I live in a quiet apartment in a noisy city. Lately I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of LISTENING to sounds around me. The soundtrack of New York is not just the blare of horns, screams of sirens, and the thundering of jackhammers. It’s the cooing of pigeons, the clack of heels on the pavement and the whisper of fabric as someone races by. I think too many people are losing out by cocooning themselves in personal sound tunnels. By being constantly plugged into music or phone calls (or both) their ears are “absent” from the soundscape of the city.
I’ve become conscious of the sounds around me and think that suggesting sounds in storytelling is like filling in the sound effects in a film. Sound sets the stage and creates an atmosphere.
Orson Welles was famous for both his radio shows and his films. He used sound like a radio professional in some of the best scenes in “Citizen Kane.” It might have been a budgetary consideration. It’s certainly cheaper to have the sounds of a party in a distant room than it is to hire a large number of extras, costume them and film the party scene. The comparison of the emptiness of the room we see and the crowd we imagine down the hall is communicated purely in sound.
Describing sounds, inviting the reader to “hear” while they picture the events of a story is a clever way to add dimension to the setting. We don’t live in the absence of sound —at least not until we’re all too hard of hearing to appreciate the fragments of conversation overheard on the street, the clip clop of the hooves of a police horse on pavement and snatches of music from the open doors of cafes.