Urban Drift for Aural Pleasure: Wedding, Berlin 20-04-2021

Urban Drift: Wedding 2021-04-21

With headphones in, I’m not surprised that I become more attuned to the audio environment and move according to what might sound interesting. I consider passerby according to how I think — or rather sense — they might contribute to the recording. At the same time, I try to hum absent-mindedly. I don’t want to think about what I am humming; when a motif from a song or a familiar musical phrase escapes from my vocal chords and I wonder a little about what it is or where it came from, but try not to dwell on it or consciously change.

My sounding is not ‘echo location’ (at least not in any conventional sense), nevertheless I am humming as way of perceiving the environment. I hum at a volume that I think only I can hear it. Indeed, and especially with earbuds in, humming feels like a sound that is only inside my head. It’s much more intimate than, say, whistling. As well has drawing my attention to my sonic surroundings, humming also makes me aware of a certain pressure in my chest and nose and mouth. It’s a muffled expression —like a muted trumpet — rather than an expressive open mouthed articulation and I wonder why I never noticed this before.

Around the 11 minute mark I try to hum with the sound coming from a GeldAutomat which, now that I think about it, seems to be installed quite randomly along an otherwise residential street. I did attempt to harmonise with the sounds expressed from the vents of the machine, that upon close listening seems more granular than regular — ie more like static noise than a drone.

Drifting, I try not to notice where I am going. I try not to make conscious decisions about where I am in relation to where I began and let the audio experience by my guide, although other factors are at play. It is a warm day in early Spring and I favour the sunshine. I come to a street that I recognise as the address of a wholesale ‘oriental’ grocer that a friend had sent me to more than a year ago. I’m surprised to come upon it, but what strikes me more is the acoustic resonance of the laneway. At around 21 minutes in the recording, I pause in silence to appreciate a patch of sunlight between concrete structures that shape this light industrial zone and listen to the bass pumping out of a nearby parked car. I am surprised when the music is drowned out by an encroaching truck, pulling into a nearby parking bay. The sweeping ‘woof’ of the truck engine is physically palpable and I cannot distinguish the sound from the hot air which seems to engulf the truck like a cloud. The screeching highs of hydraulic truck brakes accentuate the effect as a full spectrum audio-body experience. It’s remarkable.

Hum Club

Hum Club KuhlSchrank

Hum Club is concerned with humming as a preverbal musical form of communication and as the background noise of urban life.

Humming can be approached as a low barrier-to-entry mode of (collective) music-making. It can be (non)-performed absent-mindedly, while doing other things, or as a focused resonant practice — think of the yogic ‘Om’.

Hum Club also has an interest in humming as the background noise to urban life; the hum of motors, refrigerators, electricity hubs, and other sounds that we are mostly inattentive to, that we have learned to filter out. We might ask how does a hum differ from a buzz?

Hum Club seeks to explore what happens when we bring these and other notions of humming together. We could make a humming dérive or drift through an urban centre. What kind of psychogeographies might we uncover? It’s not hard to imagine how humming could serve as a means of communication, marking one’s movement within proximity to others. So might humming be a navigation tool, as a means of echolocation? What happens when the humming stops? Does background noise take over or are we left with the ringing in our ears? Where might we find ourselves when humming guides our negotiations of urban space?

Hum Club will also convene online on ‘jamming’ platforms, such as Jam, Jamulus and SonoBus, to explore low level forms of connectivity. During this time of pandemic, what is it to be in the presence of others without a specific purpose or focus; while doing others things? How might we be together differently, digitally?

What is the history of humming? When did people first hum? One proposal is that humming and other kinds of preverbal vocalisations are vestigial forms of communication inherited from our pre-human ancestors. What might be the evolutionary reason for its persistence? Simply put: why hum? There is some discussion about the role of biosonics in wellbeing and healing, so might humming relieve anxiety? Could humming enhance the regeneration of cells and soft tissue?

Hum Club takes its cues from the poet and author Christina Hume who founded ‘Center for the Hum’. In an email interview published on Poetry Foundation (2014) she writes:

In the wake of visual aggression, metamorphosis is biological, and so must be recuperation. Our focus on the body routes us through tactile, kinesthetic, and proprioceptive senses. At the Center, we send high frequency vibrations—in the form of a hum too high to hear—to pressurize the tissues of civilian wounds, but the vibrations, more crucially, locate the wound’s own voice in a kind of echolocation. This echo-pulse lets us take back a sonic subjectivity, an identity informed from surround sound instead of frontal optics.

An excerpt from Hume’s recent book Saturation Project (2021) that concerns ‘hum’ can be found at Full Stop.