Scientific research explains that there is a link between memory and an individual’s sense of place. Our past sensory experiences are recorded and stored in certain regions of our brain and influence the way we respond to our physical environment in the present. It is no wonder that I find my emotions stirred by common sounds that bring me back to places I have been or remind me of where I am.
I remember one of the apartment buildings in which my family lived in New York City. It had a bus stop in front of it and a subway station below. I’m reminded of that time and place in my life to this day whenever I hear the swish and roar of a bus closing its doors at a stop, followed by it lurching forward to maneuver back into traffic, or the rumble of a subway beneath the streets. I became attuned to these sound, and in the days prior to transit apps an irregularity in their frequency informed me of possible delays in my travels. Such sounds may not appeal to everyone, but the urban dissonance is very familiar to me and is forever connected with New York in memory.
The reality of living in cities like Los Angeles, where I currently reside, is that its citizens learn to tune out a lot of sounds. Traffic and construction have become white noise, but the vroom of motorcycles still has not. These sounds, however, come to mind immediately when I think about this city. There are also the quieter moments which I readily associate with Los Angeles: the buzz of low flying planes heralding summer at the beach; the yelps of coyotes echoing in the canyons; the flock of wild parrots squawking amongst themselves overhead in the trees.
If auditory experiences alone enhance our individual understanding of place, then I can learn more about my city by tuning into its sounds and appreciating the things I instinctively tune out. Training myself to experience other sounds will further define this particular place that I call home and make it more distinct in my memory from other places I have been.