Friday, 20 November 2015

20/11/15 - The best sound in the world

Once upon a time, back in 2002, my friend Chris and I were drunk. Not plastered, not vomiting or insensible, just comfortably rosy. The sort of cheerful, harmless inebriation that comes from knocking back a few cold beers in the sunshine. 2002 was a particularly agreeable summer, I seem to recall, with the hot sunny days outweighing the cooler ones, and we’d been sitting on his lawn with a big plastic box full of ice, a dozen or so glistening bottles bobbing amongst the cubes. We were warm, happy, and well refreshed. We were also talking a whole lot of nonsense.

By a circuitous route, the conversation turned to a sound effect we’d heard in a film recently. I forget what it was now, but it had left a sufficiently strong impression on us at the time that we started discussing other interesting sound effects. As a kid I’d been a huge fan of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s adaptation of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and was interested in their innovative methods of noise-making. Chris was an accomplished guitarist, and had much to bring to the discussion on the subject of effects pedals, detuning and distortion, and we threw a few ideas back and forth about the brilliantly weird sounds that Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, Vex Red, The Cooper Temple Clause and Ikara Colt were kicking out at that time. The more enthused we became by our drunken discussion, the more eager we were to find a sound: the sound, the perfect sound, the best sound in the world.
We didn’t have a plan or method laid out for experimenting, we just roamed around his house, garden and garage trying to find interesting noises. Doors and windows were opened and closed, books dropped, buttons pressed, slippers banged together, foodstuffs squelched, bric-a-brac microwaved, plastics snapped, wood scraped – anything that could make a noise was toyed with. Some noises were interesting, others less so, but after a few more beers it started to get more and more out of control. I won’t bore you with the details of the madcap setups we devised (suffice it to say that some of it took a bit of explaining when his parents came home), but the crux of the matter is this: the greatest sound in the world is that which is made by bouncing a ping-pong ball off the rim of a whisky tumbler that’s floating in a half-filled paddling pool. Try this for yourself, you’ll see.

This is a sound that I still remember clearly, despite having not attempted to replicate it in the last thirteen years. I want to keep it pure in my mind, lest further experiments prove it to be a disappointment. It’s a constant, an immutable truth – whatever instability there may be in my life or in the world in general, that’s one thing I’ve got locked down for keeps. I know what the best noise is. It’s an achievement, of sorts.
It’s also a noise that I have to play over and over in my head when I’m on public transport these days. Why? Well, think of it as a sort of aural comfort blanket. For while Chris and I were working hard to discover the best sound in the world, the intense humming of evil over at Samsung had put their product developers onto the task of achieving precisely the opposite. Their mission was to find the worst sound in the world. The most annoying, the most infuriating, the sound most likely to make you want to tear off your own ears and cast them into the sea to save you from hearing the wretched thing again.
It took them rather longer to perfect their sound, but dammit, they got there. And here it is:



That’s right. Samsung’s whistle tone. Worse than the sound of exploding planes, distressed and crying children, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s voice, or that particularly poignant click of the front door closing behind you just as you realise your keys are inside. It’s almost worthy of congratulation – Samsung have managed to take all of the world’s evil, all of mankind’s fear, mistrust, desolation and joylessness, and distil it into one brief whistling sound. Well done, team. You’ve opened Pandora’s Box. You’re a Chernobyl meltdown, a Centralia mine fire, an extramarital affair. What you’ve done cannot be undone, and now we all have to live with the fucking thing.

It’s a constant battle, but each time I’ve heard this sound on the train or the bus (which is a lot of times – a few dozen on every journey) I’ve thus far managed to restrain myself from wrenching the offending phone from its owner’s hand and ramming it so far up their backside that the recharging port gets entangled with their nose hair, but it’s only a matter of time before enough becomes enough. That perfect sound that we found in 2002 can only fight the force of this modern whistling nightmare for so long. And then I’ll be wearing an unwitting commuter on my arm like a cross between a vet’s glove and a sophisticated marionette.







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