A bathtub, transistor radios, a rubber duck, a blender, a potted plant. John cage’s “Water walk” is a celebration of the music of the mundane. These objects, along with others he plays on, are the audio-scenery of the home, the sound if the interior. They are more familiar and elemental in the American 1950’s then the violin or the grand piano.
Today, the soundscape of the interior may have changed a bit. New digital tones have replaced some of the mechanical ones presented in “Water walk”. But we can still easily recognise and affiliate “Water walks” to our home. This draws and repels us to this disharmonic experiment in music. But it crosses all of us in a western world – it is not the exclusive privilege of some. Much of the same can be said for the soundscapes of creative work.
The ticking of fingers on a keyboard. The scratching of a pen on a piece of paper. The knife that cuts a piece of foam, the saw that cuts a piece of wood. The phone calls, oh, endless phone calls. The humming of a car starting. Talking over the sound of machinery. The sigh after hearing a price quote. The chime of an e-mail received, the swoosh of one sent. The rattling of raw materials into the factory line. The clamor of objects tied together in a container or at the back of a truck. The yells at the warehouse, the soft tones at the store. Those whispered talks on the style and price in front of a shelf. The sound of the cashier’s drawer opening, of crumpled wrapping paper. The dragging of furniture around the house. The silence that comes thereafter.
The orchestra that accompanies the economy of traded goods is a noisy one. It does not happen all at once, or at the same place, but it comprises of mechanical, digital and psychological instruments. It is simultaneous and repetitive and can be stretched out from the chainsaw on timber in some rainforest in south America, to the garbage container hauling it to a near dump site. There is so much specificity at its physical edges. In the unique sounds of a certain factory, of a production line, of raw material mining. The disappearing blue collar trades have all a specific sound, smell, and appearance which belongs only to them.
But for those who design the goods in trade, it is not quite the the same. In the economy of goods, slowly replaced by that of service, it is always surprising how mundane the sounds of creativity are. No matter the content, their soundtrack repeats itself – rings, chimes, ticks, scratches, sighs. Rings, chimes, ticks, scratches, sighs. Like the unifying familiarity in the sounds presented in “Water Walk”, this blend of ringtones and sound bites are not just the sounds of creativity but the sounds of civilization. They apply to accountants as much as they do designers. They are what ties them together.
As in each of our homes, the content of the other’s profession is always cryptic and unique. But the periphery of content – the tools that power it, the actions that generate it, are increasingly similar. They are the white noise that underlines the mechanism of work culture. This symphony of the mundane, the rhythm – not the content of our work – bridges the artist with the analyst. Rings, chimes, ticks, scratches, sighs.
As with john cage’s curious piece, they are considered an esoteric and disharmonic field to preoccupy ourselves with. And that is, perhaps, a blessing. If they were, It would have perhaps been the current designer’s instinct to use them to craft specific and articulated groups, helping them find unique self definition through the tools of design. In its constant search for innovation, and with new tools that allow for it, design constantly looks for way to specify and dissect culture to better define Individuality. But before we rush to do so, I’d like to offer a thought:
In an increasingly complicated world, as we are becoming more separated than we’ve been in a long time into subcultures where we assimilate ourselves with those like us – there is some solace, some human solidarity in the generic iPhone ringtone, in the chimes of Outlook, Gmail and Apple mail. These sounds, more than they are mundane, a disturbance and therefore naturally ignored, are the strings that tie designers to their consumers. They are humane. This white noise that we all share, is perhaps a lead into a design which is born from common empathy.
Rings, chimes, ticks, scratches, sighs.