Yesterday I was driving to Panera for Second Lunch and was listening to NPR.
(Second Lunch is the lunch that follows First Lunch but comes before First Dinner. Usually it occurs around 2 - 3 pm and though you might be thinking - well Maria, sheesh you must just get very hungry around 2 - 3 pm! - you are actually very wrong. The feeling is less like hunger and more like this: Maria, the very beginnings of hunger feelings are happening to you. They are very faint and hardly noticeable but they are there, and they have an important message: if you do not eat in the next 25 minutes, you will vomit. Powerfully and with little warning. This is what occurs right before Second Lunch. Also Second Breakfast, Second Dinner, and Popsicle Before Bed.)
Anyway on NPR they were interviewing an Australian composer who is a professor at Arizona State. His accent was ridiculous and really kind of infuriating but I'm a woman of the world so I just pretended he was British and got over it. They were interviewing him about this project he's been doing around national parks in the American Southwest where he records sounds. Like he just, sits outside with some presumably astronomically expensive recorder and records the "sounds of the desert." Like sand blowing and, I don't know. Lizards scurrying along my back fence.
The interviewer asked Professor Australia two questions, the answers to which distressed me very much. The first question was: what's your favorite thing that you've heard? When he asked that question I kind of got a little excited. I was hoping to learn something cool. Like that snakes have a secret language (parseltonge) or that cacti make groaning noises if you're quiet enough. But he said - "once I heard a woodpecker drumming." And now I am so, so mad at him and will probably never visit Australia. Was he serious? I distinctly remember trying to study in college with my apartment window open and having to shut it because of all the damn woodpeckers. I didn't even have any fancy recording equipment and I heard them so much I almost started a campus activist club ("Students Against Woodpeckers; no double entendre, we promise".) I can't believe that was his answer; I also can't believe he is a professor and lastly I can't believe that stupid Australian accent is a real thing.
The second question whose answer was very distressing was: What will these recordings be used for, other than simply having great recordings of nature? (I took issue with "great" but again being a woman of the world - have i mentioned this previously? - I let it slide.) Anyway the Great Australian Scientist said - oh, we want to raise awareness about the sounds in nature. I feel so many feelings about this answer. First of all if the awareness he wants to raise is "sounds happen in nature" he will likely not find a large audience compelled by such news, and additionally if the awareness includes an example of woodpeckers woodpecking, people can just saunter on up to University Courtyard apartments in Athens, Ohio and try to do some quiet reading. They'll come, I promise you, and you don't even have to petition the taxpayers for a million dollar grant.
But seriously - someone is paying for this guy to do this thing. To sit there and record "sounds" and then think about the sounds and go on NPR to talk about them. Do you think he got a governmental grant? I bet he totally got a governmental grant. "Raising awareness" should never, ever be the end game of a project. Because it means nothing. But it should especially never be the end game of a project that's called "recording sounds to that people can hear them."
Lastly I feel like I have to confess something in the interest of full disclosure: if these had been whale sounds that he was recording, I would have been on board. Not just "on board" as in "ok with the idea" but literally on board whatever boat he used to go out and find the singing whales because these are WHALE SOUNDS and I'm a red-blooded American woman; not some kind of uninterested monster.
My Second Lunch was a grilled cheese and it was definitely worth all the angst. Thanks for joining me on this journey.