excerpts from The Saturation Project

Hum

Instead, I grow quiet trying to hear your voice. Simmering on my eardrum. It is a radio voice transmitting a whole night throbbing with fireflies, your whole mouth ringing with six hundred species of bacteria, six thousand tingling thrills. “Red rings inwardly…” Kandinsky muses, “It glows in itself, maturely, and doesn’t distribute its vigor aimlessly.”[1]

This hum was an unknowing song of waiting, a refrain attempting to ward off chaos by creating soothing rhythm. To make something out of nothing.

When I turned twelve, my family moved into the woods. I did not have one friend that long summer. There are other details, but the point is: I developed a barely audible hum. Distressed, I rang out. A tiny, high diva voice emerged in soft spectacle from my throat. Mostly I did not know I was sounding off until someone called my attention to it. My hum asked for no answer. Yet my mother and brother noted my psychological leakage in annoyance — “knock off the lame tune.” Sometimes strangers cocked their heads at me with a worried look. The excess of it attracted judgment. The ambient sonority of it — wasp, bee, and fly hum — drove any potential companions away.

This hum was an unknowing song of waiting, a refrain attempting to ward off chaos by creating soothing rhythm. To make something out of nothing. A pinch in my throat, a thing stuck there that I was trying to dislodge in order to be. It was like a cry of being born — “the sudden expansion of an echo chamber” as Jean-Luc Nancy describes[2] — but a slow leak instead of an announcement. I was someone coming to herself slowly by resounding, by opening up into the color and texture of myself. Reverberation is what sound and color share; when they marble, it’s resonance.

Withstanding a recent avalanche of novelty and loneliness, I may have been attuning myself, a kind of summer-long tuning fork or echolocation of my new place deep in the solitary woods. Or I may have been doing the opposite: when a person hums, she can block out most sounds — unfamiliar rustlings, bird calls, silence, all parental speech gary-indiana-ed instantly. Or I was, Glenn Gould-like, humming an independent contrapuntal part. As prophylaxis against loss, the habit wasn’t ineffective. Humming performed for me a sympathetic magic: I was rediscovering a lost sound, a missing sensation, a phantom color in my own voice. I was resurfacing my voice, intensifying it in a crucial moment. As a bird might shed drab feathers for bright ones in a time of courtship, my sonic ornament was perhaps the first flush of puberty. Or a last channeling of an atavistic charm. With a vibratory rhythm of my own, drilling toward red’s center, I readied myself. Out of a rogue moment, rouge burst forth. I hummed a route to the interior life.

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REFERENCES

  1. Kandinsky, Vassily. On the Spiritual in Art. Trans. M.T.H. Sadler. New York: Dover, 1977. 38.
  1. Nancy, Jean-Luc. Listening. Trans. Charlotte Mandell. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007. 17.

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