Archive for the 'Perception' Category

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Spring has definitely sprung, and it’s been birds, birds, birds all weekend on Bute. Big ones, small ones, ones that sound like birds, ones that sound like squeaky gates and car alarms, and ones that sound like cats miaowing. One of these days, I’ll find out what type of bird makes each sound, but matching the sound with a sighting of the bird is tricky, especially when one keeps looking in the wrong direction. The soaring gull high overhead today that sounded like a plane was an entertaining collage of ears, eyes and confused brain which made me realise that, with my defective sound locating faculties, I’ll never be able to get a job as an air traffic controller.

This was a double blow, since after this morning’s walk along the beach, a career in ornithology is now out as well. As I rushed to show the spouse this beautiful newly-hatched egg I’d found, I was rather disappointed to discover that it was actually a washed up ping pong ball.


Consonant Harmony

“How’s your food?” asked the spouse hesitantly as I tucked into his lovingly prepared home made burgers and potato wedges at the Buteshack last night.

We had been dining in silence after a slight contretemps over some bathroom DIY earlier, where the spouse had walked brown floor adhesive all over the carpet, and a 1kilo plastic tub of window putty had fallen off an overloaded shelf on to my painfully naked big toe. The one with the bunion. Both of us had been the authors of our own misfortunes but had chosen to blame each other in the heat of the moment, because that’s one of the major benefits of being in a relationship.

Some peace-making was now required.

“Absolutely delicious, Hun, best yet”, I replied with exaggerated gusto, so as to reassure him that his status as Domestic God was restored.

“No, not your food”, said the spouse, “your foot…FOO-T.”

“Oh that…it’s fine”, I lied, amazed at how much eating burgers can affect your hearing.


There She Blows

There’s been a bit of boiler trouble going on at Cookie Bite HQ recently, bringing back memories of the last major boiler incident. If only I’d had the hearing aid back then…

On a dark and stormy night in 2009, a phone call from the downstairs neighbours gravely informed us that sheets of water were running down the outside of their kitchen window. Nothing unusual in that, except for the fact it wasn’t raining at the time. A glance at the somewhat elevated pressure gauge on the boiler told me that something had gone horribly wrong.

“What’s that noise?” said the spouse, as I ripped open the door to the pipework and began fumbling about as if I knew what I was doing.

“What noise?” I replied.

“That kind of rumbling noise…it seems to be coming from the pipes…”

“Oh, shit”, I said as I realised that I hadn’t turned the stopcock fully off after I’d topped up the water in the boiler two hours previously. The system had continued filling to a dangerous pressure, and the safety overflow was what was responsible for our neighbours’ unwanted water feature.

“Got to get this stopcock closed quick, or we’re in trouble”, I grunted, applying my full bodyweight to the annoyingly stiff tap, to no effect. The rumbling noise was now loud enough to break through my hearing threshold and was making me somewhat edgy. I gave the tap one last desperate anti-clockwise twist, and finally felt it move. The relief was short-lived.

“Oh shit”, I exclaimed, “it’s come off in my hand!” I stared with disbelief at the now useless stopcock. There was now only one thing left to do. Panic, and swear a lot.

Continuing to enact my textbook demonstration of why I would be temperamentally unsuited to land an aircraft if the captain had a heart attack, I turned aimlessly in circles with the heels of my palms clamped to my temples until the spouse found a pair of pliers. The rumbling noise had now reached an alarming level, and an image of an aerial view of a pile of rubble in the evening news bulletin flashed through my mind. I snatched the pliers and began the delicate operation of trying to turn the remnants of the stopcock to the shut position without snapping anything else off by accident. Dripping with sweat, I finally succeeded. Phew. I had saved us all from disaster.

Strangely, the rumbling noise was still going on. Then all of a sudden, a sharp click was heard, followed by silence.

“Oh…” said the spouse apologetically, “…I forgot I put the kettle on before the phone rang.”

A Marriage Made in Heaven

It would seem that, between the ears and the eyes, the spouse and I are turning into the sensory equivalent of yin and yang. My short sightedness and his rapidly advancing long sightedness are the perfect combination. He does the long distance vision tasks such as reading the train departure board, spotting signs for motorway turnoffs before we drive past them, and monitoring junkies prowling about in back gardens half a mile away.

I do the close vision stuff like reading restaurant menus by candlelight, differentiating mouse droppings from charred toast crumbs at the Buteshack, and spotting foreign objects in restaurant food. Like the piece of deep-fried cellophane poking out of the spouse’s spring roll at the Chinese restaurant last night.

As for the ears, between the two of us, we can cover the full range of an audiogram and beyond, with me excelling in the dog whistle outer limits of the high frequencies. To make up for my declining mid-frequencies, the spouse is responsible for dealing with human speech quieter than 50dB, identifying strange noises in the middle of the night and pulling me back from stepping out in front of cars approaching from the right.

In return, I locate hissing punctures in bicycle inner tubes and…and…and…well, the spouse says it’s very handy to be able to identify a puncture at the roadside without a bowl of water.

Sound Thought 2011 Part 3

The audience hushed as the presenter appeared in the beam of a spotlight with a ream of A4 sheets of white paper held to his chest. At well-timed intervals, successive sheets dropped from his hands and fluttered poetically into the darkness. “Hear the sounds all around you” read the text*on one. “Hear the sound of your heart beating” said another.

The audience was experiencing Benn Dunn’s ‘Signed Sound’ presentation, which began with a soundless performance piece, referencing, amongst other things, the composer John Cage’s experience in an anechoic chamber. Despite the hearing aid’s enthusiasm for sampling all the least poetic aspects of the unique acoustic ambience of Arch 6, I was enraptured. Even when one of the captions said “hear the gentle sound of this sheet of paper hitting the floor”. Well, that’s what imagination is for, I said to myself, but I started to get a bit worried when the size of the lettering suddenly started to become smaller a few sheets further on. “Raise your hand if you are having difficulty reading this” said a well-timed sheet. Keen to preserve my silent listening experience, I immediately stuck my hand up. I was the only one.

“Oh…” said Ben, introducing the first unplanned utterance to the silence. “Is it the lighting? How about if I stand here?”

Thanks to me, John Cage had just left the room.

Chairs creaked as nineteen silhouetted heads turned to see who the perceptually challenged person at the back was. Eager to ensure my soundless listening comfort, Ben followed the trajectory of his previous piece of paper and leapt athletically from the stage into the darkness.

“Better?” he said hopefully.

“No, it’s not the lights”, I replied, in the second unplanned utterance, “I’m just really short-sighted.” There was a burst of laughter from the audience, and I suddenly felt very glad of the darkness.

Half an hour later things were back on track and, to the delight of the woman at the back with the dodgy eyesight and the hearing aid, Robert Fulford’s ‘Hearing-Impaired Musicians’ Use and Experience of Hearing Aid Technology’ presentation appeared on the screen. Thankfully there were no sheets of A4 paper in sight.

A very poised presenter, Robert explained that he was in the first year of his PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music and went on to describe his research to date. He is interested in what motivates hearing impaired musicians, what challenges they face and how they are overcome. He has been interviewing a selection of musicians (ranging from amateur to professional) who use hearing aids, and recording their views on how useful, or otherwise, aids are to their performance and enjoyment of music. Some of his sample musicians were born deaf or hearing impaired, and some lost their hearing later in life to different degrees. Some used hearing aids when playing, and some did not. It was interesting to hear about those musicians, some of them profoundly deaf, who preferred to play unaided, and really sad to hear about those who needed to play aided, but lived in fear of their old analogue aids dying, because they found digital aids unusable for music. The personal accounts which Robert featured were very vivid and I look forward to hearing about how his research progresses.

We had a nice chat afterwards, and then I disappeared out on to the gale lashed streets. The musical mushrooms were still tinkling away merrily in their bell jar as I passed.


*my paraphrasing of Ben’s text from memory…apologies!

Sound Thought 2011 Part 1

Non-musical mushrooms

“I’m looking for the musical mushrooms” I said, pointing to The Secret Sounds of Spores Installation in the Sound Thought 2011 brochure, “but I haven’t a clue how to find my way round this place”. I was in The Arches, the cavernous converted Victorian railway arches beneath Glasgow Central Station, and I was running late because of the unfortunate oversight of rushing out the house sans hearing aid and having to go back. I was there to enjoy the promised festival of ‘mould-breaking music, sound and performance research’, and was particularly interested in the afternoon session on musicians’ use of hearing aids.

“Just go right to the end of that corridor, turn right and someone will direct you”, said the friendly girl at the box office. Several minutes and a quite a few hundred metres later, I reached the end of the Kafkaesque corridor, where a Type 5 Inaudible steward emerged from the gloom and said something, well, inaudible. I was just about to say “I’m here for the mushrooms” to end the verbal impasse, when I was swiftly ushered through a set of double doors and found myself in almost complete darkness.

A strong smell of disinfectant assaulted my nostrils as I entered the space. I could hear voices, and once my eyes adjusted, I realised I was in a huge brick vaulted cavern illuminated by red safelights and the reflected glow from a projector screen. This isn’t the flippin’ mushrooms, I sighed as I noted the silhouetted audience of fifteen scattered round little metal cafe tables near a stage with a microphoned presenter on it. Oh heck, it’s the end of the first set of paper presentations, I thought, as I slid into the only available seat at the back while I worked out my next move. Resigned to a slight detour in my fungi-finding schedule, I settled in and cast my eyes around the scene. I saw with great satisfaction that the stage had two enormous speakers and an amp on it, and I basked in the nice warm glow of clearly audible voices from the stage.

My joy was short-lived, however, as the first of many trains rumbled noisily out of the station directly above my head. Dah-duh dah-duuuuuh…..dah-duh dah-duuuuuh…..thudded the wheels  on the track joints, as 400 tons of slowly moving metal bore down on the meticulously arched Victorian brickwork overhead. The hearing aid rattled with great excitement at all the unusual low frequency reverberations, before being enticed into a high-pitched duet with a bleeping forklift truck which had started up in the space next door. When a passing underground train now shook the concrete floor between my feet I felt relieved that, with the notorious exception of The Tay Bridge, the Victorians were renowned for the over-engineering of all their load-bearing railway structures.

Between trains, as the undecayed echoes from a distant bout of industrial hammering along the corridor bounced straight into my gaping lugs, I realised that the day was going to be an interesting listening experience for all the wrong reasons.

Coming up in Part 2:

  • My greed for free tea and biscuits results in an embarrassing tussle with a glass door
  • I get mistaken for a missing presenter as I eagerly await the start of the Music and Hearing Aids session
  • I catastrophically destroy the poetic silence of a soundless performance piece
  • I finally get to experience the Music of the Spores

She Nose, You Know

My cold has finally left me, and not a moment too soon. As I seated myself at the computer at home this morning, my newly restored sense of smell detected a slight whiff of fishy mustiness. After establishing that it was definitely not coming from me, I followed my nose around the room, and ended up staring at the ceiling. Had I been adopting the reflective practices of the the illustrious Herr Not Quite Like Beethoven, who has taken to examining the world most insightfully from a recumbent position lately, my eyes might have ended up on the ceiling slightly sooner.

Unfortunately, the sight that met them was a big brown wet patch from what turned out to be the leaked contents of the upstairs neighbour’s dishwasher. Cripes, how did I not see that before, I thought. Knowing that gravity is a powerful force, I now looked downwards and spotted a matching big brown wet patch on the cream carpet. Mmmm, I thought, that matches the big brown wet patch on the spouse’s study ceiling and the small brown wet patch in the kitchen ceiling from last month’s toilet episodes upstairs. Co-ordinated decor at last.

Since bad things come in threes, we’ve hopefully reached our quota of plumbing incidents now.


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