I still remember very well the first sound I ever heard.
A high pitched cry leaving me breathless, accompanied by the muffled double beat of a heart pounding rapidly and frantic like several hearts beating in synchronized unison.
Later I learned that it were in fact several heartbeats that I had heard. Three, to be exact: that of a young baby girl called Jasmin that spent her first days in the crib before her poverty stricken parents sold the crib to my parents; that of a sibling that had died as an infant from a peculiar internal bleeding in its inner ear upon reaching the age 73 days, and of, course my own. Our three hearts beat in unison.
I soon learned that mine was a peculiar case. To my ear, unable to distinguish past from present, sounds did not spread out and diffuse into space, but stayed where they emanated, perpetuating, accumulating. My world was riddled with the sonic history of every single place inhabited. An unarchived library of sounds, dating back to times lost and illustrating them like a drawing made of a million superimposed lines. Like the tympan stretched taut in a prenting press to guarantee the correct impression of the image onto the eternal memory of paper, so my ear’s tympanum relentlessly documented the eternity preceding into my memory.
When as a young man I began to understand my peculiar condition and its consequences, I tried to make the best of hearing history never quite becoming past nor giving way to the present. I found myself amused by such trivial coincidences as the fact that Culverton for example, one of my dear friends, not only had the exact same voice and intonation as the obscure 19th century writer Malcolm Peterson, who had lived in our city and frequented its bars, one of which still exists to the day, but also shared his inclination towards cynical critique and pensive, moody writing.
For a while I found myself similarly fascinated by Isabelle, one of the women whose company I enjoyed at the time, who had the exact same cadenced rhythm and slight lisp in her voice as an impoverished Czech immigrant who had moved to our town in 1945 and spent her solitary years collecting porcelain dolls to keep her company. Both she and Isabel shared, separated by years, the habit to go to the park every Sunday afternoon to sit at the bench overlooking the little pond, a resemblance that, despite ours being times spent in happier fashion, I never quite managed to completely ignore, and tainted our company.
Walking the streets was like maneuvering through myriads of conversations and conglomerated residues of sound, and at times I distracted myself by following in absent footsteps in order to follow interesting dialogues. For a while I entertained the childish hope that if I were to find the right places, I might catch a glimpse of some philosopher’s conversation, hear about daily life in other times, anything to help me better understand our world, or other such vain dreams that urge the young.
But the simple fact is that history is simply too comprehensive to extricate such singular instances, and the sheer multitude of it prevented any pleasure to be had from my extraordinary situation. My life had to be duly adapted to make this perpetrating past tolerable. I took to the habit of making mental maps of cities, based on the density of sounds. I started avoiding train stations, where the accumulation of the toneless rumble of trains and the high pitched squeaks of steam escaping fired up engines and strained brakes was like the torture of a million water drops striking down beat by beat on my eardrum , but distilled and concentrated into one infinite moment.
Concert halls were the worst. It was nearly impossible to concentrate on one piece of music sounding in between the others. I absolutely love music, but to hear the ghastly disharmonies of a thousand beautiful symphonies resonating all at once contorts the pleasure of melody into a disfigured and shapeless monstrosity that filled up these halls of splendor with unbearable blackness. Eternity turns even beauty into torture.
I stayed away from those places where others go to seek their pleasure and rather tried to seek new places that had recently know silence and brought with me a portable gramophone, still a very unusual thing to possess in those days. Those may have been the happiest moments I can remember. A forest in the afternoon, the leaves of ages rustling in winds long gone, dusk setting in and the onset of rain drowning out background noises. And so I constantly tried to find another deserted place, an explorer of untrodded voids, virgin patches of silence allowing me to enjoy the moment of a single sound, the present uncovered by the grey blanket of pasts patched together, yet knowing that it was me destroying yet another refuge never to find solace in again.
The places that are still pervaded with silence have all gone now. Following conversations became increasingly difficult as I tried to shout out all the hundreds of conversations in different voices and timbres, evading the clutter of sounds that had once taken place at the particular place I found myself in. Sometimes I reacted with remarks out of context, only later realizing I had been one-sidedly participating in the wrong conversation. So much of what we talk about has stayed the same throughout the ages.
Where others preferred to meet in their habitual bar or restaurant, sitting on the same chairs at the window and looking at the same view, I tried to avoid such customs as much as possible, constantly redirecting my encounters with friends to new places only to prevent the confusion of hearing the same voices superimposed on themselves, blending into one all the conversations we had before. Singular people becoming a crowd, unknowingly scanting at me their invisible memories. Such luxury the simple present!
You will by now without a doubt have become aware of the inhuman nature of my relentless struggle and how it wore me down - how a deep and unrelenting fatigue took hold of me as the memories of ages gnawed like worms at my present, trespassing into my memories, burying my present under the pasts of others, the countless arguments and al the misunderstandings weighing down on me. Overseeing history, it seems that the moments of greatest happiness are enjoyed in silence.
To leave behind me this palimpsest of layer upon layer of piled up voices and tempers and the roar of a million machines; to engulf myself in the unity of silence, how long has that not been my dream?! How many times did I not think about ending it all? How many hours did I not spend thinking of ways to relieve me of the past, of all those pasts that came with my present?!
It will not come as a surprise to the reader then, that I reached a point where in pure desperation and anguish I simply got up one morning, took the longest needle I could find, and set it to my ear.
Without hesitating I gave it a violent jolt. As the tip of the needle perforated my velvety tympan that could not distinguish between one and infinity, I felt it go through the subsequent layers of tissue piercing violently the laminated years of sedimented sound merged into one, penetrating eternity layer by layer like descending the precipice of stratified history of which I was the sonorous archaeologist, my ear a magnifying glass confounding the ages, deeper and deeper. Then, with a final dull pop and the slow hiss of air escaping, the immense pressure released and an unfathomable void remained.
I still remember very well that first moment of silence.
A godless yet exalting white void.
Porous whiteness, a delicate web woven between the hollows of sound.
After all those years, I had finally found my quiet. A new space to move through; left over, inversed, like a photonegative of endless auditory exposures superimposed. It was as if the air had grown lighter and I could breathe without taking in the thick liquid distilled of thousands of years of collected conversation and condensed emotions.
For someone who has lived in accumulated eternity, giving up hearing the present moment is only an infinitesimally small price to pay for the deliverance of the millions of pasts no longer imposing themselves, intruding relentlessly. ‘I will no longer hear my own voice being drowned out in the din of ages. I will never hear myself scream for silence again. I will now live and die in the silence I was born out of. ‘ - or so I thought, after having just pierced my tortured and tired tympanum, blood-stained cloth muffling the echoing silence that now surrounded me.
But I have learned on thing, dear reader, which I share with you here, lest someone in the same situation should be inclined to repeat my escape. I must tell you that in this redemptive deafness, another voice has gathered around to smother me. For even silence is not solitary or one-fold, I know now…
The world is utterly and completely pervaded - up to every last nook and cranny and filling every corner and crevice, oozing from its porous recesses - with the millions of manifold silences of all the stories concealed, loves never confessed and truths withheld…
I will now have to spend the rest of my days listening to all the stories untold, archiving the absent.....