The Impertinent Crosswalk (or More Life in Leipzig)


The crosswalks here talk back. That is to say, they make noises at you while you wait to cross. Leipzig has an interesting sound level. It can be VERY quiet but extraordinarily noisy as well —

Like some Willard minus his Kurtz, staring up at the ceiling, but no fan swirling with a maddening drone, wondering how to pass the time in between the mission of speaking with strangers for hours on end, day after day, the monotony of the conversation broken only by brief lucid moments of Facetime calls and venturing out to the Kaufland for supplies… from this perch I survey the pedestrians strolling by, their reveries interrupted only by the screaming turbines and thundering carriages of the trams that ply from east to west and back again.

And then, long into the dark blue evening that arrives so late at this latitude, a velvet quiet surrounds the plaza and there is stillness such that every cough, every tinkling of cutlery or clatter of the plates and saucers in the café below can be heard through the open window. That very stillness demands our attention; this is the very epitome of ambient, as Eno described it, for it is as ignorable as it is noticeable. One wonders, could a microphone actually do justice here? It is much like making a photograph and wondering if the film or sensor can even begin to capture the unbelievable dynamic range that we experience in these surroundings, so too, the problem of capturing in order to share this incredible range of stillness to noisy chaos.

The musician is often aware of it, though I find fewer and fewer who articulate it as such, this idea of ambient sound levels. That the dynamic range can go from unbelievably quiet to thunderously noisy, with all stages in between is something we all experience, often without realizing how badly we have adjusted and become accustomed to the unacceptable base levels of cacophony that define our modern —and, especially urban — existences

To sleep with earplugs, or to have a wave machine in the our sleeping rooms, pumping out yet more noise, albeit it white or pink — this seems to be the very antithesis of what we seek. I often wonder how much physical stress using noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs is being put upon our nervous systems as we seek to filter out the aural fabric of our day-to-day experience. But for now, I’ll just be quiet.


Author: alfonsoelsabio

Citoyen du monde: Photographer, librarian/archivist/academic, musician, and writer... I've lived in, or visited, every state in the US except South Dakota and Hawaii.