From my recent trip to Mexico I brought some sound snippets of twisted european heritage: the Torre Latinoamericana, the landmark tower in the city center Mexico DF, plays a cheap digital version of London’s Big Ben every hour. And notorious in the streets of DF and other Mexican cities are the out-of-tune barrel organs that once crowded London and other European centers. Hearing this distorded example of a barrel organ I captured in Oaxaca, one can understand Charles Dickens complaints about the “most excruciating sounds imaginable” that kept him from writing again and again. Thanks to the city of sound webpage I found this beautiful excerpt taken from Virginia Woolfs “Mrs Dalloway”, another telling example of literatures fascination with city sounds:

“For having lived in Westminster – how many years now? over twenty, – one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, that said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one lives it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.”