I love this time of the year. September in New York is beautiful. Yes, it does rain and there’s the usual hurricane threats and the unusual tornado watches, but… The heat and humidity of summer in the city is replaced by blue skies, moderate temperatures and an entirely different set of city sounds…
The ever-present hum of air conditioners is suddenly gone. I’m not a big fan of air conditioning. It’s not that I actually like the horrible heat of August; it’s more that I don’t like the cycle of freezing and sweating that is impossible to escape when going places in the city. Now that the temperatures are cooler, the ever present, white noise of mechanical humming is gone. It’s also still warm enough for open windows. That means a new awareness of sounds.
I’m a big fan of Orson Welles, especially his film version of “Othello“ and his masterpiece “Citizen Kane.” In both of those films he used sound like a radio play to add texture and depth to empty rooms. It’s mesmerizing. I’ve often wondered what a Frankenstein or Dracula movie would have been like had he directed it with that radio sensibility adding to the drama, dread and horror.
My apartment faces a courtyard so the origin of sounds is often mysterious, with echoes that make it almost impossible to pinpoint locations. It’s fun to fantasize the meaning of a strange birdcall or the thud of a hammer falling on a distant construction site.
When the cold weather hits, and the windows are closed the focus switches inward — to the sounds inside buildings. I live in an “overbuilt” 19th century industrial loft building, so I’m pretty well insulated against my neighbors. In my kitchen I can hear anything in the hallway, but in my living room I’m protected from all but an extremely loud party upstairs.
But noise sneaks in. The bathroom has a vent and sound, as well as aromas, travel up and down my line of apartments. For a while, I was aware of a neighbor smoking cigars in the bathtub on Sunday afternoons. I never identified which neighbor and the Sunday bather must have moved out. Still, just the memory gets me thinking. What monstrous thing could I over hear?
Lots to think about. Lots to listen for!