The Library of Sound
The photo is of a group of men on a stage, with musical instruments; a “band”, they were called.
I press play, and the sensation begins, thumping through my implant to throb deep inside my head: duh-nuh-NUH, duh-nuh-NUH, duh-nuh-nuh-nun NUH-nuh-nuh-NUH. It is always a disconcerting experience for me, when an external stimulus finds purchase within the interior of my skull. The very bones seem to vibrate, as though trying to escape the dischord.
When the track ends, I push play again. And then again, before letting the player cycle through the rest of the recording.
A disconcerting experience. And a singularly intriguing one. Though it seems I am the only person who thinks so.
As with most days I am here, the library is empty, save for the mostly-volunteer skeleton staff. Rumors are that next year’s budget will nix most of the library’s funding. A shame, really. History should be remembered, even if it cannot be experienced.
But then, what true use is a library of sounds in a world that can never truly hear them?
According to the caption accompanying the photo, the band’s singer had to quit during a tour in 2016, as he risked going deaf if he didn’t. I wonder what that would be like, to lose a sense one has lived their entire life accustomed to. Better or worse than to have never known it at all?
I return the datastick to the circulation desk and request another. This librarian is new, an immigrant, and his accent is a little difficult for us both to navigate. I have to sign my request three times before he understands me. But his smile is wide and friendly, and he apologizes for his mistake. Sorry so sorry am still learning, his fingers say, the rhythm of pauses and gestures an unfamiliar tempo.
It’s fine, I say back, my fingers dancing slowly and deliberately in the air, mistakes are how we learn. I take the new datastick back to the playback station, slot it, recouple my implant, and hit play as soon as it finishes loading. Something called “opera.”
Like every member of my generation, and of our parents’, and their parents’ before them, I have lived my entire life without ever hearing a single sound. Not birdsong, not music, not the whispers of my mother calming my infant cries. I was born into a world of silence.
No one knows why it happened. The Day of Silence, we call it now, though I’m sure it was anything but silent at the time. The sum totality of the human population losing their sense of hearing simultaneously. A tempest of panic and fear, more like. People screaming and sobbing, and no one able to hear them.
There were analyses afterwards, of course. Dissections of the various organic apparatuses related to hearing. Nothing conclusive. It didn’t seem to affect any other animals, either; just humans.
They’re still looking for a cause, I suppose. And maybe even a cure. But in the meantime, we moved on. We adapted. We set aside music, and singers, and radio. Our theaters are now full of plays in the Kabuki and Noh traditions, elegant performances of movement and body language. Our lightscribes weave temporary tapestries of prismatic color, shimmering edifices of hue and shade than exist but for a moment, before they’re gone. Painters and sculptors are always in demand, as the populace loved nothing more than to fill spaces with new things to see.
In our world, a single gesture can be poetry.
Most people my age no longer care about sound; some don’t believe it even exists at all, that the records in books are just as fanciful as medieval fairy tales.
This is why the library exists. It was built by those who could remember, so that those who could not would be unable to forget. In using it, I try to honor them.
The opera ends. I return the datastick and request another, this one of animal sounds.
I will never know what it sounded like to hear a rock concert, or the staccato patter of rain on the windows, or the sound of a wolf calling to the pack. I will never be moved to tears by the mellifluous elegance of a singer’s voice, or hear my lover whisper my name between the sheets.
Thanks to the library, though, I can understand a modicum of what that feels like. Just a touch.
It’s enough, while it lasts.
I slot the datastick, and press play.