Every living species inhabits a sensory and temporal universe that is uniquely its own. Bats depend on their ears, hawks on their eyes, dogs on their noses, and trees on their sheer longevity. As humans, we have the imagination to adjust our focus and our pace; we can descend as visitors into these alien domains and discover new facets of our relationship to the whole. Any living creature, closely observed, offers us this opportunity for self-discovery. Consider the humble white-lipped snail, Neohelix albolabris. As Elisabeth Tova Bailey writes in her memoir, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2010), "As the snail's world grew more familiar, my own human world became less so; my species was so large, so rushed, and so confusing..."
In this sound clip, recorded for projects produced by the book's author, you can hear the sounds of a snail feeding on a raw carrot. I captured the sounds using a pair of custom contact microphones coupled to the carrot using straight pins and alligator clips (see photo). As the snail eats the carrot, it extends and retracts its radula (the molluscan version of a tongue) with great deliberation, dragging more than two thousand needle-sharp teeth across the carrot surface with every bite, pulverizing each mouthful of food with a distinctive rasp-like sound.
Although the snail is equipped with highly developed senses of smell, taste, and touch, it is profoundly deaf. It will never hear this accidental gift of sound that is food both for our ears and for our imagination.
This sound clip is © 2012 Elisabeth Tova Bailey, and was recorded and engineered by JT Bullitt.