Thursday, 18 October 2007

"Things that go bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz in the night" OR "What's that comin over the hill... is it a heartbeat?"

I'm at my desk and I can hear a sound.

Just hear, that is.

This sound isn't even man enough to come out and let me hear it properly, godammit! It's there, a cowardly, constant needling itch beneath the fingernails of my attention.

I think it's coming from my PC speakers - or, actually, the weird device that calls itself a superwoofer or something which sits between my speakers that I bought because I liked the name - but when I put my ear right up close I can't be... quite... sure. It might be one of my hard drives, or a CD I've left in the dvd drive, idly ticking away. Ticking... and clicking... and ticking, clicking and. Softly, but endlessly.

I despise things like this. Perpetual noises.

I'm sure I'm not alone, but I've never been able to just unfocus my attention and drift on through. Can't make them go away. Simply forget and get on with whatever else I'm doing.

As a writer I'm home most days, working, and I've learned to dread that beastly neverending waaah-oooh-waaah wail of the house alarm. Almost worse if it's in the cloudy middle distance, rather than just outside your window, because you find yourself straining to check whether it's still going or not. Has it stopped yet?


What about now...?

And now?

But, you see, it's not just that these noises stick a knife-tip into my mood and waggle it. No, my perception of sound can be more... viscerally unsettling, than that.

I find any regular, non-organic, (most often) machine sound deeply... uneasy-making. Pistons, drilling, nearby generators humming. Yuck. There's something implacable and relentless about them which reminds me of an atmosphere you can find in some of the best screen horror stories.

Not when things go all splashy and screamy, before that. An atmosphere of something always just on the brink of a horrible explosion. Waiting, tipping- then tipping back, held in an awful, throbbing... tension over the brim.

These machine sounds represent mindless power just barely held in check, a force which could at any moment slip out of synch, its dumb regularity suddenly veering upwards into a chaotic, hysterical whine, a reactor spinning up out of control.

It's reminiscent of that wonderful scene in "Robocop", where our evil corporation is testing the huge ED 209 police droid in the board room. Of course it malfunctions, then continues its verbal countdown ("You have thirty seconds to comply... twenty...") and continued demands for the hapless volunteer to throw down his pretend gun... which he has already done!

And its not an intellectual thing, this unease of mine, over the sounds. It's in my gut coils.

I think there might be something in my childhood which accounts for this, though, if so, I can't pin-point it. One vivid TV memory still prickles at me, however.

It was an episode of "Blake's 7", of all things, in which our often enjoyably mercenary gang of galactic freedom fighters had been stranded on an artificial planet. One of the ways in which this place (in reality, probably a few fields somewhere in the Home Counties) was denoted as being a manufactured world was that... it had a heartbeat.

Every time they went outside we heard this unutterably huge, merciless, steady thump in the sky, like the heart of god. Which was wonderful, in a way, but I HATED it. Made my skin crawl inside and out, and still gives me goosebumps thinking about it today.

This distress isn't something I've explicitly exploited in the work yet, but since I still do regularly write horror, SF, it's sure to come out (though, clearly, it's something that would have only a fraction of the impact on the page).

Maybe it is just the fear of the sound in the distance, over the hill... that it's inexorably drawing closer, coming for you, chasing, chasing (certainly I've had dreams of being chased, eternally, by ever-nearing horror sounds, trying to run but never getting far enough away, or managing to shake the scent...)

Still, maybe I should just buy a new superwoofer, eh?


chewinthefatfish said...

I have an LED clock on my desk that arcs. Took me weeks to find where the noise was coming from. Drove me daft.

Gavin Williams said...

I feel your pain. The machines are clearly out to usurp the world, and take over. Not sure any SF writer ever said they'd do it, not by all-out war, but by driving us slowly mental...

Gavin Williams said...

ps- how are the fish, mate?

Samarcand said...

I read this entry while surrounded by humming machines which I can't turn off 'cos they're needed for work stuff. Needless to say, I am now extremely aware of their noises.


(Word verification words: gvwgi!)

Gavin Williams said...

Then my work here is done.

Attack of the Spleencrays - making you uncomfortably aware of the things you can't change and never thought were a problem until just a moment ago!

A gvwgi is a small Peruvian rodent. They smell like cherry cola and live in bung holes.