Drinking Sounds

She tilts her head down and cracks an eyebrow, giving you all a wide-eyed, expectant look. “But you all didn’t come just for that stuff, right?” she says, dragging out the last word.

She turns away from you and throws her arms to her sides, tilting her head back up and exclaiming, “You came for the sound bar!”

A curtain opens as she raises her hands, revealing a small dark space, lit by clusters of sparkling lights weaved around the installations where light bulbs once sat. The dim lighting drew all focus to seven shot glasses arrayed across a bar, each with its own share of sparkling lights circled around it. Behind them, in the shadows, sat the mountains of bottles just waiting to be sampled.

She looks back at all of you, one eyebrow still raised, and bobs her head. “Yeah,” she says. “Pretty impressive, huh? We’ve got about a hundred different sounds here for you to sample.” She gives everyone a conspiratorial look and leans in as she says, “Best sound bar in the state, you know?”

You might not have known exactly what you were getting into by walking into this club, and this tour guide has been about equal parts helpful and enigmatic. But this you knew was here. The sound bar was the big draw after all, at least for you. There was something for everyone (well, maybe not quite) in here, but this was the thing for you.

There’s a moment of quiet as you and the other members of your group gawk silently at the display, no one willing to speak and pierce the eerie murmurings drifting down from the ceiling.

She isn’t standing for any of that though. She holds the conspiracy face for a moment, twisting her head back and forth between each of you, twitching her eyebrows occasionally for emphasis. But once the silent hesitation stretches out long enough (too long really), she pulls her head back and flashes a sterner, more expectant look. “Well, come on now!” she cries, gesturing forcefully toward the shot glasses. “Someone step up!” she orders.

Compelled by the force of her voice, you step forward, bringing yourself up to the center shot glass. She smiles and nods. “Good, good,” she says, “That’s just what we like to see. What do you want to sample today?”

She leans forward over the bar and starts plucking out bottles. “We’ve got thunderstorm, we’ve got ocean, we’ve got forest, and jungle cats, and city and static and speech – make a call, we’ll give you just what you need.”

“Uh… how about city?” you suggest half-heartedly, simply landing on the first bottle label you see. You’ve never done this before, so you don’t really know your tastes yet.

She nods, her face lapsing into neutrality. “A wise decision,” she says sagely, in that way where you’re pretty sure she’s sincere, but she could be messing with you. She pulls out the city bottle again and tips it over your shot glass. A clear liquid spills and cascades into the glass, collecting more like thin syrup than a glass of water.

She pops the bottle back down and turns to you, raising both her eyebrows and offering her increasingly familiar expectant face. “Drink up!” she encourages.

You look down at the shot glass and shrug. Here goes nothing. You reach down, grab the glass, and down it just like any other shot.

You taste nothing as the liquid passes your lips, not even the taste of water. But the soundscape erupts, a city springing to life in your brain. The sounds start slow and weak at the first drops, but explode in power as the full shot washes down. Honking horns and shouting pedestrians, street vendors and protest groups, a thousand little conversations and a dozen huge ones – all of these envelop your mind in an instant at staggering volume.

You jerk back and gasp at the force of it, wincing in pain. But it passes as quickly as it came, the liquid sliding unnoticeably down your throat and the sounds instantly dropping off. The volume is like a crack of thunder, massive and dramatic for a split second before fading softly into the distance, leaving only dim rumblings in its wake.

You shake your head in astonishment and eye the shot glass as she sits next to you, waiting, still silent.

Curious, you lift the shot glass to your eye and examine it, noting the few remaining droplets. You tilt your head back and the glass up, coaxing a few stubborn drops onto your tongue.

Each individual drop offers the briefest flash of another city sound. Just a horn, not any shouts.  Three drops drip onto your tongue, and each brings the volume up a dial higher before sinking back down to normal, leaving behind an echoing memory.

“The shots give you that big burst of stimuli,” your tour guide says, eyeing you as she casually reaches out and tips another shot into your glass. “Try a slow sip. It’s more immersive.”

You nod breathlessly and take hold of the glass once more. You tip the liquid into your mouth, carefully this time. Again the sounds envelop your brain, surrounding you in the experience. But it’s less powerful this time, less destructive.

The screeches of car horns are distant flavor, undercurrents and background noise, not claxons in front of your face. The sounds of pedestrians walking and talking form the baseline of the taste, the thick, main current, as though you have a particularly good pair of headphones. Individual words and phrases slip through like dashes of spice, but they’re merely subtle hints, not forceful screams.

Without the intense pressure of the shot, you can focus too on other, slighter noises: echoes of the wind rippling between the skyscrapers; distant sounds of building construction and roadwork; the low buzz of neon street signs at night.

The drink disappears all too quickly, the experience rising up around your mind and receding back into the distance, leaving only slivers of sound behind as aftertaste. You open your mouth and breathe deeply, the air leaving tingles behind, as though you had just finished a mint.

“Come one, come all!” announces your guide, catching you off guard as she steps to the side and gestures to the array of sounds stacked at the bar. “There’s plenty for everyone!”

Sinking down from your high, you notice that the rest of the group is beginning to move forward now, emboldened by your successful experiment.

They all step forward and reach out for various drinks: Ocean Spray, Under-the-Sea, Soaring Sky, Warzone, Calvary Charge, Conversationalist – the list goes on and on. A cornucopia of sounds just awaiting your taste buds.

You eye them all carefully yourself and then reach out and resume your drinking.