This is going to be a challenging topic for me to write about. I’m going to try to write about this in a way that hearing people can hopefully understand what I’m trying to say. What’s so difficult about that, you ask? Well, that means I have to think like a hearing person does and I have to take into account what I think their experiences are with sounds How can I do that 100% successfully when I can’t hear? I can’t, but I will try my best. 🙂
I cannot describe sounds with words like hearing people can. I simply can’t. I don’t fully understand it when someone says something sounds beautiful, relaxing, etc. I understand that the sound itself is associated with those emotions. However, I don’t understand what makes a sound sound beautiful. I was listening to music earlier and I realized that I have never used the word “beautiful’ to describe a sound. Then I started thinking a bit more about what I use to describe sounds. I think music is a good example to show how limited my descriptive words are. I oftentimes use youtube to listen to music. Why? Because I can watch the music video too and I can read other people’s comments on that particular song. How do I usually describe music when someone asks me? This is usually the list that I choose from.
“I like it.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I like that beat.”
“That’s too boring.”
Yeah, that’s it. Notice it all has to do with if I like it or not. Nothing has to do with how the sound sounds itself.
If someone asks me how to describe a certain sound. I automatically want to start gesturing or use an object to describe it (which I have learned hearing people don’t understand when I start gesturing to illustrate a sound. I usually have a 50/50 chance of a deaf person understanding what I mean). If I’m asked to describe a sound without gestures or visual images…I will usually describe it by the pattern of the sound itself (not the volume, not the pitch, etc.).
I actually tried a mini project once. I wanted to figure out a way that I could describe sounds without words that hearing people could understand also. As a deaf person, I’m naturally more tuned into tangible and visual stuff. Sounds are such an abstract thing to me. Anyways, I was hanging out somewhere once and I had some time to kill before going to a meeting. I decided to just focus on a piece of paper and try to kind of draw abstract shapes to represent what I was hearing at that time. While the completed project made perfect sense to me….I decided to throw that piece of paper away. I didn’t think it would make sense to hearing people and wasn’t sure if it would even make sense to other deaf people. I’m sure there are artists out there who have explored this in more depth and detail than I have…I just need to find them! 😉
I’ve also wondered how much of how we describe sound has been “forced” on us and how much of it is nature. I was thinking about a paper I read a few years ago that made me wonder about this. I read a paper that explained how humans are NOT naturally clean and cleanliness is a learned behavior. I wonder if this is similar with certain sounds. If we’re “taught” that certain sounds should be pleasant and others shouldn’t be or if it’s a natural thing.
The beach/ocean is an example.
I was 14 years old the first time I ever saw the ocean and I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids during that period of time. I didn’t grow up hearing the ocean. I was always under the impression that the sound of ocean waves hitting the shore was such a relaxing and pleasant sound. I mean, I would see it on those relaxation CDs on TV commercials or even alarm clocks (those kind with nature sounds to block out other noises so that it makes it easier to fall asleep). It would always come up when people would talk about relaxing places.
It was loud, distracting, and annoying. While it was cool that I could hear something I never thought I would be able to, I was surprised that this was what so many people claimed to be a relaxing sort of sound. I kept trying and trying to figure out what made this a supposedly relaxing sound? My opinion is that it’s either a sound that drowns out other noises OR it’s a sound that people associate with the beauty of the ocean/beach fun. It’s the reverse for me. It’s a sound that drowns out the beauty that I see with my eyes (I get so distracted that I miss out on other things) AND I do not associate sounds with things.
Eventually I got used to it and started enjoying the fact that the sound changed with the intensity of the waves.
A more recent situation was in L.A. last fall when I went there for a conference. I think that was the first time that I truly enjoyed the sound of the ocean waves. I finally realized it was probably more about the rhythm of the sound itself than anything else (or maybe not?). I started to better understand how people could get lost in the rhythm of the waves hitting the shore.
Some sounds that make me smile are sounds that annoy hearing people and vice versa. Is that because I hear them differently, my brain processes the sounds differently, or is it because it’s a learned behavior that I never learned?