Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sounds Overheard: Yaks & Pilgrims Ring Bells

Moving shaft of sunlight warms young Buddhist Tibetan Monk studying at temple entrance, Thasilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse, Tibet.

Traveling requires all of your senses to fully experience your surroundings, whether they are in exotic Tibet or some place closer to home, like the dusty strip of sprawling gas stations, fast food joints and mini marts you've stumbled upon after getting off the interstate highway.

Listen to one minute recording as birds chirp and large brass temple bell rings, then to nomad yak herders in outdoor market shopping for bells to hang around their livestock. 

Stand still for a moment in front of that mini mart and listen ... traffic and horns assault you, sure. Wait a moment, between traffic lights, those little chirping birds, probably sparrows, hopping around the trash filled hedge. Gee, they are pretty sounding. Hear the salsa music wafting out of that bodega over there, that sound adds some more color. A nice gentle breeze rustles the tree leaves above your head, a bossy black crow barks down from atop the power pole.

Listening to the details, sometimes loud, sometimes subtle, makes this place, this very moment in time, much richer to you. OK, I know, the light has changed and this spot is getting just plain loud, so lets relocate to Tibet. Poof!

Now we're standing under a foot tall brass bell, green with age, hanging from colorful braided cords from the hand hewn rafters of one of the Tibetan Buddhist temples in the Thasilhunpo Monastery. Founded in 1447 in Shigatse, Tibet's second largest city, the monastery is both very quiet and very full of sound. Pilgrims jump with outreached finger tips to ring the bell hanging just out of reach, rich tones reverberating and fading into background sound of happy birds chirping in the sunny courtyard.

An hour later we're visiting the outdoor market in busy downtown Shigatse, and are eavesdropping on two men dressed with red cloth braided into their long hair, silver jewelry around their necks and on their fingers, staying warm in sheep skin jackets.They are test ringing inexpensive bells to hang around the necks of their livestock, some as big as their fists for yaks, some walnut sized for sheep.

Listening carefully can enrich our travel experiences no matter where we are. Now let me decide, do I stay in Tibet, or Poof, I teleport back and dig into a lime green Double Big Gulp at the mini mart?

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.  

More stories from Tibet are elsewhere on this blog, and more examples of field-recorded natural sound are at my Miami multimedia production portfolio site.

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