The Haggerty Museum of Art hosts education programs for inner-city children during the summer months. For one of these programs, I spent a morning with the group asking them about their favorite sounds and what kind of music they listen to. Their answers to these questions contained insight into their lives: some liked the sound of their mom in the kitchen, others the swings at the local playground. Some enjoyed the beat of hip hop music, while others enjoyed the music their parents listened to. I then played them a series of recordings they likely never heard before, and the responses were abundant with laughter, chatting amongst themselves, and questions. When playing a rather abrasive recording by the group Organum, a six year old girl commented, sounding as if she were looking into a bright light, “It sounds like stars.”
Oftentimes, when people hear something they are unfamiliar with, a natural tendency is to disassociate oneself from it, particularly if it is not a comfortable sound. So, to take such input, and immediately identify it with a thing that does indeed make sound, but one we on earth certainly don’t hear, is not only profound, but taught me that children’s imaginations are perhaps based less on fiction than adults might assume. At the very least, this single comment inspired me to think more about how people interpret what they hear, and how those interpretations are filtered through our individual experiences.