Sound. Woman playing guitar.


The sound of water is worth more than all the poets’ words.

—Octavio Paz

Each of us has a soundtrack to our lives.

We have the sounds we hear during our normal routine and during special events, including those sounds we seek out.

For some, this soundscape is intentional; they craft their lives based in part on what they like (or don’t like) to hear. For others, their soundscapes are a complete afterthought—literally just background noise.

Some like the sound of the hustle and bustle of the city, while others like the subtler sounds associated with nature. Some like raucous, energetic music, while others prefer it calm and melodic. For many, the sounds to which they are drawn depend on their mood, and their tastes will vary accordingly.

I love music, and it’s a big part of my life, but there are times when I can’t listen to music at all, even the music I love. After a band rehearsal, when I’ve been playing loud, driving music for two or three hours, I tend to listen to classical music on my way home. The part of my brain and my emotions that loves loud, energetic music has had its fill, and I need some yin for its yang. And periodically, I need to completely cleanse my sonic palate with silence—to reboot those feelings and come back to it new at a different time.

Sounds can be very therapeutic. Studies have shown that spending time in a natural environment has a host of health benefits, both mental and physical, and one of the reasons for this is that interacting with nature can happen though all five of the senses—we are inundated with healing contact. When I’m feeling particularly stressed and fed up with the frenzied pace of day-to-day life, I go for walks in the woods. A big part of the beneficial effects for me is related to the sounds. The breeze blowing through the trees, the birds and animals talking to each other, the burbling streams—all of this is like a soothing salve on my psyche. Even half an hour in the woods makes me feel like a different person.

Certain sounds also produce waves of memories and feelings—the sound of the surf, of a crackling fire, of a baseball hitting a wooden bat or a leather glove, of a band doing their sound check before a concert. All these sounds generate a sense of excitement and anticipation—a knowledge that something fun and exciting is about to happen.

I also like listening to old radio shows—detective shows from the 1940s and 50s. The language that they used, the sounds of dress shoes on pavement, the sound of a solidly built door creaking and clicking closed, the gun shots, the fight scenes—all of these are combined skillfully to tell the story. And because there is no visual, each sound is vital to the production. It’s a great example of artists using a sonic medium to elicit a reaction—an emotional response.

Our soundscapes are very personal, and being mindful and intentional about them can greatly enhance the extent to which sounds can be pleasant, interesting, or beneficial. We can identify those sounds we like and under what circumstances we enjoy them to create a soundscape that is a constant source of pleasure and inspiration.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are impacted by the sounds we hear. They affect our lives in both significant and subtle ways.

What is the soundtrack of your life?

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