
I was talking about this project with a friend, who told me that she actively avoids listening in on other peoples’ conversations in her neighborhood. I do this as well. I try to tune people out with headphones or some other means of distancing myself from my surroundings.
There are a few reasons why I don’t want to hear others’ chatter. I have a strong impulse toward non-attachment; I’m far too self-absorbed to willingly engage in the lives of strangers at any given time. When you live in a city you become accustomed to occasional run-ins with inebriated, mentally ill, or otherwise frustrated individuals who decide to direct their anger at you based on chance occurrence. You were enjoying your afternoon walk, but then someone yells “bitch!” So you pause for a millisecond or two to feel generally upset and reminded of all of the problems in the world, but then you move on, go to work, go home, etc.
Another reason why I don’t like to eavesdrop: the conversations I hear are at best incomplete. You don’t really see the full arc of the narrative, or any of the events leading up to the anecdote being relayed between one person and their mobile phone, or two people on the street. You’re getting one version (maybe two) of the story. I’ve always liked collage, and in a way these kind of fragments are not entirely uninteresting when they are combined into something bigger at the hands of the artist. But only the juiciest bits can be salvaged for this purpose, and who knows what is really behind those colorful instances?
When I made this little painting I thought about both the difficulty of listening, as well as the opacity and complexity of seemingly simple pieces of conversation we overhear every day.
Spring is finally here in Chicago, for a few days at least. I heard a variety of sounds on Saturday afternoon, including a desperate “Yo, yo, yo!!” after a shooting on a prominent Uptown corner. I was driving and I heard my phone buzzing while this happened; my friend was calling to tell me to avoid the corner, which was en route to her location, and which I pass every time I walk from my home to my studio. A drive-by shooting had occurred in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, on a day in which all of Uptown seemed to be out on the streets. I had a physical reaction, akin to anxiety, to seeing people running from the intersection, and tensed up to see my phone ring. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this was a warm and sunny day and a lot of people were on the streets. And frankly, I’m tired of seeing and hearing about violence in my immediate neighborhood.
The next morning, I walked through Uptown to Ravenswood to run a 5k. I found a friend at the race, and his voice provided a reassuring familiarity in the midst of the crowd and all of the loud voices blasting over the speakers. A local priest gave a a pre-run blessing, in which she shouted into the microphone, “We are thankful for our glorious bodies, created in the image of God…We know that we are not always safe…even in the streets of Chicago, but we are here today, to run!” I thought of the people running from the corner after the shooting the day before. I enjoyed the 5k, and the sounds of people cheering mixed with my own pumping heart and feet on the pavement. We ran through the middle of streets that I have been driving on for over 5 years now, and I had a strong sense of belonging and home.
When I painted this sketch, I thought about the differences in my experiences of the weekend: my feelings of safety, familiarity, and hope running through the streets on the north side, in tension with the experiences of others, who are daily involved in gangs and live in poverty. Some days I feel like I live in two different cities, and I have no idea how to solve the problems or to be a peacemaker. But I’m still here, running.
I postponed my song choice until the end of the week, settling one album eventually, “Living with Ghosts” by Patti Griffin, and then vacillating between tracks for a while before focusing on “Forgiveness.” Admittedly, my choice was heavily swayed by sentimentality and nostalgia. It’s been a rough week, capped off by a flooding today in Chicago. But the experience of repetition was comforting. Although I’ve listed to Patti for years now, the starkness of this album, which is driven by powerful vocals and the guitar, conveying raw emotion through melancholic lyrics. Driving around a rainy and flooding city, the lines, “We are swimming with the snakes at the bottom of the well/so silent and peaceful in the darkness where we fell/but we are not snakes and what’s more, we never will be/and if we stay swimming here forever we will never be free,” seemed appropriate. The refrain, “It’s hard to give/It’s hard to get/Everybody needs a little forgiveness,” did inspire me to move out of my funk and get through the day.
I am perplexed by the potential of empty spaces in the urban environment. I do not know what or who should fill them. Experimentation seems to be the dominant methodology. Here in Chicago, I wonder about what will happen to the school buildings due to be vacated next year. How will this decisive act impact the future of our public school system? Bold movements have consequences. Thick paint is harder to hide with additional layers.
On a quiet night in March, I put myself to bed sans earplugs. Normally I require, but do not prefer, the use of these simple noise blocking accessories, as my housemates kelp less regular hours than I do, and I value my sleep. As everyone happened to wind themselves down at a comfortable hour last Sunday night, I thought I could get away with this omission. You can imagine how I felt when my radiator woke me up at 4:00 a.m.
Other Chicagoans have posted about their own heating systems and the insignificant sounds that our antiquated (vintage) buildings make during the colder months of the year. My radiators have indeed taken on a new sound significance this past week. In fact, I am angry with them. They are doing their jobs a little too well, working overtime, with gusto, in late March.
Earlier in the year I named two of the radiators (“Ha-ha-harvey” and “Clementiiine!”), and this exercise in personification has made me feel as if they should be a little more considerate. Do they not understand that I have a strict bed-time schedule? Really, Ha-ha-harvey, do you need to make that sound at this hour?
I am not really complaining about my fully functioning heat, which is included in my rent. I am merely expressing myself.
I took the pulse of an intersection of the Uptown neighborhood, where I live and have a studio, in Chicago, the city of neighborhoods. I walked to this particular intersection on a rainy, slushy Saturday afternoon. I expected more chaotic, hectic, city noises like sirens from ambulances heading to and from Weiss Hospital, or the rantings and mumblings of various neighborhood characters. This corner, bound by a McDonald’s, a corner grocery, an empty lot (formerly a Burger King), and Uptown Baptist Church, sounded more like a lazy afternoon at nearby Lake Michigan than a bustling urban core. The rain drizzled and traffic washed back and forth from east-west to north-south. Chicago is a drivable city, and an intemperate one; car wheels seeking traction through a variety of weather patterns provide a constant sound backdrop. While other piercing sounds may seem ever-present; they are noticeable more for discord and volume than for repetition and necessity. I hope this project will remind me of the source of those sounds, water and motion.