The physical component of this section is a 64-page, case-bound book with three stories printed in it. The audio is a collection of nine sound clips.
Aleatoricism: a compositional method governed by randomness and games of chance, popularized by electronic music pioneer Pierre Boulez
As we were putting together this issue of editorial oddities, we began to wonder how sound might be used to augment a more straightforward short story—our stock-in-trade. So, for this section, we asked sound artist Jeremiah Moore to produce nine atmospheric, open-ended sounds, each one less than a minute long. Embedded throughout the following three stories are spots for these sounds to enter the text—maybe as a person begins to speak, or as an unsettling feeling is described. The trick, though, is that no specific clip is intended for any particular moment. Each time you press the button, a new, randomized clip will play, shape-shifting to fit the container of the story, as the story bends to receive it. The sounds—those capricious things—are in control.
When you encounter in the text, click play to dispatch one of nine clips at random, or read one of the nine audio descriptions at random. In one case, the symbol will appear—click it to replay the sound you just heard, or reread the most recent description you’ve read.
[Each sound is somewhere between ten seconds and a minute long.]
A bold, respiratory whoosh, unsettling and even predatory, that slowly dies away, followed by a second, slightly less threatening whoosh that also recedes. And then, after thethird, milder and more nuanced whoosh, comes the lightest pitter of drops, overshadowed by some softened, vestigial whooshing that drifts off into the distance.
A complaint in the form of a Beat-era jazzy groan, claustrophobic and demanding, that noodles around before being joined by the subtlest undergirding of bubbling. But the groan dominates, getting whinier and somehow attaching itself to a rapid vibration. Then there’s that bubbling again, and the jazzy noodling groan grows even moreinsistent. Finally, it’s not that the complaint is resolved, but it just seems to give in.
A crisp and crunching jangle immediately followed by a clean-cut, all-is-well, a cappella-type sustained note. Suddenly the voices give way to near-silence, which carries through to the end.
An ominous, humming, complicated kind of haunted house room-tone that softens before gathering an underlay of mild moaning and whooshing. Then comes the herky-jerky groan of an ohm-chant thatseems as if it were being heard from inside a tunnel deep inside or below the haunted house.
A nearly verbal, nearly musical cooing, as if a creature hopes to get attention. At the same time, a twittering can be heard. A pause, and then this imagined attention-getting creature grows even more squawkish. But the twittering seems to have the last word, emitting a provocative call like a question.
A sudden startle, balky-engine style, followed by snappy clicks and a mechanical readjustment. Then there is a sense of liquid in the mix, though perhaps it’s just a smoothing out of all theclicks, and the smoothing goes still.
The uneasy-making, shifting industrial hum of some space where, deep in the distance, busy people seem to be discussing something urgent in too-fast, not-of-this-world voices. The hum gets fuller, brighter, taking on the anticipatory quality you might find just before the end of an intermission at a play. Most of the voices die down, but the hum remains, monolithic now, before dying out.
Tinkling, jangling chimes, very pleasing, are soon accompanied by a light shuffling, as if objects are being sorted. Then comes a rustling, nearly industrial in nature, while the chimes continue to gently bump against one another. A bright bit of birdsong bursts through, alongside the chimes and the rustling. Then a huff of air, and it’s all over.
Whooshing, done in dragon-breath, wind-tunnel style, and a single plinked note that becomes part of a chord, held in a pleasurable, finally deeply hopeful way. Beneath it lies a satisfying bass and some snapping embers, which all fades away into quiet.
Jeremiah Moore is a sound artist and designer making sound for films and media projects who loves transdisciplinary collaborations. He is a co-founder of the Tank Center for Sonic Arts, a postindustrial acoustic phenomenon in northwestern Colorado; and Bay Area Sound Ecology, which creates social experiences around listening. He is based in San Francisco and tends to be surrounded by either microphones or speakers for many hours each day.
Meg Wolitzer is a novelist whose many books include The Female Persuasion, The Interestings, and The Wife, which was made into the film starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. Wolitzer is a member of the MFA faculty at Stony Brook Southampton, and lives in New York City.