What’s the Most Beautiful Sound You’ve Ever Heard?

GIF of a spherical compression of sound waves (by Thierry Dugnolle, via Wikimedia)
GIF of a spherical compression of sound waves by Thierry Dugnolle (via Wikimedia)

What’s the most beautiful sound you can think of? Something that symbolizes life, like a newborn heart beat, or something more abstract and barely remembered, like the soft fall of snow on the roof of your childhood home? Sounds can be some of the trickier fragments of memories, at times immediately recognized (the hook of a song half-remembered), at others lost when our recollection of the past becomes more of a silent movie.

The Most Beautiful Sound in the World competition was recently launched to pit these different sonic captures against each other. It’s spearheaded by BeautifulNow, a new site for discovering and sharing “beautiful things” (no blobfish allowed); the Sound Agency, which consults on the sound landscapes of commercial spaces (a sort of corporate version of what Brian Eno tried to do for airports); and music hosting and sharing service SoundCloud.

Sure, it’s a bit of a PR move for all three, and the emphasis on “beauty” can cut out a lot of the most complex sounds in the world (the head-pounding power of a jet engine, perhaps), but it is an invitation to think about what sounds are really beautiful and often overlooked in the grating grind of noise that permeates almost every part of urban life. You have until December 16 to submit a sound, which must be non-mixed and non-composed (aka no music, sorry rhythmic sounds), and the winner of the “Most Beautiful Sound” will be announced on January 13 after voting in the three sponsoring communities.

BeautifulNow founder Shira White told Hyperallergic:

Non-musical sound is usually something we take for granted, unless it is so loud or disruptive that it grabs our attention. But there is beauty in so many sounds around us. Sometimes it is a singular sound, like the wind through leaves. Sometimes it is a natural symphony — a composition that comes together on its own, like when birds or other animals chime in, a rushing stream flows past, and footsteps crunch the forest floor. It might be an urban composition or a room full of people going about their lives. When you start to pay attention, you can hear all sorts of beautiful possibilities.

And with that, here are a few suggestions:

The examples on BeautifulNow include some generic birds chirping. Please. Why settle for your common songbirds when you could listen to the melodious Hermit Thrush?

The Hermit Thrush might be able to have a rather great, eerie duet with the Great Stalacpipe Organ, in Luray Caverns, Virginia, where a pleasing noise is derived from tapping giant stalactites.

Or what about the crashing of the waves in the geological wonder of Fingal’s Cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa, Scotland? It was good enough to inspire Mendelssohn to compose a whole overture.

But of course, rare sounds of nature are easy, and there’s just as much beauty to be found in its common collision with the city. What about the soothing sound of cars driving through the rain? (And if you like that, this video goes on for TWO HOURS.)

Not to be outdone, here’s the soothing sound of TV static, sort of the machine-age rain with its dotting drone of recorded voices lost in a white noise storm. Oh yeah, and this one goes on for 10 hours, for those aficionados of the ambient.

Of course, the list can go on; think about all the little noises you appreciate in a day: fingers typing on a keyboard, the sound of the subway rumbling beneath the ground, the promising burbling of a coffee machine, the rustle of a new book’s pages, the shuddering wind just before a storm, the restless murmuring of the city and its own nature all around you. But maybe this competition itself is a bit futile. As John Cage once said in an interview: “The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful, the first question I ask is, ‘why do I think it’s not beautiful?’ And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.”

The Most Beautiful Sound in the World competition is taking submissions through December 16. 

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