On Play to Hear, Stop to Hear

While transcribing an interview, I listen to the sounds in one compartment of my brain while in another the image of what I cannot see and was not present during plays out as imagination. The words are sounds in small syllabic pieces that fit together in the puzzle that displays language, that displays the aural Tetris configuration of recognizing vocabulary. Only when listening with the task to fully understand is a speaker made into a sphinx, one who is a machine at random, who you cannot always assume will follow through with idioms, clichés, or even the elements of style. Suddenly conversation becomes a sieve of soup: sift through the draining stock and find a length of celery, a chunk of meat. Ah, there. To fully capture and categorize every breath from pause from cough from comma, each change of thought and misused word, onomatopoeia versus diegetic versus non-diegetic recordings.

I pause when the speaker pauses.
I pause in the middle of the sentence, in the invisible ellipses hanging in the air as the speaker searches his own compartments for the right words.
I pause to figure out if there is more than one speaker. Their French accents lend an assuredness missing from American plaintext, unless academic or judicial. The politician has the speech already written by ghosts, approved by members, posted online as soon as spoken.
I pause every three seconds and rewind five. If I do this enough times I am hearing music in the repetitions and inhalations and silverware clinking, not the background colors of Café de Flore.

I begin to recognize, with the same awe at identifying a complete word from the sounds of the speaker, that I am having trouble connecting some syllables of certain words the speaker is uncertain of, until the accent is forgiven in place of contextual logic. The moment of euphoria at deciphering that the sounds of the speaker fit together to make the word kaleidoscope

But I must rewind and repeat and repeat.

I type out thoughsand when I am trying to type thousand.

I hear and he wants when really the speaker says and here we are.

I hear there's such hypochronic all when really the speaker says very much hypochondriac.

I think to myself thoughted when I should have stopped at thought.

The next time the speaker says kaleidoscope I am already recognizing it with each dip and inflection that otherwise one does not intone.

I begin to think transcribing my own conversations would do me good, to read what I have said. To read the words of others verbatim. To have paid excruciating attention to the details of the frequency. To understand the speech patterns and impediments of myself and others. To actually hear the words for what they are: letters.

To see the trees for the forest. It is fall when all the leaves are changing and soon there will be none.

I look at the page in front of me and realize transcription is a liar. But I knew that. Transcription is a polish, it comes in gloss or matte. To write, to compose. Or, to edit. Or, transcription can be a weapon of reveal, dense in areas but showing gaps and littered with unintelligible nonsense, fillers, sounds that are not coded for language but just sounds.


A pause is not the same as silence. A pause, Pinter or otherwise, is pregnant always. It is not a pause in the sound if the sound is discontinued entirely.

A silence is the opposite of pregnant: it is fulfilled and yet contains nothing. A silence is not a plug, a silence is a hole.

A pause means the sound will be resumed.
A silence means the sound has ended.