Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Reveries of libraries, the fourteenth : SOUND LEVELS

 Philip Harvey
This week of the Grand Prix in Albert Park the Library dedicated to silence and solitude readies itself for the Friday flyover of lunchtime jets that temporarily remind Melbourne of what life must be like in a war zone, all the time. No one is consulted about the need for or appropriateness of supersonic flyovers, another reason for briefly sensing what it might be like in a war zone: no one asked me if I wanted this.

The A-Frame on the Library porch is posted with a sign: Calm and Quiet Within. This has become tradition at the Library, inviting those locals who have not joined the annual Grand Prix Exodus to enter a subdued human space, there to escape the whine of wheelies.

One Library user has got through the barriers that divide the Middle Park streets of this part of south Melbourne from everywhere else. She is a student of silence. Her pages fill with the benefits of silence. She lives with the noise of existence, the tone of freeways, the incessant demands of loud screens, the din of day. Neighbours have their moments too. Her supervisor can send the message.

As well, she imagines her way into the sounds of the past that speak unfairly, the oppression of unjust voices and erstwhile machines. Her need for silence brings her into the Library, a private place where her words may start, where they may make signs of the unspoken real.

Stillness permits her to take up the theme of her thesis, how all of existence moves between sound and silence, between the fluent frenzy of communication and the deep certainties of silence. She has a whole shelf of Silence to draw on, down there in Aisle 7, but her own experience is the main proof. The literature is guardian and backup, fountain and desert. Only ever so faintly, if she strains to hear, the shirr of funny little cars is heard beyond the residential area, like mosquitoes on a lagoon.

The Library staff live with the causal interruptions to silence that define the workplace: chit-chat of borrowers, beep of barcode reader, vroom of photocopier. The phone has been going all day, blah-blah-blahdey-blah. There is the clink of teaspoons, the click of mouses.

But she listens to the turn of the page, the brush of keyboard strokes, notices quiet breathing in and out. Sometimes wind rattles the loose sashes of the high windows. To possess or not possess the sounds forced through silence, this is the subject of her present chapter. The drive to suffuse the world with high octane car engine exhaust is contrasted with the consciousness in stillness of breath alone, enlivening us all and the atmosphere.

An hour may pass, two. Her writing in flowing script, little crosses out, hears the voices inside, the past with its yells and slamming of doors, the mesmerising clamour of cities, the hubbub of nature’s patterned sounds, coming to her like a psalm.

And her reading, minute by minute, is the noise of time (‘EndNote: reference Mandelstam’), the breathless fury of the dead, clashing of the village market outside her mystic’s chosen monastic window. She will acknowledge in her thesis how every book in the Library presents the sounds of the unstifled past, intent on being heard, one over the other, louder than thunder, as the poets put it in their unsystematic way.

Even the making of her book, and all books in the Library, remembers the arguments of compositors, the rapid clatter of printworks, the desperate planning of conveyors to get this stuff on the streets by yesterday, at the latest.

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