Friday, June 22, 2012

Sound Quote: HBWATEOTW - Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

From the opening scene in an elevator, beginning on page two, sound has already been established as a key player in the unfolding story:
" was dead silent. There wasn't a sound - literally not one sound - from the moment I stepped inside and the doors slid shut. Deep rivers run quiet."
"I strained to hear something, anything, but no sound reached my ears. I pressed my ear against the stainless-steel wall. Sure enough, not a sound. All I managed to leave was an outline of my ear on the cold metal. The elevator was made, apparently, of a miracle alloy that absorbed all noise. I tried whistling Danny Boy, but it come out like a dog wheezing with asthma."

It's no surprise that throughout Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World sound continues to play a vital and visceral role throughout. It's likely that anyone reading the book could find a myriad of details to indulge their particular interests. My particular geek comes in the form of how sound is represented in words, and it is here that HBWATEOTW shines brightly for me.


Harkening back to my fascination with footstep sound, Murakami nails the intricacies of movement and their place in the world.
"I walked behind her. The clicks of her pointy high heels echoed down the empty corridor like an afternoon at the quarry."
"And through it all, the same staccato rhythm  of her heels, followed by the melted rubber gumminess of my jogging shoes."
Their use so profound as to define the last sentence in the book - resonating with the reader long after they've finished.

But it's not just details, it's the pervasive use of sound to help root the reader in a sense of place. I've made it a habit to dog-ear pages that make an interesting reference to sound. Call it a meta-game that I play when reading, here's what it looks like:

The interesting references to sound!

Chapter two starts out in its description of the "Golden Beasts", a creature that flows like a river of sound throughout the novel:
"Almost meditative in their stillness, their breathing hushed as morning mist, they nibbled at the young grass with not a sound."
"As dusk falls over the Town, I climb the Watchtower on the western Wall to see the Gatekeeper blow the horn for the herding of the beasts. One long note, then three short notes - such is the prescribed call. Whenever I hear the horn, I close my eyes and let the gentle tones spread through me. They are like none other. Navigating the darkling streets like a pale transparent fish, down cobbled arcades, past the enclosures of houses and stone walls lining the walkways along the river, the call goes out. Everything is immersed in the call. It cuts through invisible airborne sediments of time, quietly penetrating the furthers reaches of the Town."
Later on a parallel is drawn regarding the "prescribed call" that serves as a subtle link between the titles duality. A barely identifiable link that only surfaced for me after repeated reading. I think one of the secrets of great writing is finding these subliminal links that pass undetected the first time, but when revisited expose a complex web of interconnection. That so many of  these details encompass the world of sound is what makes this such a fascinating read for me.

It's hard to go too much further with some of the other references. While Murakami isn't necessarily known for his sci-fi tendencies, there is a central technology that anchors one of the main plot points that is based on "Sound removal". Another that deals with physical modeling:
"Sounds?" I said. "Bones produce sounds?"
"Of course they do," said the old man. "Every bone has a unique sound. It's the hidden language of bones. And I don't mean metaphorically. Bones literally speak. Research I'm engaged in proposes t'decode that language. The, t'render it artificially controllable.
Elsewhere, the description of a whirlpool bears the mark of a living breathing entity:
"It is unearthly, resembling nothing that I know. Different from the thundering of a waterfall, different from the holw of the wind, different from the rumble of a tremor. It may be described as the gasping of a gigantic throat. At times it groans, at times it whines. It breaks off, choking."
"The Pool seems to be snarling," I remark.
"The gasps of the Pool resound everywhere, rising like huge clouds of steam. They echo with anguish from the depths."
An underground cavern:
 "Then came a series of sharp creaks and cracks, like boulders scraping together with tremendous force. All was relentless noise; suddenly silence. A second of nothing at all-Then everywhere was filled with a weird hissing, as if thousands of old men were sucking air between their teeth. A reedy whistling echoing through the darkness like the humming of thousands of subterranean insects triggered by the same stimulus. The sound did not wish us well."
More like a ringing in my ears, actually. Cutting through like drill bits of high-pitched sound, like the humming of insects gone wild, the sound careened off the walls and screwed into my eardrums.
And the use of silence, liberally throughout:
"Total silence. Once the sound was severed, that was it. Both she and I froze in position, straining our ears for… what? I swallowed, but it sounded as raucous as a needle striking the edge of a turntable."
That's not to say the bulk of sound in the book is razor sharp science or natural wonder. It's the humanness of sound that triumphs time and again.
 "What sounds!" smiles the fascinated Caretaker. "As if they change colors!"
"Why don't you put your ear to my tummy," she said, rolling the blanket to the foot of the bed."
"Hear anything?" she asked.
"I held my breath and listened. There was only the slow rhythem of her heartbeat.
"I don't hear a thing," I said.
"You don't hear my stomach digesting all that food?" she asked.
"I doubt digestion makes much sound. Only gastric juices dissolving things. Of course there should be some peristaltic activity, but that's got to be quiet, too"
"But I can really feel my stomach churning. Why don't you listen again?"

And he does.

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