striatic / flickr
Indulge me for a minute or two. Step away from your computer, head outside, then stop and just listen for several seconds – or as long as you like.
If I’m honest, most of what I hear outside my office these days is power tools, guys chatting (often in Portuguese), and an occasional thump loud enough to make one wonder if one of those guys has just fallen through the roof. But if we weren’t under major reconstruction, what I imagine (based on years of experience, mind you) I’d hear is the rustle of wind through browning leaves, road traffic – cars, delivery trucks, and an occasional shuttle bus headed to the Martha’s Vineyard ferry – the horn of said ferry as it departs, and maybe, in a lucky moment, the screech of a hunting osprey.
We humans are largely visual creatures. Often, our first instinct is to record and describe our environment – and they way it is changing – in visual terms. We take photographs, measure the size, or number, or color of things around us. But we have five senses, and one of them is hearing. The sounds I hear outside my office tell me something about my surroundings. The conversation is often in Portuguese because of the Cape’s large Portuguese and Brazilian population. As the seasons change, so, too, does the frequency of shuttle buses or the timbre of wind through the trees.
The Sound of Cape Cod
I don’t know if this is a Cape Cod thing, or just a personal thing, or perhaps a side-effect of working at a radio station with the motto “Listen,” but in the time I’ve lived on the Cape I feel like my sense of hearing has become more attuned to my environment. I identify spring, not just by the sight of crocuses, but by the sound of ospreys returning to the cranberry bogs near my home. I treasure the sound of crashing waves and shifting pebbles, as much as the sight of the shoreline or the smell of salt air.
I know I’m not completely alone here. Steve Wilkes, a professor from Berklee College of Music and producer of the Hear Cape Cod project, describes his awakening to the sounds of Cape Cod while visiting Truro in 2001:
Pamet Harbor, Corn Hill, coves, copses, and hollows along Old County Road, the beaches and bluffs of Cape Cod Bay: they all produced a resonant space – a resounding-ness – unlike anything that I had ever heard. Everything sounded amazing in these places: birds, toads, crickets, fishing boats – even UPS trucks. The wind truly rustled trees and storms truly boomed. Oh my God, the thunderstorms: “Such Echoes!” (thanks to Coleridge). Hopper came here for the light that mattered, I started coming here for the echoes.
Wilkes credits Truro with sparking an interest in field recording that led, in January of this year, to the launch of the Hear Cape Cod project – an effort to create an aural time capsule of Cape Cod. With a team of others, Wilkes has been visiting the Cape and recording 60-second ‘snapshots’ of ‘indigenous’ Cape Cod sounds. Wilkes described the project and shared some of his favorite clips in an interview with WCAI’s Mindy Todd earlier this summer.