Discovering New Sounds

They say when you get the wax cleaned out of your ears, it can be like wiping a layer of grime off a windshield.

When I left the US nearly twenty years ago, I didn’t realize that changing place, language and culture would have an ear-cleaning effect, and that I would discover new sounds.

Here is a partial playlist:.

1. My own voice. Separated from anyone else that I could record, I’ve gotten to know my own speaking voice. It’s pretty good, heartfelt and resonant.

2. Lovely sounds that lie low in the language of France. My manipulation of French is a source of comedy and drama for other listeners. Imagine what I could do with Chinese.

3. About a hundred British accents that live in my radio and in the teacher’s room at school.
Some British accents sound like they contain speech impediments. Laughing at Barbara Walters is not fair – wasn’t she born in England? Some R’s in the middle of words are in fact W’s. However, some final R’s sound like they explode into nothingness. Tony Blah. Is that really necessary? And there’s an accent from some remote spot in Ireland that sounds exactly like Michigan.

4. French speakers sucking in a tiny packet of air to say yes, Brits going mmmmmm and Americans simply smiling – all the time. And why not? We might as well.

5. Young men make the same noise when they laugh the world over. Heh heh heh. Heh HEH heh.

6. Plays, plays, plays on the radio. I know now why the cause of contemporary US radio drama is so Quixotic. We haven’t had 60 years of working out, 3-5 times a week, all over the dial. It isn’t a real job for scores of actors, writers and directors. Daily practice invites virtuosity.

7. Lying in bed at the end of the day, I eavesdrop on radio from America: (TAL, TMI, RL), knowing how much work these programs are, even though they sound effortless. The American style, which now to me sounds so amazing: built on decades of roaming with street recorders, no Broadcasting House to shelter us, virtuosity on the horizon. I drift off to sleep, exhausted for them, wishing I could send them some money.

8. The Dutch language, 20 minutes away by car, sounds like sugar syrup bubbling up and turning into rock candy.

9. Recordings from the streets of New York, from the past, make me cry with longing. What a gorgeous circus.

10. Church bells in the air, night and day.

11. Breathing that sounds like wind that sounds like air conditioning that sounds like whistling that sounds like the North Sea that sounds like birds that sounds like a harmonica that sounds like people saying yes.

12. Old wood (my doors and stairs) making melodies.

13. Three cats with different voices.

14. Me singing and playing the guitar, for the first time at nearly 60. My ears taught me. Who knew?

Marjorie Van Halteren

Marjorie Van Halteren

Marjorie Van Halteren, a founding member of AIR, moved to France in 1992. She now teaches in an engineering school and an international business school, makes sound art, and performs.


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  • Helen ENgelhardt



    Hey Margie-

    This is beautiful and thoughtful and poetic and precise!

    sweet surprise,


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