A “Sound Tracker” travels from Washington state to Washington, D.C., measuring and recording noise, ruminating, interviewing and fulminating.
The description of this odyssey is rendered in the first-person voice of Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and Emmy-winning sound recordist who provides audio clips to various media outlets and sells CDs of nature’s sounds of silence. (Freelance journalist Grossman makes an appearance late in the text as a companion and ally.) In 2005 Hempton established what he calls “One Square Inch of Silence” in Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest. He believes it is the quietest spot in America and has been lobbying hard to maintain it, principally by working to have airlines alter flight patterns to avoid national parks. After a quick explanation of how he became interested in the science of silence, Hempton takes us aboard a 1964 VW bus on an eccentric road trip that zigzags here and there to enable him to introduce us to various people—both professionals and ordinary folks—whom he enlists to tell part of the story. Many of the verbatim conversations are stilted; people talk in thick, organized and often eye-glazing paragraphs. Comments such as “another blade of grass is a different poem” sound like “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handey. In addition, the authors’ determination to mention the brand name of apparently every item used may lead cynical readers to wonder if they received product-placement fees. (Do we need to know that the alarm clock came from Radio Shack?) Like many a True Believer, Hempton frequently employs a grating tone of moral superiority. This invites readers to look for hypocrisy: Why did he drive such a noisy, gas-wasting vehicle? He did walk the final 100 miles into D.C., where he lobbied some bureaucrats and one of his senators.
An important message tucked inside an unappealing bottle.