Marina Peterson’s Atmospheric Noise takes off from abandoned houses in the LAX Noise Abatement Zone (NAZ) and lands among endangered butterflies, El Segundo blue. From streets to sand dunes, her writing, or my reading of it, builds a narrative as changes in air pressure brew a storm. Twisting, unfurling, gathering, accumulating, momentum building, releasing, dispersing, rippling, building again. Human voices dial in and out of audibility; anthropos lurks as an absent presence. I am pressed again to consider whether “the field” of ethnography is perhaps not a human one—words David Novak (2019) offered in response to the OS Collective’s 2019 installation1, Ordinary Schizophonia: “It’s both exciting and disturbing to imagine that “the field” might not be a human space or that the field might not be a space that brings us back to “culture,” or that it might not be a space that makes people’s voices more audible, but actually might make them harder to understand.” The weather accumulates into climate; this is thick air. It carries me:
The “roar and whine” (Peterson 2021, 29) of aircraft press in on my ears. I am listening to Rupert Cox and Angus Carlye’s Air Pressure.2 For a moment, I cannot hear the voices chatting softly in Japanese “At The Kitchen Table.” Nearby someone chop-chop-chops vegetables. Laughter resumes, then drowns. Water rinses, glasses clink, chatter builds again. When the track ends, the aircraft noise lingers, heavy, in my head-phoned body. Again among the birds “In The Forest Clearing.” Again while munching on “Chives! Onions! Negi!” I am provoked by these moments of living-with and living-through. Growing vegetables in a “big sound sewer” (Schafer 1970, 17; quoted in Peterson 2021, 78), as if shouting WE ARE STILL HERE with the crunch and mmm of each tasty bite. Pleasure persisting. I want to congratulate them on this feat of endurance. But then I wonder whether having to live through things is something to celebrate. Living through things can turn your hair ash-gray and make your bones hurt.
A Gulu tech shop owner tells me his neighbors complain when he plays music too loudly. “You just turn it down,” he shrugs, “out of respect,” and with a tease adds, “then maybe turn it back up when they leave.” A hardware shop owner in another corner of town admits that a nearby distribution center is “too loud,” but he doesn’t complain, “it’s their place of work like this is mine. And now I’ve become used to it. I even enjoy.” Their stories speak of the ways disturbance disperses into sociability, not every time the same. The guys who curate the music at distribution centers match the mood of the hour; picking up in volume and groove as the sun rises. Power goes out pfffff the mood shifts. Not unlike when clouds brew suddenly. Or the winds blow “too much.” The city exerts itself on the body. Registering high decibels in a sound meter, Noise obtains, and so also an “analytic container” (Bond 2017), which has curiously morphed from factory to environment to city life. Remembering that which gets “under the skin” are also matters of the flesh (Spillers 1987; Peterson 2021, 75). What are the ways Noise attempts to put bodies in a hold? (Sharpe 2017). Can words suspend as photos do?
Beneath our Brooklyn apartment, the tracks of the F train lay inoperative; subterranean mobility has been suspended by (or for?) Hurricane Sandy. A disquieting quiet—of soft vibrations, of sensation, of “materiality in motion” (Peterson 2021, 9)—permeated buildingsbodies. The city shaken, catching its breath. Not an undoing so much as an awakening to the synchronous passing through of city to skin. Of the rumble and purr of trains arriving and departing the station of me. And now, the rising tide of concerned whispers traveling, growing louder as residents reckon with materializations of a city that wasn’t “built for such storms” (as I wrote in an email at the time). Flooding in Red Hook. Evacuations downtown. Power outages in Clinton Hill. Tree branches strewn in Prospect Park. A gust of email and text check-ins from friends and colleagues “bringing into being an ‘intensity of relations’” of another frequency (Peterson 2021, 9). In suspension the city continues to stir.
Sex and summer are in the air. It’s June, the Brood X cicadas have emerged, and their three-part chorus is piercing. I’m listening to an audiovisual recording sent to my phone from a friend in the D.C. outskirts. What sort of masculine mating calls are these? Elsewhere it has been called “love,”3 but I’m not so sure love is involved.4 I’m not sure it isn’t either. (Na na na come on.)5 In the 17-year frenzy of air and ground always already “drawn together” (Peterson 2021, 168), our attention oriented skyward again, cicadas screeching, whining, chirping in the trillions, which is to say unfathomably numerable: warm earth persuading the cicadas to emerge, males taking flight first, singing loudly all at once, then females enter with their winged dance. (Na na na come on. (Come on! (Come on!))).
1. An audio mix of Ordinary Schizophonia can be listened to here: https://vimeo.com/37737647.
2. References in quotations are to the titles of tracks on this album (Cox and Carlyle 2012).
3. Smith, “Brood X is Almost Here. Billions of Cicadas are Emerging in Eastern US.”
4. As Hugh Raffles’s (2010) queried: “might not sex itself be reason enough?” (261).
5. Rhianna. 2010. “S&M.” Loud. Stargate and Sandy Vee, producers.
Bond, David. 2018. “Environment: Critical Reflections on the Concept.” Occasional Papers of the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Paper Number 64.
Carlyle, Angus, and Rupert Cox. 2012. Air Pressure: Aircraft Noise and Perceptions of the Environment. Frankfurt, Germany: Gruenrekorder.
Novak, David. 2019. Discussant remarks for “Ordinary Schizophonia: Field Recordings as Multimodal Experiment” presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Vancouver, November 20–24.
Peterson, Marina. 2021. Atmospheric Noise: The Indefinite Urbanism of Los Angeles. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Raffles, Hugh. 2010. Insectopedia. New York: Pantheon.
Rhianna. 2010. “S&M.” Loud. Stargate and Sandy Vee, producers.
Schafer, R. Murray. 1970. The Book of Noise. New Zealand: Price Milburn.
Sharpe, Christina. 2017. “The Weather.” The New Inquiry, January 19, 2017.
Smith, Jen Rose. 2021. “Brood X is Almost Here. Billions of Cicadas are Emerging in Eastern US.” CNN. May 23, 2021.
Spillers, Hortense J. 1987. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17, no. 2: 64-81.