The Natural Sounds of Mechanical Harmony

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GearsA well-oiled machine emits a certain sound that indicates it is running well. The smooth, almost elegant sound of mechanical gears and parts is a beautiful noise to some – while the click, clank, clunk of mechanical failure is hard on our ears. Without being engineers or mechanics, we need only listen to a machine to tell if it is running smoothly.

Over the weekend, I had a wonderful interaction with a young boy of two that showed some (at least anecdotal) insight into our perceptions of mechanical harmony. The little boy in question suddenly rushed into the room ‘Emergency! Emergency’ Naturally concerned, I followed the little fellow into a neighboring room. Nothing seemed amiss. The lad pointed to a CD-player. Thinking the boy wanted music, I pressed the play button — and was greeted by the grinding sounds of an improperly-seated CD being jostled by the spinning parts of the player. It was grinding on my ears.

It was only after a moment or two that I realized what had just transpired. A little child, with only two years of life and life experience had heard those sounds of ‘mechanical chaos’ and knew that something wasn’t right. Could there be something inherent in nature that details what mechanical fluidity should sound like? Is the soft, quick and efficient sounds a deer racing through the woods more closely linked to the hum of a modern engine than I could have imagined? These thoughts filled my head this weekend.

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  1. That is an intriguing suggestion. All I know is that I much prefer the wonderful hum and slightly oily smell of my IBM Selectric II over any ‘purring’ my computer might make.

  2. Perhaps there is a relationship between the sound of a “well oiled” machine and steady rhythm. It seems that the human soul is somehow intricately tied to a consistent cadence. We can identify it without much effort; as we can also identify an inconsistent one. It almost comes naturally to us. Perhaps such a phenomenon, a steady beat, allows us to become more aware of the flow of time, and in effect slowing it down and revealing its subtle fabric.

  3. I know that I definitely feel that twinge of “pain” when riding in a car as the gears grind or as we “bottom out” and it isn’t that I’m hurt, just that the pain of the car is tangible.

  4. As someone who can’t keep rhythm to save his own life (yes, I am always the guy clapping out of beat at concerts), I still very much appreciate that steady cadence as mentioned by Jordan above. The regular repetition of a particular sound or mechanical hum brings a certain satisfaction to me ears.

    A question for you all:

    What’s more painful on the ears?

    (1) The sounds of gears grinding in a manual transmission car

    (2) The sound of an already running car being ‘started’ again

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