A 12 year old boy is sitting on a concrete step. He is crying, a pure and non-committal tone that rises and falls in quiet sporadic waves. He scrunches the plastic-coated fabric of his anorak in tight fists.

The cries become a little louder. At first, just one or two at a time break into a strained gargle before settling back down. Before long, a sudden raw vowel and a weak counterpoint begin alternating, one then the other, one then the other.

They seem too regular now. Each time they repeat, the pitch and intonation are identical and the timing takes on the jarring and lopsided rhythm of a loop at a slow walking pace. You move closer but he does not look up.

The machinic repetition comes abruptly to an end as he takes an in-breath. Then, turning to face the sky, he releases a loud wail. As soon as his mouth is fully open the note freezes into a perfect continuous tone, rasping but unfaltering, and continuing far beyond his lung capacity. It sounds like someone resting on a car horn. It sounds like a note on a reed organ.

The rough edges of the tone dissolve away, leaving only a clean and unending ringing sound, pushing out from his open and upturned mouth and filling the white sky.

You turn and walk away, taking the sound with you.

The moon is resonating with a low warm throb. The tone is being generated by a process deep inside its orb - perhaps a vast, rushing white noise in origin, but with the high frequencies and the detail attenuated by its dust-muffled surface.

For a while it is constant, and then a branch begins blowing back and forth between you and the moon, shaping the tone into the pulsing rhythm of the night wind.

Eight bottles fall unprompted from a shelf in a damp shed, landing on moss-patched concrete and shattering. The last, when it falls, is full of a foul liquid. A single fragment of glass is thrown upward and ricochets off the wheelbarrow which leans against a wall.

A sound rests in your ear, inoffensive but distracting. You close your eyes and ask it, with your inner voice, to leave.

After a few seconds, you feel it turn and walk along your ear canal - spider-like but on soft tiny padded paws. It crawls out into the open and down the side of your neck, then across your shoulder before disappearing.

It is deep daytime in an empty side alley in Cagliari, with high vertical walls that amplify and reverberate every scuff of your feet. Distant rumbles and dissonant car horns enter the space from above. A dog approaches you, and barks in the precise rhythm of “shave and a haircut, six bits”.


Walking down a steep residential pavement you hear a brushing sound move alongside you at your feet. A lost calling card from Royal Mail is blown by a gutter-level turbulence.

At the depot, you silently hand it over the counter. The postman disappears behind rows of steel shelves which ring sympathetically ever so slightly when he speaks: “Got it!”.

He hands you a brown cube which gives your fingers a tingling feeling. Outside in the rain, you realise a low nasal hum is coming from inside. You imagine what it might sound like when you take it home and press your ear against the paper wrapping.

You stand in front of the window in the early evening in winter. Reaching out to the left and right, you hold in your hands the two curtains and slowly draw them together in front of the cold glass. As the curtains close completely, all the sounds that were happening on the other side of the window - the murmur of traffic, the obscured voices, the various motions and activities of the air - come into sharp focus, attaining a crisp clarity and detail as if neither curtains nor glass were there. As if whatever you were hearing had suddenly moved inside the room and continued to take place, invisible but in miniature.

As the nurse takes your blood, you try and distract yourself by thinking of some kind words your girlfriend said not too long ago. But as the syringe fills you find her voice is dissolving in your memory, and her face appears in your imagination, mouthing in silence.

Sounds heard in quick succession through a bare magnolia wall: An adult man pretending to be a dinosaur; a screaming child; a series of profuse apologies and consolations.

At the moment I am not hearing anything that I care to write down.


I notice you from a distance, either by a river or among trees, sitting quite still and silently listening.

You are hoping that in your silence, the sound will come and soak into you and saturate you, but instead you find that it only washes over your surface as if you were a hard stone.

Outside the bus station, an old lady is trying to identify animals to you by the sound they make. You don’t know the names of any animals in her language, nor can you map the sounds she is making onto any animals you can think of.

Copyright 2020, Hector MacInnes. All Rights Reserved.