Wednesday, June 23, 2010
In Rio, I listen to a rich tapestry of sounds, most of them unfamiliar. One night, walking near a wild congress of waterfowl calling to each other I felt privy to an on-going ritual, a private conversation among the invisible life in the trees and grasses. I imagine that the gassa calls from its perch each night from the dense brush surrounding the lagoa. This is as close as I get to a perfectly natural nocturna, just twenty meters away from the rush-hour noise.
In the morning I listen to the birds chirping outside the kitchen loft. Children arrive early down the street for a long day at school, most of it spent singing and laughing by the sounds of it.
On important holidays and days following large storms, the streets are quiet. Whenever Batafogo or Flamengo is playing there is an eerie stillness in the street until a team scores, then the noise shakes our house from a cheering chorus of fans.
One of the most interesting sounds I’ve heard is that of a flying insect who sings her death song shortly before she ends her short life with a sound much like feedback from a musical amplifier. On one occasion I was at an outdoor restaurant overlooking a vast nature reserve. Looking for the source of this sound I looked to my right and immediately saw a four-foot lizard walking out of the bushes with something in its powerful jaws. It looked at me like I was on the menu and then turned back into the brush while all those the piercing insects continued their song of life and death.
Other sounds are more familiar, like a samba drum practice band in a park or a solitary bossa nova being played from a beginning guitar player and occasionally African singing from a nearby club. At night, these sounds are mixed with the incessant yelling from the indoor futbol players next door who kick their soccer balls against a concrete wall. Caught in between these sounds I try to find my way to sleep.
Then there is the sound of waves crashing, mixed with the murmurs from hundreds of casual conversations in a language I do not understand. There is serendipity in the voices of vendors calling to us with a fresh batch of their tasty treats. This is all possible because of a ban on loud music on the beach. Here, there is a serenity only a beach lover would appreciate.
With so many people living cheek by jowl, there is a significant noise problem in Rio. There are several noise hot-lines which register complaints, mostly about late-night clubs that stay open well past midnight. The police say they are powerless to control noise without laws that are enforceable. But really all anyone can do is to relish the silence between the notes and remember to praise silence where it exists – while focusing on the secondary sounds, the ones that seem less like noise.
All photos by Delma Godoy