The Song of the Sea

Our first book, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, took us to Grand Isle. An island off the southern coast of Lousiana, it has been historically implemented as a summertime vacation spot for the wealthier demographic of Louisiana. The foliage and overall vibe are a cross between the speed of Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California, and the foliage of Kauai, Hawaii. Here are some pics to give you a sense of the place:

The Awakening

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her
— The Awakening, Chapter VI

During her Grand Isle getaway, Mrs. Pontellier, a.k.a. Edna, becomes an independent thinker and challenges the social boundaries/expectations placed upon her. There she experiences Creole influences that draw her out of the conservative, Puritan, American heritage that defines her worldview. The influences of physical affinity, emotional affairs, and romantic music draw Edna out of her world. She eventually goes back to her New Orleans home, and in short, sees everything differently and does some radical stuff in comparison to the social expectations of women during the late 19th century.

The Sound

I want to focus on Edna’s aural stimulations at Grand Isle. Her romantic conversion is closely tied to her relationship with the ocean. In Chapter 6, Kate Chopin gives us insight into why Edna is starting to conjure new thoughts and realign her worldview.

The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation
— The Awakening, Chapter VI
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Something about the ocean’s natural sound unravels Edna. While on Grand Isle, I decided to capture what Edna might have heard in the ocean. All my audio is captured in stereo, so it will be best experienced with headphones (if you’re a real audiophile, you can download a 96kHz 24bit WAV through Soundcloud). Listen and try to hear the whispering, clamoring, and murmuring of the sea.

There is a lot to this Grand Isle soundscape. The churning of mild waves and the calls of various birds bring a nature-driven character to the sound. This gulf sound distinguishes Grand Isle's aural temperament from its costal counterparts. It is minimal, not having too many layers, yet each aural element is thick and complex. Overall, the timbre sets a mood of relaxation, solitude, and environmental immersion. Compare this to the Pacific Ocean along the Los Angeles coast; its atmosphere screams action. Bigger waves bring a boomier presence of water; a greater traffic of people creates a human-based walla rather than a bird-based one; depending on the beach, planes or piers add an industrial/city character to the beach instead of the lonely solitude of the Grand Isle coast. Grand Isle’s soundscape proves that Edna’s transformation must happen on Grand Isle. There, the aural serenity allows her to sink into her own world and put aside the hustle and bustle that comes with her conservative wife-life in New Orleans.

The Music

Another element adds to Edna’s transformation, music. In Chapter 9, the romantic piano playing of Mademoiselle Reisz moves Edna into a new emotional dimension. While it is unclear what piece Mademoiselle plays, readers know that it is one of Frederic Chopin’s preludes that arouses Edna’s emotional passion. A good guess at the piece could be Chopin’s Prelude in E-Minor (Op. 28, No.4). “The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mr.s Pontellier’s spinal column.” I think this prelude would stir such feelings.

Immediately after this new wave of emotions, Edna conjures up the confidence to swim in the ocean. I think this moment completes Edna’s transformation, as Kate Chopin continues:

[Edna] grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before
— The Awakening, Chapter X

I imagine Frederic Chopin’s Prelude flowing through Edna’s ears and body. It is the anthem that gives her confidence to swim and break from the social boundaries that previously kept her on the shore. I’ve superimposed the prelude with the gulf soundscape to give a sense of what Edna may have perceived as she grew in confidence.

It was quite windy throughout our time on Grand Isle. A slight breeze would roll in from the ocean and create a torrent of sound for my microphone setup. Unfortunately I did not bring a windscreen with me, so I had to make some on-the-fly DIY maneuvers. I tried socks and sweaters; they worked…but they really didn’t do a good job blocking the wind. Luckily, our team’s Airbnb provided these small facial towels. With just the right thickness, the towel canceled out the the torrent of wind without blocking too much of the high frequency content. Combined with a bit of EQ processing, it was the perfect solution.

 Makeshift Zoom H6N setup

Makeshift Zoom H6N setup

Also, there were interesting animals along the beach. I was impressed by this crab's camouflage abilities.