Memory listening with ‘new’ ears

A new phase of evolution or just coincidence? Either way, it could be the key to unlocking nostalgia.

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Have you heard the word?

People are saying they seem to have better hearing!

Is it possible that COVID-19 has given us new ears to hear? Probably not, but many of us do have more time and less hurry to better take in the world around us and experience those things we have been too busy to notice and truly listen to.

That’s the subject of this delightful podcast from ABC Classic Radio presenter and musician Ed Ayres. It is one of Ed’s entries in what’s called Ed’s Notebook and is available on the ABC Classic website.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Or you can read Ed’s item below.

Ed's Notebook: Sound and memory

I was chatting with my mate Grev the other day, at an appropriate two metres distance, thanks very much (although it is a little difficult for the hard of hearing), and Grev was talking about his afternoon walks and the sounds he was hearing anew.

Do you sometimes get the feeling that this corona time is revealing an underworld? Sometimes bad, but sometimes good? Old memories are floating to the surface, no longer weighted down by the incessant need to move, to talk, to engage.

Grev was hearing things he hadn’t really heard properly for, well, years. And, as he walked around his neighbourhood, the one sound that captured him was of a banging flyscreen door.

This simple sound, which I’m sure you can immediately imagine in your mind, carried Grev back to his childhood and daily passing a pie shop on the way to school. The screen door of the shop slammed and the smell of hot pastry and brown meat and salt flooded through his brain, then and now, as if no years had passed.

It reminded me of a story I heard years ago from a very elderly Chinese woman who had once lived in the hutongs of Beijing.

People lived so close to each other in these communal laneways that you could hear pretty much everything. And, back in the days when food was prepared by a big knife on a big block of wood, the old lady described how you could discern what your neighbours were having for dinner by the sound of the chopping coming from their kitchen.

A heavy, slow thunk — carrots with pork.

An easy fast slicing — cucumbers with sesame oil.

A light and measured chopping — potatoes with chili and garlic.

But now, with the ubiquity of food processors and packaged food and living in flats where we are soundproofed from each other, there were none of those sounds anymore.

It got me thinking about the nostalgia of sounds, and which sounds we hardly hear anymore but if we did, they would bring back a different life –

The thick thud of a railway carriage door

The sweep of a broom

An engine choke

A manual lawn mower

The clink of milk bottles in the early morning

A wind-up watch

Leather-soled shoes on stone

A wine cork being pulled

The acoustic ring of a school bell singing out over everything

What are your sounds of nostalgia?

Share your memories

Do certain sounds evoke certain memories for you?

We would love to hear your tales of sight, sound and good times!

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