In the Anechoic Chamber

On Friday I spent an hour in UCL’s anechoic chamber, a small room filled with noise-absorbing wedges that produce an almost noiseless environment, where no sounds echo back to the speaker but disappear into the walls.

I spent 15 minutes sitting silently and in the dark, and then Nadine Lavan, who very kindly supervised me, turned on the lights and the microphone.

First of all I tried to describe as closely as possible what I’d heard and seen, and then I spent around 20 minutes writing, followed by an improvised spoken reflection on the experience, which lasted around 17 minutes.

You can listen to my first audio description – featuring phasing sand, birdsong, silent pressure and Neil Young – on the Soundcloud clip below, and below that the piece I wrote in the chamber, lightly edited.

Anechoic Chamber Noise by jwilkes


starting with silence
which is not silence
as pressure and birdsong
emerges from a small room, imagine
being trapped
scrabble at the doorless door
feedback dampened
this, typing, still noises
my stomach still noises
gentle belch
the system wobbles in its noise
and cloth-eared hiss to myself

possible to create distractions
actually quite comfortable
was what I thought
locked away from the world
took several tries to speak
into the dark there seemed
no need almost
the lights went on it
vanished, recollected
the old chair still crunches
silence chased
by key tapping, leg shifting

it had real presence, real pressure
well let’s call it ‘silence’
seeing as it really scattered sand
dawn chorus, deep pressure, wet crackling
spatialised, a volume for living in
miner for a heart of gold
punctuated by belly creak
the voice from the speaker
shakes the metal frame of the floor
all is motion

I hadn’t expected the volume
another belly creak
that forms around me
or into which I dissolve
as to say birdsong top right
or phasing sand mid right
or pressure all across the left
is to explain how inner and outer
make little sense
in the dark, in the silence

turning L and R
proprioception gave me that
but the eyes were still deep blue of noise
and no-sound moved straight
through the skull