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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

12 July 2012

The man who heard the flowers scream

HEARING WHAT LIES beyond the threshold of everyday awareness has been a staple of horror fiction since at least the time of Edgar Allan Poe. In 1948 the author Roald Dahl made plain its dramatic potential:

There is a whole world of sound about us all the time that we cannot hear. It is possible that up there in those high-pitched inaudible regions there is a new exciting music being made, with subtle harmonies and fierce grinding discords, a music so powerful that it would drive us mad if only our ears were tuned to hear the sound of it.

Dahl revisited the theme of making audible the inaudible and sublime in his short story The Sound Machine, included in his 1953 collection Someone Like You. In it, a botanist develops a recording device to capture the voices of plants. Among other things he hears the sound of flowers screaming as they’re cut.

The Sound Machine went on to appear as an episode in Tales of the Unexpected, memorable for its pleasingly louche signature tune. Here it is from YouTube:


In Western literature, the hidden sound of the world can probably trace its roots back to Pythagoras’ concept of the Music of the Spheres. Reworked in modern times it serves to uncover the workings of an amoral and indifferent universe.

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