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  • Ultrasonic
  • Steven Church (bio)


Noise can enable transcendence. It can help forget the physical. This noise—the sharp pop and twang of a blue rubber ball as it rockets off simulated catgut, the resonant crack of it against the masonite wall; the different sort of pop and pong of it smacking off the back glass; the high-pitched slap of a well-hit shot, or a volley of them going off like firecrackers in a coat closet. Listen to a game of racquetball, eyes closed, and hear the kill shots, hit low to the floor, and the long, looping shots that strike high and pinball around the upper walls. Hear the squeak, squeak of shoes on the hardwood, the slam of soles, the grunts and barks, the crashes against the wall as players scramble around in the hard cage. Though I don't play often, I've been craving the game more lately, now that the baby may be in danger. I need the loud sensory rush of it. The noise. Especially the noise. The violent smash and slam of a simple blue orb. And the way it makes you forget the tangible and the physical, the mark of a genetic screen. It's addictive. This leaving. When it's good, the boxed-in court takes all these sounds and echoes them back, sends them chasing the ball around and around like thunder chasing lightning, and you hear them again and again. [End Page 97]


The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association does not specifically record the noise of a racquetball court, but based on the chart of everyday noise levels they have recorded, the noise inside an enclosed court like the one I play on probably falls in the "painful" range of 120 to 150 decibels, similar to the noise from firearms, air raid sirens, jackhammers, or a jet plane takeoff. It's possible that it's only in the "extremely loud" range along with rock music, model airplanes, bass drum rolls, chainsaws, and pneumatic drills. Either way, it seems clear that a single game of racquetball played without ear protection can irrevocably damage your hearing. ASLH mentions that excessive noise can also increase your blood pressure, upset your stomach, and cause insomnia. But another one of the side effects of damaging noise—say from an especially loud, bass-bumping car stereo, or from a particularly heated racquetball game—is a kind of giddiness or euphoria. As they say, it can also "intensify the effects of drugs, alcohol, and aging." Noise gets you high; and like just about anything that gets you high, it can also harm your unborn baby. A baby's ears develop before her eyes. She knows your sound before she knows you through any other sense. She knows your noise before your silence. [End Page 98]


Definition alone says: discordant, unwanted, unwelcome, lacking in agreeable musical quality, harsh, undesired, interfering, evil or slanderous report, and by way of example a hissing sound in a telephone receiver, static in a radio receiver, snow in a television receiver, forms of ____, the din or loud persistent incoherent sound that is a feature of most communities. But what if the receiver appreciates the transcendent possibilities of snow? What if the family seems to channel incoherence? [End Page 99]


In El Parque Gran Retiro in Madrid, Spain, the hot summer Sundays are given over to a kind of Carnival atmosphere. Normally a busy but quiet place to visit, the park transforms on Sundays into a sea of people, and many of them are engaged in a sort of spiritual worship, a kind of transcendence through noise.

Families with children spread picnic blankets out, and groups of men pass soccer balls around. Young people sit in small groups, laughing, playing music, drinking, and smoking. Sunbathers show their skin, and paddleboats fill the lake. Children feed bread to the drumfish and carp. Vendors circulate with ice cream, candy, toys, while others set up shop to hawk T-shirts or tarot-card readings. Every Sunday night, a graffiti-covered amphitheater fills with children who have come for the regularly scheduled puppet shows.

El Parque Gran Retiro sounds like something...


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pp. 97-111
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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