声音的舞蹈 – The dance of sound – English

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We’re often concerned only with images, and ignore sounds. Apart from ‘gazing’, there must be an equally important physical and spiritual act of ‘listening’. Excessive emphasis on ‘seeing’ over a long period of time, has led to the repression of our inner senses, including ‘listening’. To make up an extreme case, the way a blind man experiences this world may not be more monotonous than able-seeing people, but richer and more pure.

This is how I console myself— I’ve experienced a metamorphosis that has made me more sensitive to sound, or maybe I’ve progressed further in my capacity to perceive the world and myself – at least this is one of the consequences of the sickness in my ears.

In the winter of 2006, as I was walking along the south road in the schoolyard, in the wind, when I suddenly felt that the wind was not uniform, even as it passed along both sides of my body. I vaguely felt that the sound of the wind in my right ear was softer, as that of a person covering their mouth when speaking, as a noise on the other side of a wall. After a few minutes of confusion, I used up all my nerves to figure out what happened, and I finally understood, the problem was not with the wind, it was something wrong with my ear. I finally identified that my right ear seemed filled by a mass of solidified air, and all sounds came to me through my right ear as if through something invisible.

I ran to the university hospital for a check-up, and the doctor said: you’ve got medium otitis media, and we will need to pierce your eardrum. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, but the word ‘piercing’ made my heart tighten a bit, and I couldn’t help thinking: Oh my God, I might be about to become deaf in one ear. The doctor said she’d just started working, and could not do that kind of operation – it was a simple operation, and so she just gave me a simple referral. I took the paper, and happy that I was not forced to stay in the University Hospital, I went the next morning at four AM to Beijing Third Hospital, and started queuing in front of the ENT section, I registered, and I started queuing again, then I waited until an old doctor inserted a very long needle inside my ear-hole, and pierced my eardrum, pierced what separated me from the world’s atmosphere.

I didn’t even feel the pain of the operation in my imagination, and when I came out of the hospital building, I found that I had discovered a whole new world: it was so clear, and from clarity so sharp, and from this sharpness so very different. I could clearly feel that, after it was pierced, my right ear completely opened to the world outside my body, and it greedily absorbed all the sounds from it: car sounds, conversation sounds, step sounds, shouting sounds… together with all their impurities. For me, noises had taken a new life, they were redefined, it was a new awakening of my ears, from inside my ears, the sounds began their dance.

I went to a little snack stand opposite the hospital, I picked a window seat, and slowly ate a bowl of wonton soup, not only with my mouth, but also with my ears: I could hear the sound of my own chewing which I’d never noticed before, the grinding of my teeth on the food, and the slight ringing of my throat when I swallowed. 那时一场宿雪未化,on the bus back, I could hear the friction of the tires on the ice-covered road, the driver’s seat creaking and screeching, the conductor sniffling, and a conversation among young people which they did not consider private; I could hear the window pane sending off minor bumps and vibrations, a person rhythmically pounding their finger on their knee, the heavy breathing of an old woman back from grocery shopping; I heard the music of all things interweaving.

If someone had noticed me then, what they would have seen is a strange passenger on the bus with their body tilted to the right.

As all of us do, before this: although we naturally and instinctively receive the sounds of the world, we feel that we hear them, but we don’t actually hear, it’s like we’re seeing millions of things, but most of them we’ve never seen before. This is reminiscent of the famous sentence in ‘Avatar’: I See You. I see you. I – see – you. South Korean film director Lee Chang-Dong’s movie, ‘poetry’, also has a similar plot: in the poetry lesson, the teacher, holding an apple, asks the students: how many times have you actually seen an apple? One thousand times? Ten thousand times? A million times? Wrong: you have never seen an apple. They point out to the same focus, in the act of seeing and hearing, our eyes and ears are no longer just physical organs, but they finally communicate with the soul, mind, and sensing self. Ancestral wisdom has long spoken about that road to the self, as in the Bible, when God said, let there be light, and there was light; or like Wang Yangming said, ‘when you do not look at the flower, it returns to the silence; but when you look at it, its colour unfolds itself.’ It is not through God creating light, but God become aware that there is light, and naming the light, that light can exist in our consciousness. We mortals are like this, only the things that we become aware of by seeing and listening can become light and flowers.

After this event, I became more and more sensitive to sounds, not just that I paid more attention than before to the precise details of sounds, but I also paid more attention to what hid behind them, such as the emotions that the sounds brought up, whether I had experienced them before, whether I could easily replicate them, etc. More specifically, late at night, when a small truck full of building materials passed in front of my window, I gradually stopped feeling disturbed by it, but I carefully listened to the engine, and the sequence of sounds made by the tires’s friction on the road, from the sound of brief conversations, I speculated on the mental and emotional state of the drivers, and tried to figure out his mood on this night he wasn’t sleeping. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, at this moment, that all the sounds in the chaos had reached a sort of narrative order, that the sounds themselves had become the contents of the story, and therefore constructed the most true-to-nature scenes of life.

I also started to often rely on my ears to interpret others and myself. This of course is full of risk, but the risk is also interesting. The phone allows me to achieve this feeling of safely interpreting: I’ve always liked to listen intently to each word pronounced on the phone, and make efforts to get all the information contained in the tone of voice, and by extension, detect where my interlocutor lives, and what they might be doing. These judgements and speculations based on sounds were sometimes true, sometimes imaginary. The danger of it is, I was more susceptible to fall into all sorts of moods myself, irritability, anger, disdain, mockery, indifference, etc, and although nothing changed in the language, the mood travelled to outer space.

One year, my mobile phone got a problem, and on my new phone, the voices I was familiar with had changed. The first call I made after changing phones was to my father. My father’s voice, as I heard it in the phone was abnormally foreign, and after being stunned for a short time, I quickly said a few words and hung up. The change in my father’s voice made me lose the sense of reality, and brought up a kind of entirely new panic: someone was pretending to be my father, and I had to pretend that nothing happened; or my father was trying to pass as someone else, and I should not expose him. It was as if a huge black hole had suddenly appeared in the world, and swallowed everything related to me in its big wide mouth. I quickly hung up the phone and went out, panting, then called back home from a public phone, and just when I thought that would be back to its place, everything would be back to normal, and my father would be the usual person again, another accident happened – what I heard on the public phone receiver was a woman’s voice, which after a second of silence I recognised as my mother’s. I clearly knew that I had just spoken to my father, but the eery consequences of this phone call were difficult to entirely eliminate: where was my father when I called? Was that his voice just now?

After hanging up the phone again, I sat down on a bench for a long time. and thought that my conversation with my father that time was possibly the freest ever, but also the most in line with what parent-children relationship should be – and it was brought about by this sound accident. Changes in life have made it so that, on many topics, my father and I can no longer exchange as we used to, but neither of us will admit it. 我必须从现在迅速回撤,尽最大能力回到他们适应的那种交流方式中,and ensure that the relationship is stable. This and the affection between father and son are two different things. Pushed to the extreme, the meaning of this is that you have the deepest and broadest understanding of a person, it is very difficult to have a deep conversation with them, because all of their questions are questions inside you too, and they will answer any question you may have. This may also explain a similar problem: how the deepest love always occurs at a period when the two parties are unaware of it, because this is when the exchange is the most efficient, meaning the richest, the most full of possibilities. Or to put it otherwise, in the realm of human emotions, only those exchanges full of imagination can be the most charming.

Sounds can be described in a variety of ways, and even when recorded with the latest technology, they remain elusive. Sound is not simple vibrations of the air, it incorporates all the information about that moment when the sound is emitted, and when you record a sound, even if you use the most advanced technology, after a few decades have passed, if you listen to it again, you can still hear the traces of the time that passed. What’s more, these advanced technologies cannot guarantee that what they record and spread is the real you. When I was studying for my Masters’ our teacher one said in a lecture that he didn’t like to use a microphone for his lectures, he was even a bit afraid that, because the microphone amplified and exaggerated his voice, this voice would not be his original voice. A few days ago, my wife’s school organised an open lecture and recorded a CD – then she listened to the CD, meanwhile organising the text according to the content. She found her voice on the recording very strange, very awkward. 。“I didn’t know my voice sounded like this.” Of course she knew (had heard) her own voice, but only from that internal form of listening to oneself, she had never heard her voice as it was when recorded and broadcast again through a separate medium. Within our own consciousness, we hear our own voice from the inside, and form a strong sense of it this way; this is also a part of ourselves, and therefore, when the facts tell us that our own voice is not as we thought it was, inevitably, this causes some fissure in our sense of self.

I still remember the first time I ate an apple. I was about ten or twelve at the time, and a distant uncle had brought back two boxes of fruit from a wholesale place far away, and he divided them among his nephews and nieces, giving them one apple per person. We looked at it, it was so tempting, but at the same time so precious, we didn’t know if we should bite into it, and destroy such perfect food. But it’s perfection would only be achieved with a bite, and so we bit. That first crisp biting sound has always remained; I’ve eaten many apples since, but I’ve never heard a sound like that first one. Now, I understand that the sound made me aware of its physical characteristics: the reason this first biting sound was so particular is that is when the real contact with the apple occurred. With that experience of eating an apple, it was the first time that apples came to existence for me, and some gap in me had been filled.

When I think about it carefully, this care and attention for sound comes from my desire to understand myself and the world. Only when words are uttered and can reach my ears do they become a reality within my heart. That is why people are so concerned about hearing a baby’s first cry, the first word it utters clearly, the first time it says ‘mum’ and ‘dad’… all of these first times are like God naming things for the first time, or a way to directly look at consciousness, there. But sadly, not only are we unaware of our own consciousness, but we don’t even care about it. We pretend that wordly possessions, or striving after them, is enough, that there is no need for other pursuits, for instance how humble we are, deep down, or what the feeling is, deep inside our heart, that makes us human. We give all that we have to the world, eat, drink, play, superficial joy, sorrow and anger: life, of course, must rely on these, but in the depth of our souls, there always remain a small territory, where the self you’ve never heard or seen dwells. The self, that person we describe so much, yet always fail to reach, and yet for me, this is the only road leading to inner peace, as a simple person, to always maintain a small space inside, so as to avoid, later, when we old, and we’re about to die, to find out that there is no foothold left for us.

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Source : My1510, 18 December 2012

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact julien@marcopoloproject.org