IS THERE a more relaxing sound that rain falling on trees?
This dripping soundtrack was the silver lining to the cloud which encroached on Wexford overnight last Saturday, signalling an end to July’s heatwave.
Lying and listening, awake in the darkness, it occurred to me how rarely I actually hear rain (though I feel it plenty).
I doubt I’m the only one.
Precipitation is a source of constant complaint in Ireland. That’s not surprising, given that parts of the country experience an average of 225 wet days a year.
But focusing on the sight and the feel of rain – neither of which is usually very pleasant – usually means that I miss the sound, the consistent, light drum of falling drops on leaves.
The calming effect of this may be simply an aural impact, the drops creating a sound which slips into sync with my brainwaves.
It could also have a much deeper psychological resonance, a link to a primitive human past where rainfall meant renewal of life, or growth, or a ‘oneness’ with the environment and seasons.
Or maybe it’s just soothing because I’m lying indoors in a dry bed.
That said the sound struck me again as I walked home from work late the following evening.
Moving along the tree-lined road leading to our apartment drops began to fall on the car- and wind-less street.
Removing my headphones I stood and listen to the symphony, moving and changing as drops fell on higher leaves, or lower ones, or the pavement.
The effect was almost musical.
The two incidents put me in mind of an observation made by composer Brian Eno.
In 1975, recovering in hospital following a car accident, the musician observed how the sound of rain contributed to the ambience of an environment like certain light or music did.
In Eno’s case he observed the effect the falling rain had when it was mingled with the low-volume record of harp music he was playing in the room.
This conclusion subsequently led him to create a number of groundbreaking ‘ambient’ records – containing music which comes very close to replicating the calming effect of rainsounds.
Strangely enough Eno didn’t use rain samples on these recordings – or none I can can hear at least.* (Other artists have incorporated the sound; most famously, perhaps, The Doors).
And I’ve yet to hear a musical simulacrum which has the same effect as the real thing.
Until I do I’ll just keep opening a window.
*Unlike some other natural sounds. Two of my favourite recordings feature wind and fire – the wind on this Geir Jenssen Cho Oyo field recording and the fire crackling behind this Neil Young acoustic track.