Columns, Opinion

WHITING: A campus mixtape

Fresh snow quiets things, especially on a Saturday morning, when, even without it, campus is almost wholly silent. There’s no traffic. The halls of the College of Arts and Sciences are empty, and the classrooms are locked. Your footsteps echo eerily in the green marble staircase.

The silence is nice. Different. But as I strolled the sidewalk sans headphones (rare occurrence), I started realizing that in silence, campus lacks something. That campus has a music of its own I’ve been feigning to appreciate. And I’m not talking about WTBU, or Bach concerts at Marsh Chapel or the Italian jazz soundtrack at Espresso Royale. These things I like to hear. It’s the rest of the noise I generally tune out with the iPod — the swipe of my card at City Convenience, the wailing hum of the Green Line, etc. These noises are not beautiful. They’re why we make music. Moreover, they’re far too familiar to merit our attention. Familiarity breeds indifference, if not contempt, no?

But then I was thinking: The word “noise” has a relatively negative connotation, “sound” less so. What if we made music from the un-beautiful? What if it all just depended on how you heard it? What if we renamed campus noise to campus sound?

If we did, we’d realize that there are distinct sounds about this place, sounds that aren’t all half-bad. Sounds like the brush of leaves on the sidewalk in November, or chalk on a chalkboard and my professor’s mellow, earnest voice. Sounds like used paperback books being destroyed, hastily, by dog-ears and ballpoint pens.

There’s the familiar sound of Mugar at night, pre-reading week. Students whisper or laugh, and YouTube videos hum from earphones against the clackity sound of online conversations until the blaring tune of panic and underachievement takes over, accompanying the silence of crunch time that sets in when the clock hits midnight. And then there are the more vivacious sounds of, say, a walk to Allston on a weekend night: cabs drive by, scalpers shout “Tickets!” outside hockey games at Agganis and party buses blare music loudly, offsetting the beeps of the liquor checkout line at Shaw’s.

And of course there are sounds only you hear, like the pulsing solace of silent, long nights in and the rumble of the boiling water in the illegal water heater, or the melody of Flight Facilities streaming from your laptop and the hard clicks of keyboards as Sunday nights turn into early Monday mornings.

When I think back on things — on travel, on holidays, on classes, what have you — I don’t often think of the way they sounded, unless we’re talking about the horn of the Paris Metro or the soundtrack of Club 333 in London. This is strange because things can be characterized as much by what they sound like as by what they look like, taste like, etc. But when I think about my year abroad, my mind goes straight to pictures. I think of Covent Garden Christmas lights and Versailles, not of the sound of crowded streets in Madrid at 3 a.m. or the full sound of an empty airport in Rome.

I forget about the other noises — the sounds, that is, that were so vital to every scene. Like the clink of China at Café de Flore, or the echo of my footsteps on the black and white tile floor of my St. Germain apartment lobby. Like the saxophone man’s tunes on the metro, like a British accent ordering coffee, like the Tube woman asking me to “Please Mind the Gap,” like the sound of boots on plush classroom carpet and the sound of printers in the Paris campus basement.

During the week, I wake to the “chink” of coins in parking meters along Bay State. At night, I fall asleep to students singing or shouting, or other students shouting from their windows telling the other students to “Shut up!!!” I tune it out, the way I tune out my footsteps or my food being chewed or the sound of my apartment door clicking shut. I have to — if I really listened to everything, I’d literally have no peace of mind.

But on some level, I feel it’s important that I tune in at times, just to appreciate these sounds for what they are: the sounds of college. A campus mixtape. Sounds I won’t always hear (except for my alarm clock). Yeah, there will be shouting people in New York, but it won’t be Bay State Road, just like big band music will never sound as good as it does when my Grandpa blares it in his den after everyone’s gone to bed. Some sounds have their rightful setting, and they turn beautiful with this recognition. They start to gain a sort of metaphysical tangibility, if that’s possible. (Sounds fancy until you picture me trying to explain sticking my arms out halfway and grasping at something I can’t actually feel, and that’s the term I came up with.) You can almost feel them. And then reversely, abstract concepts begin to have sounds — laughter with my friends from freshman year is the sound of belonging, silence from a boy you’ve been seeing is the sound of sadness, and it can reverberate for days.

Snow muffles things, which is good because the loudest thing we’ll hear the next couple of weeks will likely be students screaming their hate for finals. But in general, Boston University is alive with the sounds of campus. Perhaps take out the headphones once in a while and learn to love them.


Anne Whiting is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Fall 2012 columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected].

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