The Time I Got Stoned and Listened to My Washing Machine
What is noise, really?
Photos of the author's washing machine by the author
Where does music reside, in the vast cosmic fabric that surrounds us? Is music something we must create—summoning the muses, conjuring phantasms from the ether, shaping the notes with our hands and voices? Or is music something inherent to existence, reverberating in the thrum of the universe's own never-ending song, pulsing under the surface of the reality we see around us, bursting forth unchecked from the founts of creativity? As lovers of music—nay, as citizens of this spiritual plane—it is our duty to ask such questions. Which is how I ended up, not too long ago, standing in the dark in my building's laundry room, stoned out of my gourd, watching the uninterrupted advance of minutes remaining in my load of laundry, listening to the shaking roar of the machines, witnessing one of the best musical performances of my life.
Transcending the earthly realm via botanical communion and doing chores go hand in hand. Chores are boring, while marijuana offers a path to discovering the pleasure to found in mundanity. What I'm saying is: Weed makes everything more fun. Puffing that kush is a reliable way to escape the tedium of existence and marvel at said existence instead. In layman's terms, pot makes the world seem richer and makes music sound incredibly sweet. Focus on anything long enough, and you begin to understand it in new ways. Improve your focus via naturally occurring herbal supplements, and said understanding only expands.
So there I was, 26 minutes into a 34-minute load of laundry, contemplating existence in my own bedroom as I am wont to do, when my phone alarm went off, indicating that my laundry was almost done. I wouldn't say that the alarm's wildly inaccurate timing was tied to the fact that I had set it while exceedingly lifted off the dro so much as that it had mysteriously picked up on some underlying frequency in the ether. Regardless, I ventured down to the building's laundry room to transfer my clothes to the dryer.
My building's laundry room is generally a quiet, isolated space. There are two coin-operated washing machines and two coin-operated dryers. The dryers are stacked on top of the washers. Each has a small green LED display indicating the cost of a load of laundry ($2.50 to wash; $2.00 to dry) or, once running, the number of minutes remaining in the cycle. The standard wash cycle is 34 minutes. In addition to the machines, the room contains a large sink and a shelf that can be used for folding clothes. Overall, perhaps due to the mechanical energy being expelled, the laundry room is slightly warmer than the building at large. It is in the basement, so there is no cell phone service. In effect, the laundry room is a type of isolation chamber. Rarely is anyone else using it, and the basement apartments in the hallway outside never seem to open or let forth any noise.
When I arrived in the laundry room, I was surprised to find that six minutes still remained on my load of wash, despite my careful planning of setting the alarm. Six minutes is not that much time. Sure, it might have been enough time to walk back up the stairs of my building and not be in the laundry room before then walking back down the stairs of my building. But it was not enough time to do anything meaningful in the intervening space of not being in the laundry room. So I decided to stay. And, since it seemed more relaxing, I decided to leave off the lights in the laundry room and challenge myself to clear my mind and focus on my surroundings for the, realistically speaking, extremely short period that awaited.
What is the last time you spent doing absolutely nothing but paying attention to what was around you for more than a minute? Not doing nothing in the sense of how you do nothing a Sunday afternoon, idly flipping between Instagram and Twitter on your phone, or in the sense of how you do nothing while standing in line at the grocery store, listening to music on your phone, or in the sense of how you do nothing when you just unplug and read a book. I mean: truly doing nothing to distract yourself. We're incentivised not to act that way, to constantly absorb the stimuli around us. Yet for tens of thousands of years of human history, people did nothing basically all the time. They couldn't read or watch TV or even listen to podcasts; they just, like, looked at the stars, I guess. The fact that looking at the stars is still a popping form of entertainment says a lot for the stars, and the fact that we devote massive amounts of time and money and energy to consuming forms of entertainment that are not looking at the stars says a lot about us.
We're incentivised not to act that way, to constantly absorb the stimuli around us. Yet for tens of thousands of years of human history, people did nothing basically all the time.
Each washing machine made a steady, whirring hum, like the sound of, well, a washing machine. This was the central sound bed of the laundry room space. There was counterpoint, too, though. As the basic sound continued, a duller rattle, the sound of the drum holding the clothes shaking back and forth in the machine, emerged below it, adding texture and, as the two machines cycles bounced against each other, a syncopated logic to the whole room. I focused in on this sound, staring at the timer counting down. Five minutes. The space around me was empty, in a sense, but it also began to fill with the warmth of white noise. I was enshrouded.
In the top corner of the room, a new sound began to make its presence known. It was a tinny whir, the smooth rush of a fan coming out of a vent. As it played against the sound of the machines, it seemed to grow more prominent, like a flute solo emerging in fits from within a symphony to float above the roar of the cellos and trombones and timpani drums. Four minutes. Time stretched out, languishing in the sounds, mocking me with its unflinching steadiness, reminding me that this time and all time were in fact a vast force so far outside my control as to make my own existence laughable. Whether the machine's counter ever would go down—three minutes—was immaterial. It might or it might not. The machine was lurching forward outside whatever guiding human hand I might be able to provide. This is the terror of automation but also its promise, that it never fails, that it maintains a steady consistency that we flesh and blood creatures never can, that the four will always be on the floor, even when the building has crumbled and fallen to ruin and ultimately to dust. The unthinking machine sound goes on and on and on and on, mechanical failure or a switch on its circuits the only obstacles to its eternal march.
What is noise, really? All around us, all the time, we imagine silence of various degrees. Occasionally we are made aware of just how artificial that silence is—when, for instance, a truck roars by outside the building where we have been sitting in ostensible quiet. Our mechanised surroundings keep silence at bay aggressively by replacing it for us. The white noise of a humming refrigerator or a computer fan becomes our silence. Noise fills in, in our minds, for the absence of noise, giving every moment of our lives a backdrop of oxymoron. No wonder we are always so distracted, when the underpinning of our daily existence is a disruption of the natural order. Standing in the laundry room, looking at the clock, I was taken with an overwhelming urge to look at my phone, to stare at that little rectangle of light, even though it had been rendered functionless by my subterranean environment. My arm twitched, willing itself to reach in my pocket.
One minute. The symphony has evolved. The washing machines are now in their spin cycle, and the rhythm with which they shake has accelerated. The noise, now, is deafening. If this room once seemed quiet—isolated from the noise of conversation, the prattle of the TV, the trill of music—it has since shed that illusion and revealed a more elevated noise.
The noise of existence, though, can be transcendent, and it is here, too. Focus. Focus. Stay focused. The "1 Min" hovers on the screen forever. The pattern will never end, the symphony will continue unabated, there is no timer that can be placed on the automated rush of sound that surrounds us. Crescendo. The spin cycle builds to its climax, forcing water from the threads of the fabric, pushing the molecules of air in the room outward in waves that pour over me, that engulf my consciousness, that wrap me up in this grand cosmic joke that says if you introduce vibrations to a space the displacement of atoms will yield sound and from that sound might emerge music, if you are lucky, which inevitably you will be if you just focus long enough but you have to focus. Focus. Focus. Stay focused.
Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! It was over. The performance was complete. The room fell quiet, almost. I went to turn on the lights, the temporal suspension of live music shattered. I could feel the audience rising from their seats and filtering out of the theatre, even as I moved my clothes from the washer to the dryer. Music, so recently everywhere, was gone, evaporated, although its restorative effects were still in my bones, seeping into my skin. My mind was clear. Six minutes of focus, who knew? I set my alarm again as I loaded my clothes in the dryer, planning to give myself five minutes or so to catch the late show, 35 minutes away.
When I came down for that, though, the performance wasn't as good. Maybe it had to do with an alteration in the vibrational energies of the room. Perhaps the instruments weren't as finely tuned. Maybe the weed was wearing off. But it was OK: I'd already found noise in the silence and music in the noise and, ultimately, a new silence, a more profound and spiritual one, in the music.
Check out the rest of Noisey's Weed Week coverage here.
Kyle Kramer is the features editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.