Some sounds are about what’s missing: the togetherness of birdsong; the recorded roar of Beyoncé’s Coachella crowd; the quietness of the sky; or else the sound of the boundary itself – voices of vulnerable friends who can’t open the door, talking instead through the wood. The banality of this is a shared melancholy.
It’s harder to listen for the sound of pleasure in the present that isn’t reliant on the past. But there’s one that surfaces in almost every connection I’ve had these past weeks: nervous laughter in digital space. It is everywhere: the cackle of friends during a remote Seder as a buck-naked roommate saunters past a cam, full bush; Naomi Klein’s chortle as her child and dog excitedly bust in to join a live YouTube conversation on crisis capitalism; the breathlessness of Vaughan Gething’s Zoom colleagues; Teddy Riley vs Babyface; laughter as I enter a public event with a username I forgot to change from the 24-hour rave the night before (‘thottie+1 has joined the meeting’); the giggle of the Jitsi trainer who’s interval timer for our seemingly endless squats resets every time her impatient sister calls. My glutes still ache.
Nervous laughter erupts when we realise we are not being ‘professional’. It fills the gap between what we want to put into the world and the clunkiness of current reality. It says: Yes, I am exhausted and not confident, but I am trying. I am still laughing.
This was written for Ain Bailey’s edited issue of the ICA Daily, 25 May 2020.