What Noise Do You Zone Out To?

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly, 1953

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly, 1953

It is 7am and 2006, and WQXR is determined that I know it.

As ever, radio host Jeff Spurgeon announces the time and date at 15-minute intervals. Between such essential broadcasts, he introduces elaborate concertos and complicated classical compositions. The music is nice and inexplicable to me, the philistine. But Jeff is better.

For as long as I have had to be roused from slumber, Jeff Spurgeon has greeted me. He is very good at his job. His voice is like molten butter. It’s so low and silken that I almost neglect the words he pronounces. The hum of his expression is addictive. He can enunciate whatever combination of letters he chooses. He is a human soundtrack.

Forever, I think, I have needed background noise.

At 14, I wondered whether I wanted the white noise machine I spotted in The Sharper Image catalog. I decided I did not. I had no sleep disorders and no bank account to fund such minimalist technologies, but I liked the concept. To a child who held seashells to her ears, the allure was obvious.

At 19, I composed a musical mixtape that I repeated on an endless loop for six weeks. By the time I took exams and handed in term papers, I could no longer distinguish words and notes. The chords transformed into textures. I sensed them, which freed me to focus on broken pediments and bloodstained treaties and Edgar Allan Poe and to forget Nick Cave. It was a very productive semester.

At 23, I still crave an ambience of sound. Total stillness scares me. Blame the buzz of New York City, I do—and I love it.

Even now, I want noise. The dull clamor of Real Housewives sets the scene for washing dishes and cooking dinner and folding clothes into obsessive geometric shapes. Chris Soules is the reason I paid my taxes. To write overdue thank you notes, I downloaded every episode of 99% Invisible. I tune into NPR to zone out on the treadmill. Earlier this year, the station pretty much sponsored a move from Boston to New York, which I think was really generous.

We all have our white noise and our Food Networks and our Ramona Singers. We all have a podcast that we have never really understood. It’s OK. To me, it all sounds like a lullaby.

What is your background music? What is the spaced-out soundtrack to your very existence? Do not tell me it’s Beethoven.

I won’t believe you.

—Mattie Kahn

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