Psycho Acoustics

26 July 2008

Sound of a helicopter in the darkness outside. Looping close and then away, scouring the streets I guess.

Once it’s gone I say tuned somehow and the more I listen the more I start to imagine that sound might be fundamentally different in the dark – clearer, crisper, more vivid. Is this just a piece of projection – something connected to the way sound magnifies in the imaginative space created by darkness? Or does night tend to bring atmospheric or other changes that objectively alter the transmission of sound?


Memory of hospital visit. Lain on the gray raised vinyl-covered semi-articulated couch/bed thing that is temporarily ‘covered’ with a strip of what could be extra-wide kitchen roll. I’m wearing T-Shirt, underpants and ‘gown’ (starched backless rag that has been washed thin, a million times). My trousers are discarded in the changing room. The door out to the corridor is locked she says, so its ok to leave things in there, so I do, the trousers bunched in balance on a three legged stool. On the couch/bed I am lain on my back at first, then on my side. Latterly I’m curled towards the ultrasound suite and she’s rubbing the wand-thing along my legs, its progress (and conductivity) increased by the freezing cold gel she has slopped all over the skin. She’s looking for clots, pushing back and forth up and down the leg with the wand, sometimes smoothing with her hand, tracing the path of the veins, groin to ankle. The smoothing thing she does is about upping the pressure in the vein so she can see the flow better. For a few moments she has the sound of the ultrasound thing turned up… I can hear my heartbeat, hear the flow of the blood in the veins, hear the rushes as she moves the wand back and forth. Star Trek acoustics. Maybe she doesn’t need the sound, or maybe she only needs it for a while as she gets set up. Or maybe she thinks that sound is freaking me out. But in any case she turns it down after a while. We pass the next few minutes in silence, she’s working up and down my legs, her face intent on the screen, lit by it more or less, since the lights in the room are now dimmed. I watch her for a while… but then I realize that I’m trying to read her face, looking for reactions. The pauses she makes, or the adjustments she makes to the calibrations of the ultrasound; are they meaningful? Does she look worried? Or is she puzzled by what she is finding? Does her silence now seem different than the silence two minutes before? I realise this is a fools game and turn away – I’ll know soon enough. At that point, turned away, I am staring at the back/side panels of the Ultrasound unit, and looking faintly upwards to the underside of the monitor she is so intent on. What I’m seeing – face about 40-50 cm from it,  is the plastic moulding of the equipment, ventilation/cooling structures, cables, ports, a small plaque with technical info. I’m imagining that a lot of thought went into the design of the other side of all this, but that no one considered for too long that people in my position would have this strange perspective. It’s a vaguely Ballard moment, tempting as it is to fall into trance and trace the contours of the equipment, or to obsessively map the route of the ducting with the wires for the wand. It’s over soon though and I’m out of there as fast as I can dress and walk. Showering later the skin on my legs is still tight with the dried gel.


A financial consultation. They ask how many kids I have, how old, their dates of birth and with a little bit of thought about the years I reply. The guy says “Some people are *really* unsure…. I had a bloke in here some weeks back who had to find out the birthdays of his kids by checking his tattoos. He just opened up his shirt and was reading off the dates…”