Posts Tagged ‘noise’
October 4, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Speaking to The Paris Review in 2011, Nicholson Baker remembered one of the small joys of his childhood. “The pencil sharpener was probably the best thing about school,” he said. “A little chrome invention under your control. It had a thundering sound, a throat-clearing sound, that I especially liked.”
As it happens, pencil sharpeners appear early and often in his new book, Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. But they’re all electric now, and they’ve lost their thunder. “There was a lot of earnest grinding away at the fancy electric pencil sharpener,” he writes on page thirty. Twelve pages later, “Someone else was grinding loudly away on the mechanical pencil sharpener.” On page 111 he mentions again “the remedial grind of the pencil sharpener.”
There’s a sound reason for this anti-sharpener rhetoric: in 2014 Baker became a substitute teacher at several Maine public schools, where the sharpeners’ grinding is just one agent in a multifront sensory assault, and further proof that technology doesn’t equal improvement. Substitute—Baker’s thoughtful, well-observed chronicle of his twenty-eight days in the classroom—catalogs the bells, the morning announcements, the iPad games, the lively chatter, and all the miscellaneous noise that characterize a day at school. Rather than a broadside against the education system, Substitute’s seven-hundred-plus pages offer a close, empathetic account of Baker’s time as a teacher, trading editorial asides for the richness—and, not infrequently, madness—of our efforts to impart knowledge. For every meaningless worksheet or recess infraction, there’s a warm, witty exchange with a student, or a moment, however brief, of genuine engagement.
Substitute is Baker’s sixteenth book; though he’s written nonfiction before, it marks his first outing as a participatory journalist, and he called it the most immersive book of his career. I reached him in his hotel room in Atlanta to ask him a few questions about it.
This is basically an act of participatory journalism, but it’s not like any other account I’ve read. Did you have any touchstones in mind?
Well, there’s George Plimpton. If you want to write about football, get yourself on a football team. If you want to write about boxing, you’re going to have to get punched in the head a few times. That’s what I did with Substitute. When I was in high school I read Up the Down Staircase and really loved it—all those wonderful memos—and in fact there was an actual down staircase and an up staircase in the middle school where I was a substitute. Two nonfiction books, Death at an Early Age and The Way it Spozed to Be also made a huge impression back then, even though I’d gone to an alternative public high school that was nothing like what was described in those books. Once I began writing Substitute in earnest, I tossed educational theorizing aside for the most part and went back to the method I’d used in Human Smoke, a book about World War II, where I did a lot of quoting from daily sources—newspaper articles and diaries and speeches on the radio. Substitute is a sort of collage of voices. In Human Smoke, I took my own voice out completely, but in Substitute I couldn’t—I had to be true to my own teacherly fumblings. Read More »
May 9, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
As I write this, there are six workmen constructing a building within five feet of the window, as has been the case for the past eight months and will be for the foreseeable future. It’s not a quiet business at the best of times, and at the moment they’re blasting “Rockin’ Robin.” They start work at seven A.M., and they have one of those special permits from the mayor’s office that allows them to work on Saturdays, too. Along with the two preschools and the slew of amateur musicians who inhabit the surrounding buildings, it makes for a cacophony.
I used to wear noise-canceling headphones and sometimes earplugs, and I’d fume like an angry cartoon character, but now it doesn’t bother me much. In balmy weather, it even feels sort of Rear Window–ish and picturesque. Or so you can tell yourself, especially when one amateur musician noodles on his sax for several hours at a time. I realize I have come to love it. Read More »
April 8, 2016 | by The Paris Review
I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring
Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »
September 9, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Sherman Alexie chose a poem by Yi-Fen Chou, a Chinese American, for this year’s Best American Poetry anthology. But Yi-Fen Chou was a pseudonym, it turned out, for Michael Derrick Hudson, a white guy. Now that he’s elected to include the poem anyway, Poetry Twitter is inflamed. But “I did exactly what that pseudonym-user feared other editors had done to him in the past,” Alexie says: “I paid more initial attention to his poem because of my perception and misperception of the poet's identity. Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American.”
- Arthur Heming, the Canadian “painter of the great white north,” was diagnosed as color-blind when he was a kid; this motivated the strange palette of black, yellow, and white he used for most of his career in the early twentieth century. “Thematically, he worked with scenes whose colors were appropriately blanched: winter hunting and trapping expeditions that he took for the Hudson Bay Company and alongside people of the First Nations. His narrow focus in painting mirrored his work as a traveler, novelist, and illustrator, and the commercial nature of his output certainly influenced the mixed reception he received in the art market. In Canada he existed as an outsider of both the trapping communities he traveled with in the north and of his peers in the fine art world.”
- Rob Chapman’s new cultural history of LSD reminds us that psychedelia’s day in the sun wasn’t just some trippy bullshit in a kandy-kolored vacuum—it was a short-lived, potent moment with lingering political aftereffects. “Chapman insists that Hendrix, far from wandering up his own psychic fundament, ended up directing psychedelia’s transformative sonic potency against the state. ‘After Woodstock [in 1969], the atrocities of carpet-bombing and village burning were soundtracked by the symbolic flag-shredding that takes place during Hendrix’s extraordinary rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” ’ ”
- And maybe, for a later generation, early video games were just as mind shattering as a tab of good acid: “I think Super Mario World was altering our perception long before acid or psilocybin mushrooms … the player irrevocably changes the landscape of Super Mario World. Empty space becomes solid matter, and you can access new parts of the game. Within the blink of an eye, the world, as well as the player’s view of the virtual world, transforms … Thirteen years later, I’d discover that LSD could similarly expose sediment layers of reality that I didn’t previously know about, thereby changing my perception in both immediate and permanent ways.”
- In 1906, a New Yorker named Julia Rice founded the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, one in a continuing line of noble but ill-advised measures against the sounds of the city. In this case, the culprit was tugboat noise. “The campaign was related to the idea of a neurosis called ‘Newyorkitis’—an illness that arose from an unhealthy addiction to noisy environs. Her campaign was crowned with success: in 1907 Congress signed a law reducing the frequency of ships’ whistles in federal waters … However, Rice seems to have enjoyed quite a bit of noise in her life: her six children played instruments and the family allegedly kept a number of cats and dogs.”
June 3, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In which Penguin Random House unveils its new logo and “brand identity.”
- Proust’s letters to his noisy neighbors: “It seems almost too perfect that Proust, the bedridden invalid, would have sent notes upstairs, sometimes by messenger, sometimes through the post, to implore the Williamses to nail shut the crates containing their summer luggage in the evening, rather than in the morning, so that they could be better timed around his asthma attacks.”
- Where are erotica writers having sex? In the doctor’s office. At the Louvre. On the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World.
- Making an unlikely appearance in the Times Op-Ed section this morning: our Art of Nonfiction interview with Adam Phillips.
- “When I find myself having to defend the narrative force of video games, I like to give the example of a real experience I had in my childhood involving the game Metroid. In this science fiction adventure, we guide a bounty hunter called Samus Aran … he wears armor which covers his whole body, until, at the end, after finding and destroying the Mother Brain, Samus … removes his helmet to reveal that he is really a woman … I had controlled a woman the whole time without knowing … Narrative sublimity is possible in the medium of electronic games.”
May 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Putin has signed a law banning foul language in plays and movies; any books with cuss words will come in sealed packages, with warnings. Which words qualify as uncouth? A panel of “independent experts” is soon to convene in pursuit of that very fucking question.
- Meanwhile, in America and the UK, an unexpurgated edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Taps at Reveille—its expletives intact; its sex, drugs, and anti-Semitic slurs restored—will arrive next month.
- Long before the heyday of Lisa Frank, there was the pop artist Walter Keane, who became something of a household name in the sixties: his work depicted sad children with enormous, farcically melancholy eyes. But his wife Margaret deserved all the credit: “The man wasn’t a painter at all. Margaret was the creator of all the Big Eye art. Walter basked in the glory, partied with the celebrities, and reaped the rewards. As she would later relate, the tearful, doe-eyed children she painted had nothing to do with Walter’s supposed belief in children redeeming the world. The weeping waifs reflected her own sorrow.”
- Revising the myth of Phineas Gage, who survived, in the late nineteenth century, an accident in which an iron rod went straight through his head, and who has been fodder for Psych 101 students ever since. “Recent historical work, however, suggests that much of the canonical Gage story is hogwash, a mélange of scientific prejudice, artistic license, and outright fabrication. In truth each generation seems to remake Gage in its own image, and we know very few hard facts about his post-accident life and behavior.”
- “How do you design cities and civic spaces in ways that account for people’s varied reactions to sound itself? Where does ‘sound’ end, and ‘noise’ begin?”