Up until March 2014 my partner and I had been living in a first floor two bedroom unit which is located on Cross Road near the south eastern Adelaide suburb of Westbourne Park. Cross Road is one of several major transport arteries which comprise the southern network of roads in the Adelaide city area. Cross Road is particularly significant as it leads on from the Princess Highway and carries a large density of cars, public transport and semi-trailers at all hours of the day. As a consequence there is the almost constant presence of vehicle sounds; increasing in frequency and volume during the peak periods of the morning and the late afternoon. During this time, the ambience of a domestic environment is held to siege by the activity on the road; surrounded by a dense sonic cloud of shuddering engines, screeching brakes, bleating horns, the wail of sirens and a sustained murmuring of low frequencies.
When we moved to this location the previous year I wasn’t particularly concerned about living next to a major arterial road, drawing comforting sonic parallels between the clamour of traffic and a rushing river – full of complex frequencies and dynamics, yet predominantly consistent and relegated to the background. Surely it couldn’t be all that bad?
This optimistic view remained with me throughout 2013 at various points as this entry in my notebook from November 2013 attests:
“As I write this now at close to 10pm on a Tuesday night, I have the spare room’s window slightly open and the activity on Cross Road has dissipated considerably from a heavy continuous stream of indecipherable vehicles to an infrequent trickle of cars passing by. These water references are appropriate as I happen to be listening on studio monitor speakers to Annea Lockwood’s ‘Soundmap of the Housatonic River’ with its gentle ebbing and rushing of waterways making for an ironic sonic accompaniment to the vehicle sounds outside.”
I knew this outlook was precarious and my aesthetic position (which I believe was initially due to the excitement and distractions of moving house) rapidly gave away as the day-to-day routine of life resumed. Whilst the noise was not unbearable, it was certainly an unwelcome presence on a number of occasions. The idea that one can live with noise (aesthetically or otherwise) is ridiculously naive. The road and its vehicles were not the only source of noise as the neighbours’ house on the eastern side of our block played host to incessant techno, revving engines and the occasional domestic dispute.
I started to imagine our first floor unit as a tiny island surrounded by a vast ocean of noise.
There was also the aspect of noise affecting the other senses, such as the visual boundary that a major road represents, as well as the occasional stench of engine fumes and a the oily byproduct of a nearby McDonald’s wafting through the kitchen window. Maybe I’ll touch on these other forms of noise another time.
Now, far removed from our tiny island and that ocean of noise, I write this post in the peaceful environment of a quiet suburb, where the window is open and only the sound of birds, a distant lawnmower and (if I strain my ears) a very faint murmur of traffic is heard.
Noise – by its very definition has negative connotations, and it’s certainly apparent that this post’s preoccupation with the negative aspects of the past year run the risk of suggesting that an otherwise good year of domestic life with my partner was just a day-to-day ordeal of living with noise. I can reassure you that this wasn’t the case. Rather, noise became a backdrop to our lives: like a radio station prone to occasional interference and drop-outs, but carrying on nonetheless.