Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Soundscape of Jerusalem #7

Prologue: Noise! Buzz saws, knives, shards, crack, creak, scrape, gurgle…

The Story, Part 1: In Luis Bunuel’s film The Exterminating Angel, a group of sophisticated socialites are trapped in an elegant house.  They slowly become savage toward each other, eventually doing things they never dreamed of doing.  At the climax of one scene a flock of sheep wanders into the plush living room, and eventually one of the male heroes slaughters and cooks one of the sheep over an open fire.  The flock of sheep is totally out of place, as are the various characters who slowly take on a horrible personas without the “checks and balances” of their “normal” lives.  They become beasts, trapped in their raw natures.  In many ways we are no different!

The Story, Part 2:  Today I walked seven kilometers throughout Jerusalem, just to air myself out after several days of dust storms.  Frankly, I was enjoying the fresh air and watching the people.  I hadn’t contemplated writing this piece, so I didn’t particularly register the sounds around me as I usually do. I arrived home and started to write.  Suddenly amidst the sounds of the wind outside my window, I heard a loud buzz-saw so incongruous to the surroundings, so foreign to Jerusalem. The sound made me nervous, so much so that I thought of jumping out of my skin and punching the saw’s owner for violating my acoustic space.  When I saw I had no choice BUT to listen (I don’t like wearing earplugs, they hurt me), I started to hear a human saw voice.  Actually this was even more terrifying than knowing that the machine was a buzz-saw, because I had suddenly stepped over the line of what Ray Kurtzweil calls “singularity”, a no-mans land when human and machine sounds become one.  Many new rock songs use sound combination as as a gimmick.  In real life, however, it is absolutely frightening.

If I now listen to the totality of the sound scene out my window I not only hear buzz-saws, but hear the constant rush of cars, tractors, cranes, and a high ringing in my ear probably generated by my house’s WI-fi.  The occasional crow cry is a relief, compared to my rocky horror machine show.  When I started to write Soundscapes of Jerusalem several years ago, none of the above were reflected.  The only machine sounds were unfortunately the sounds of gun fire, sirens, and ambulances.  At that time, these were frightening enough.  But they swelled and retreated.  The current “show” never really retreats during the daytime and evening hours.

The problem with the current acoustic status quo, is that percentage-wise, in my quiet Talpiot-Arnona neighborhood, the machines have taken over 50 % of the  acoustic space or more.  These sounds are sometimes “gentle nudges”, but after accumulating over time they provide a subliminal annoyance which grows on you creating a real problem for your human psyche, or what’s left of it!.  It’s the kind of din which cannot be easily shut off.  It’s the most subtle of tortures.  As in Story 1 (above), we are trapped in a situation of our own making.  As the characters in Bunuel’s film, we slowly are transformed, with our primitive natures ignited by the constant barrage of artificial machine sounds.  We are unaware of who we are becoming.

As you can see, Soundscape of Jerusalem  #7 is not as romantic as the others (see  Soundscape of Jerusalem #1, Soundscape of Jerusalem Opus 6 ).  On the contrary, thus far this “journey” is a bold account of a aluminum foil-wrapped sound soup which echos a putrid pollution similar to our local streams, lakes and seashores.  This is not a mark of progress, but as much a regression as the massive pollution of the Great Lakes or the wretched fire-eating steel mills embracing Gary, Indiana.

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Pause: In the hope of attaining some poetic equilibrium, I will therefore continue this 3pm soundscape at 4am tomorrow morning, when hopefully no one but the birds and me have awoken, hence having a fighting chance of redeeming this soundscape.  Sayonara for now!….

Epilogue: 4am. (Muse poetic).  Awake! Jerusalem winds! Buzz saw, no chance.  Answer to all buzz saws of the world. Early morning’s blast show, like two huge hands descending.  Primordial wake up call from deep-laked bowels.  In your face. Beef stew, barley at boiling point. Quivers to avalanche.  Tinsel to rope tugs.  Trickle to tsunami.  Morphined stupor to crazed awakenings. We, shuttered in fragile shelters, shivering.  Primordial fountains. Spiral churning. Concrete, metal shards, a lone dog cry. Mahler’s 5th’s incessant time-stretched finale. Oumuamua.  S’hma!

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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