I Can’t Stop Listening to This Mixtape of Wind Chime Recordings

A seemingly innocuous collection of recordings ripped from YouTube captures the virtues of deep listening.

Jack Vartoogian/Getty

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

In the late ’80s, Pauline Oliveros—an esteemed avant-garde composer, accordionist, and sonic philosopher—descended 14 feet underground into a cavernous, resonant cistern and recorded a drone. The resulting album, Deep Listening, is haunting and meditative. It was released in January 1989, more than 30 years ago. And it sprung a movement.

The practice of “deep listening”—a philosophy and meditative exercise that Oliveros would later teach—was an attempt to take in all of the environmental sound around you. “The best image or metaphor I can give for it is a tapestry of sound: threads of sound that come and go and some that stay,” she once described it as in an interview. “Trying to expand oneself to include more and more of the field.” She called it “inclusive.”

I bring all this up to explain why I have been listening to a collection of cellphone recordings of wind chimes. I am not insane. I am “deep listening.” I am including all noise.

 

There’s something so utterly serene and meditative about listening to the sound of wind chimes interacting with its surroundings. The soft, dulcet harmonies of metallic and wooden chimes clanking together as a gentle wind ruffles nearby leaves sends me into a peaceful trance, even as the world around me descends straight to hell. It is, to me, exactly what Oliveros meant when she talked about deep listening.

I am not alone. Oliveros died in 2016. But sound meditation seminars and performances inspired by Oliveros are regularly held around the world. (In Washington, DC, the Smithsonian’s renown Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden recently held an Oliveros-inspired event that featured three musicians exploring sonic awareness through the absence of sound.) There is a proliferation of ambient noises—from heady ECM jazz records to lo-fi YouTube channels that teens use as a backdrop to studying. Oliveros was unique as an early digital ethnographer and forerunner of this trend. She gathered the strangeness of both the natural and unnatural that proliferate our lives. She saw a future in an inclusive ambient.

The true heads at Love All Day—an ambient record label out of Chicago—continued that tradition. They stitched together this unexpectedly beautiful compilation of audio from various YouTube videos of people’s cellphone recordings of wind chimes. All proceeds from the album go to the American Bird Conservancy. “We think the result is a strange, intimate landscape, in many ways very peaceful indeed, but where a stray blast of wind could be coming around the corner at any moment,” they write. 

Ah.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate