House of Sound

The creaks, moans and groans of a home are its autograph, says Richard Lutz

I can’t say this is an original thought. I lift my hat to an old friend FO who rummaged through his memories of how the buildings of his life had their own sounds, noises, hums and gasps. I guess we can all follow his footsteps and pin it to our own pasts, our own haunts, our own lives.

For instance, the place I now have in the city has two timepieces that beat as a pair of hearts. One is a small wristwatch that ticks on a bedroom shelf. The second ticking emanates from its big clunky brother, the cheapo kitchen battery operated wall clock that beats on and on as if ploddingly climbing an unending staircase.

A second separate sound is less incessant. When a pair of tall glass doors is opened to a small sunny room, there is a gentle soft whoosh as warm air sweeps in. Surprisingly for a city, there are no bigtime urban sounds though we are near a bustling road. There is only the infrequent and rushed sounds of emergency vehicles as they head to trouble.

As a change, a little place we have by the Scottish coast has a different set of sounds. Of course, the sea is never far away. And it brings with it a southwest wind from Ireland. That whispery breeze runs right up our drive and curls behind our house. And behind this house is our boiler. It’s tucked under the bedroom window. It erupts with a thump at 6am. It wakes me and, eerily, I can sometimes anticipate it thumping into action and wake a minute or two before it turns over.

There’s another noise accompanying the morning boiler: a radio mysteriously turns itself on about a minute later. We don’t know why. And we can’t stop it. It has an airwave life of its own. It’s part of the aural stamp of the house and the home wouldn’t be the same without that radio with a mind of its own, the wind and the boiler switching on.

One house was possessed by a soft sigh that breathed through three floors. It was partnered by a rhythmic radiator that clunked away at a certain temperature.

Another house, one we left a year ago was on a residential city road… a busy residential road. Cars roared down it, sometimes arguing with cars roaring up it. Car doors slammed, cars horns beeped, delivery vans stopped and started all over the road. There was a school at the bottom and twice a day traffic noise flared as lazy parents drove their kids to and from the school-gates. Car noises were part of the home.

This house also had a soft sigh that seemed to breathe through the three floors. It was in league with a radiator that always clunked when it was half heated up. Both were an orchestra for this house with its sunny front room and steep stairs that I fell down one night by turning left instead of right on a sleepy visit to the bathroom.

And then, sometimes, the place just suddenly creaked as if it was stretching out a limb like a tired pooch by the fire or an old person loosening aching bones. And it had a right to do it, being 130 years old.

All our homes had their noises: a terraced house rang with late night ratchets, whistles and bells attached to a baby’s cot as he awoke to have a 2am play; and, a flat above stables was infused with gusts of air rushing up the chimney and the rustle of trees behind us.

And then there was that eery slithering sound in the attic of a small cottage. I was asked many times to poke my head up through the trapdoor to see what rough beast lived up there. I never investigated. There are some sounds, mostly slitherly unseen sounds, better left undisturbed.

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  1. Tang
    6 June 2022 at 7:16 am

    Ah, just the hotel sounds here in Funchal!

  2. Will Weissman
    6 June 2022 at 7:20 am

    ear to the door, or was it the Floor?

  3. MB
    6 June 2022 at 7:20 am

    Said well

  4. Kirsten T
    6 June 2022 at 2:32 pm

    the sound of the wind whistling through the front door at seafield?- so loud on a stormy windy winters day!

  5. Joel Mangel
    6 June 2022 at 3:36 pm

    I am thinking back to my parents’ house in Brooklyn and the odd creaking noises it would make along with the furnace turning itself on and off

  6. Mary Coe
    7 June 2022 at 11:48 am

    Dickens wrote about the groaning and grumbling of a house

  7. Jay McLean
    7 June 2022 at 12:16 pm

    My floors groan

  8. Anne Bullard
    11 June 2022 at 5:38 pm

    The wind in the sugar pines ( the smell of the cape cod pines more redolent in my fading memory),

  9. Will Travel
    11 June 2022 at 8:38 pm

    New York traffic

  10. Alex
    13 June 2022 at 9:13 am

    ‘Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you are trying to be so quiet….

  11. Forbes Gibson
    16 June 2022 at 8:34 pm

    Our hall floor is half encqustic tiles and half carpet it is interesting when one leaves one surface which is very solid there is no sound and then the wooden floorboards creaking under the carpet


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