Sonic Reflections: Observations of the Changing Soundscapes of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Guzy ( Marinna Guzy )
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"The community you live in strongly shapes the soundscape of your life story. Why? Because human culture and the natural world dictate not only what we hear but also how we listen.

Depending on our background and values, we experience the sounds of our community in different ways. A neighbor’s windchimes may provide a relaxing backdrop to your meditation practice, or it might be a constant irritation intruding on your movie night. You might fail to notice the ’70s folk tune coming from a passing car, while the sound takes your Chilean companion back to the Santiago of his youth.

Sounds may be powerfully evocative, yet temporary in their effect, and because of this ephemeral nature each sound we hear becomes a singular experience, or story, colored by our perceptions and memories of the event. Even so, in a basic sense, many of the sonic stories we hear are universal within the human experience, and knowing that is important to my occupation.

My personal relationship to sound stems from my background in music performance and a profound love of film, two interests I combined into a career, becoming a sound designer for visual media. Years ago, before pulling back the curtain of movie magic, I believed that sound and picture happened simultaneously on location. It may surprise you to learn that in a film, the visual and sonic tracks are created separately. A person like me edits, designs, and mixes in the sounds that make up the tapestry of a movie soundtrack. Sound designers create the illusion of reality: a transparent marriage between audio and visual that brings the universality of sound into the storytelling sphere.

When presented with the image of a river, most humans can quickly conjure to mind the sound it makes. A pet collie in the United States barks the same as one in Brazil, the same as one in France. This type of functional sound design, such as putting a recording of a river to an image of a river, or a recording of a dog bark to the gaping jaws of a hound is easy to do. The nuanced and fun part of my job concerns creating and selecting the most emotive versions of these sounds to help tell a story.

We are all active participants in sonic stories. You don’t need to be a sound designer. We draw inspiration from our surroundings, as is the case with all modes of expression. My small corner of Los Angeles, California, is a residential neighborhood comprised of small to mid-sized apartment buildings and single-family homes. My apartment unit has a modest porch that stands about six feet above the street. Here, I like to sit and listen. One evening around twilight, I was taking a break from work on a film soundtrack when I heard a bird call. It was not an inherently unusual occurrence. However, recently the narrative of my sonic story had shifted, which threw this bird call into sharp relief. These were unusual circumstances, as we were a week deep in the stay-at-home order caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. I was finally hearing what this meant...:" 
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