Nature versus Noise

posted 16 April 2002

I just had an insight. It's been an awfully long time since I had one, or any kind of creative thought at all for that matter, since I've been out of school and my brain sensed that ceasing to function no longer brings any kind of meaningful retribution. It came when I did something I never expected to do: I turned off a Madonna song on the radio (which is odd enough) to listen to the sound of the rain on the roof (which is much more odd).

Doesn't the phrase along bring to mind the most wonderful of all feelings, the warm, snug feeling of being in a nice warm bed in a nice cool room and the sound of the rain outside? It is distinctly a Caribbean, tropical experience I think, for nowhere else do you get such a vast prevalence of galvanised roofing in housing combined with the large, heavy droplets of warm tropical rain. And the reason the feeling is so good is also very hard to explain: I feel it must have something to do with a desire to be back in the womb, a trait I frequently recognize in myself and one I think we all share deep down.

But the point was, why did I turn down the radio in order to listen to a sound so distinctly trivial? It was -- I check my clock now -- a few minutes before midnight, and I was about to go to bed. The radio was on, and it was playing Beautiful Stranger, which doesn't get nearly enough airplay despite the fact that DJ Richard Graham says "Yeah, baby, yeah" every ten second nowadays. I could listen to the rain any time, Madonna only until it dropped off the heavy-rotation list, but the compulsion to turn it off was too strong to resist, and as the rain starts again now I remember why. It's because that easy, constant, surrounding sound of real rain falling is so natural and above all so REAL.

Not for a long time will the best stereophonics be able to mimic the sound of rain falling, because it is one of very few sounds that actually does happen on all sides of you at once, not just giving you echoes. It's that surrounding that makes rain so psychologically comforting. But also rain is natural: it is not like a song or even an instrumental piece, it is the perfect random white noise, with no thoughts behind it, no direction, no hidden motives, no message. There is nothing to listen FOR in rain, it doesn't care if you listen or not, it is simply there to be listened TO. And even though on the face of it you could say that you could listen to rain anytime and it would always be the same. At any other time, the temperature, cloud height, humidity and wind speed could all be different, and the drops would never be the same size or speed, and they would never hit the same exact spots in the same order they did before: every fall of rain is a once-in-a-lifetime, personal experience -- because the rain sounds different depending where you are. Madonna, on the other hand, though famous for quick changes in character, will always have the same recording to play over and over again.

Which means I'll turn my word processor off now, and get back to my personal performance of cumulo-nimbus in concert.