Creaking, rattling, clinking: Our home is an acoustic adventure playground with a lot to discover. However, familiarisation has the effect that we often only unconsciously perceive the noises in our own four walls. Especially in times when we spend a lot of time at home, it is worthwhile to listen carefully. In this way, we can find the lost appreciation for the sound qualities of our home and add new elements.
How sounds determine our homes
In our homes, we are constantly surrounded by noises, whether it is the buzzing of grandma's old lamp, the hum of the fridge, or the music from the children’s room. Silence rarely occurs. If we live in the city, jackhammers on construction sites, cars, trucks, and motorcycles contribute to the background noise. In the countryside, in turn, sounds of nature enter our house: frogs are croaking, bees humming, maybe a cow is mooing or a sheep bleating on the neighbouring farm. The noises in our apartment, our house, form a highly detailed tapestry of sound, the elements of which reveal a great deal about the world in which we live.
Usually, the composition is complemented by the sounds of the outside world. As soon as we leave our home, we hear new tones; our workplace also has a specific sound quality. All of these sounds together form the soundtrack of our lives. In exceptional cases, however, it happens that we do not want to or even cannot leave our living space for quite some time: when we are sick, the weather is particularly uncomfortable or, as currently, in an isolation period during a pandemic.
Why we take everyday noises for granted
If we are forced to stay at home, everything quickly becomes tedious. We miss the hustle and bustle in the office, the cacophony of traffic, and believe that our tapestry of sound is withered and grey. But is that true? Some sounds are so familiar to us that we take them for granted and no longer perceive them. Other noises occur unexpectedly – a plate that breaks into pieces, a siren from the street –, so that they stand out.
We usually no longer pay attention to the sound of our home, precisely because it is so familiar to us. This is not uncommon: noises are often dismissed as banal if they are not linked to other sensory stimuli. They enrich our perception immensely – think of movie scores – and our visual world would be imperfect without them. But if acoustic stimuli are not accompanied by visual ones, we tend to neglect the former.
Yet we can come to know a lot about our immediate surroundings by listening. We can learn to appreciate the sound carpet in our four walls if we consciously focus on noise. Especially in difficult times, it is essential to value your home as a source of strength, also on an acoustic level.
We can practice appreciation
One of the biggest obstacles to satisfaction is the inability of appreciation. We often assume that everything that is truly valuable is beyond our reach. Occasionally, however, we stumble across something that may have been right in front of us all the time, but which we have overlooked for years. And suddenly we see a whole new quality and beauty in it. How can we learn to appreciate what appears to be self-evident? There are several options, three of which are particularly suitable for looking at the sound of our home from a fresh angle.
Change of perspective
"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." We know this saying very well. But if we realize that we all think the same thing, either everyone would have the greenest grass – or nobody. Let us remember what our friends say when they visit our apartment in a pre-war building. For them, the creaking hallway is not a nuisance, but it gives our house a unique character that an apartment in a new building does not have. People with hearing loss miss perceiving the sound of their partner's voice loud and clear. We can also try to walk in the shoes of our former selves: let us remember our last lousy cold. Everything was muted – and we were so happy when we finally were able to hear everything again, even our rattling washing machine.
A particularly useful way of learning appreciation is to break habits and to pay more attention. It is worth noticing sounds as if it were for the first time. Listening instead of hearing is the motto: How does it sound when our partner gets up in the morning and goes from bedroom to bathroom? Do they shuffle, trample, stumble? Do they try to be quiet so as not to wake us up, or do they rumble through the hallway and arouse the whole house from sleep? In the case of everyday noises, we can also try to listen to them like music. Music is all about pitch, tempo, rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, and much more. Take, for example, the sound of a kettle and consider the dynamics. First, it crackles slowly, quietly, and the hotter the water gets, the louder the kettle rumbles. The crescendo of some models culminates in a loud whistle as soon as the water boils.
The purpose of a ritual is to perform a series of actions to put us in a particular state. There are specific rules that result in increased appreciation if we follow them carefully. Again, the kettle shall serve as an example here, in connection with a tea ceremony. After our work for the day is done, we want to reward ourselves with a cup of exquisite tea. For this purpose, we design a sound ritual: Let us pay attention to how it sounds when we take our favourite mug from the cupboard, open the tea tin and put the tea in the mug, fill the kettle. The water slowly heats up, and after it boils, we listen as it slowly cools down until we finally pour the water in the cup, and the leaves crackle when the water touches them.
How we provide our home with even more sound
Once we have learned to appreciate the tapestry of sound of our home again, we can consider how we can continue weaving it. It is a good idea to work with voices and pay attention to the sound of our loved ones during a conversation. Listening to music is also an obvious choice – but there are other creative options.
Sing and make music
Since the invention of records and more up-to-date recordings, it has almost been forgotten, but it is still practiced in clubs and schools: the house concert! Making music in a non-public space, in our case at home, is an excellent way to enrich your individual sound world. You do not need to worry: the characteristics of house concert music are that it is easy to play, and a small line-up is sufficient. Special edition songbooks with melodies and simple accompaniment provide inspiration. In addition to piano, guitar, and flute, typical instruments are egg shakers, bell rings, and maracas. But we can also get creative without instruments: snapping our fingers and clapping provide the rhythm, and if at least one person dares to sing, our living room concert is all set!
Bring nature home
No matter where we live: We hear nature from time to time, for example, when rain is tapping on our windows. Yet we may miss certain sounds in the city. Apps providing nature sounds are of great help here. With some of these applications, you can compose a customized nature concert and combine the chirping of crickets with the sound of the sea and the song of exotic birds. Another beautiful sound, especially in winter, is the one of fire. The fireplace-DVD is now a thing of the past, but many streaming services offer various videos and playlists that you can use to enjoy the crackling fire in your living room, even without a fireplace.