The sounds of our lives: It took a competition to make this writer realise how nature’s symphonies have lost out to city noises

Updated: Wednesday January 29, 2014 MYT 10:22:55 AM

The sounds of our lives

BY JUNE H.L.WONG

It took a competition to make this writer realise how nature’s symphonies have lost out to city noises.

WE have become such a visual world that we often overlook our other senses. So when I heard there was a World’s Most Beautiful Sound competition, I was intrigued. When I found out the winning entry came from Malaysia, I was amazed.

Many must feel the same way because our story last week on the competition was one of the top-read on The Star Online.

The winning entry was sent in by Australian Marc Anderson, who recorded his “Dusk by the Frog Pond” in Kubah National Park, near Kuching, Sarawak.

Despite the title, there were plenty of other creatures – insects and birds – adding their “voices” to the sound bite.

The competition was to “raise people’s awareness of sound and help us all to explore the aural beauty that so often goes unnoticed around us”, said Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency website, which co-­organised the contest with another United Kingdom-based blog, Beautiful Now.

The contest rules were simple: the entry must be a recording of captured sound; composed and mixed sounds were not eligible.

There were hundreds of entries and many were recordings of nature, like waves washing up a beach, singing birds and running river water.

So why did our frog pond win?

In an interview with CBC Radio, Treasure thinks it’s because it is “the most amazing, rich recording of … a symphony of life just expressing itself”.

“And listening to it, you really get the sense of nature at its fullest, and most abundant and most exciting,” he added.

Anderson thinks the appeal lies in the complexity of the sounds.

“I’ve made lots of recordings in many dif­ferent countries, but this one in particular – when I give people the headphones and ask them if they’d like to listen to it, and they put it on – you can see their eyes light up and it’s like an orchestra, almost like a composed piece of music.

“It’s so beautiful, yet it’s just all these little creatures which we attribute to having very small brains, but somehow it’s all harmonised beautifully,” he said in an interview with Beautiful Now founder Shura White.

After listening to the winning sound clip and the other finalists, I agree with Treasure and Anderson.

By right, Anderson’s frog and insect symphony shouldn’t be unusual to us living in the tropics. I’m sure it isn’t to our rural fellow citizens, although to less romantic ears, it’s more like a cacophony than a symphony!

But it has become unfamiliar to those of us who live in the cities where what we usually hear are man-made sounds.

Thanks to our insulated air-conditioned world, we hardly let nature’s voices intrude into our hearing any more.

Right now, as I “write” this, there is the tap-tapping on the keyboard, a sound we all know well. In the background is the gentle whir of the overhead fan.

Because it is a cool afternoon, I have not turned on the air-conditioner but my windows remain closed to outside sounds.

On a normal work day, I wake up to the electronic beep of my Samsung phone and become aware of the quiet hum of the air-­conditioner.

On the way to work, I listen to the radio. With the air-con on and windows up, traffic noises are muted.

In the office, where I spend a large part of my waking hours, there are the usual sounds of a workplace: the hum of the air-con (again), phones ringing, people talking, chairs creaking, muffled footfalls on the well-­trodden carpet.

These are the sounds we live with day in, day out. Yet, they are pretty much white noise that does not fill us with a sense of wonder or amazement the way nature’s sounds do.

It has been a long time since I caught the night-time “brrring” of crickets, the metallic buzz of cicadas or the croaking of frogs in my garden.

I confess, I spend hardly any time outdoors; in the day it’s too hot, in the night it’s the fear of mozzies.

Yet, as Treasure aptly pointed out, “Sound affects us all every day, but most people are unconscious of its power.”

Beyond the soothing sound of running water or the majestic rumbling of a thunderstorm, there is the power of the human voice.

History is full of passionate voices that changed the world, like that of Dr Martin Luther King Jr when he delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.

While not quite so profound, I too have my special memory of a voice, one that has stayed with me for more than two decades.

This is the sound of the azan, the Muslim call to prayer in the early morning. At that time, I lived near a mosque and was nursing my daughter.

She would wake up to suckle at the same time as the azan. The house we lived in wasn’t very well insulated and I could hear the clear melodic call of the muezzin before the break of dawn.

It was a comforting sound. Knowing it was a recitation to Muslims to offer their own prayers, it reminded me to also offer thanks for my own heavenly blessing nestled in my arms, my sweet little baby girl.

My daughter is 23. Yet each time I hear the azan, it brings back the happy memory of waking up to nurse her – when the world was still and it was just me and her, mother and child, bonding together and celebrating the miracle of life in our own small way.

> Here’s Aunty’s parting thought: if little creatures with very small brains can harmonise beautifully, can we hope our politicians can do the same in the new year?

Gong Xi Fa Cai, every­one! Feedback to ­junewong@thestar.com.my

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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