Awhile back one of my professors told me of a certain handsome, bald, and very bright blue-eyed philosopher at our college who had written a book about Nietzsche and liked to compare different recordings of the sound of the wind from all over the planet. I had run into this man on a few occasions; once he brought his two boys to act as zombies in a movie I was starring in, and when we met one very bleary Saturday morning he complimented some of my photographs of the glow of the green autumn leaves glimmering in blurry lakewater I thanked him but treated him like just another dad, having no idea that he was, in reality, A Person Of Some Consequence. His sons were cunning little monsters who convinced me that both of them were novelists who wrote Tolstoy-sized epics. I learned their father’s true identity later when I saw him warring ardently and passionately with other professors from various liberal arts departments. I can’t remember what they were always complaining about (too much work, too little pay), but I sympathized with this man because he always seemed to be fighting a one-man battle, and that phrase is a good summary of much of my life.
The idea that the wind sounded different across the world was and still is strange to me. If you bother to watch any Russian movies made in or around the 60s—for instance, my favorite, the epic War and Peace by Sergei Bondarchuk—-you might notice, if you give a damn about sound effects, and notice every time you hear a Wilhelm Scream, how odd the wind sounds in Russia, and how it never sounds like that in America (or at least in any American film). You’ll find it at around 24 minutes 30 seconds in this old Russian adaptation of Anna Karenina—the closest thing it sounds like, to me, is, oddly enough, a kazoo, blown on very hard, very shrilly. Either that, or a teapot wildly trying to leap off a burner’s ferocious blue flames.
Now comes the inevitable question. How different does the wind really sound in Korea? Can I truly say that there is some significant, palpable difference in the sonic quality of the storm gales billowing against our apartment’s calligraphic dragon a few nights ago? The way a thick, humid monsoon wind thrusts its way into your house through the bug screen—is that truly so different from the whirling summer thunderstorms of Massachusetts and the endless Spring rains of Maine? The truth is that I don’t really think so. A ghost just brushed against my arm and whispered something down my neck that I couldn’t hear, and in America it would be no different.
But the thing I heard that woke me up to writing this was actually the sound of the freeway coming in through the open windows. Truly all these Asian cars in their natural environment sound a bit like birds set free from their cages as they ring over bumps in the road alongside minivans the size of refrigerators and the occasional buzzing motorbike, which is still common in the poor parts of the city but becoming less of a nuisance elsewhere. Here they soar, and roar, and everywhere you go, that’s the white noise you get—while in Maine you’d have thrashing leaves and spattering raindrops, and in Massachusetts a conversation on Susan Sontag wafting up with a blue stream of cigarette smoke.
I think these worldwide winds must only be different as a result of the different equipment used to record them, but I could be wrong.