It used to be that living in cities meant living with a certain level of cacophony. With life vibrating at a much slower pace these days, the lack of commotion gives way to something more subtle. Rid of traffic, by foot or wheel, all that’s left is something bare—a newly passive landscape we confront on our slippered-shuffle from kitchen to bedroom.

The sound of this landscape is a low fuzz. It has an arterial pulse, with a resonance that signifies movement. It has a faint hum the way a highway heard from a high rise hotel does, muffled by yards of haze, two panes of glass and argon. It is persistent but benign. It is so mild that you almost forget it is the result of censorship; a placid remnant stripped of life outdoors.

The humming frequencies that make life go around each have a distinctive character and flair. The low drone of a neighboring HVAC unit rumbles begrudgingly, distinct from the youthful buzz of a power line. These are not human, or even natural, sounds; but they do have an innate sense of struggle, of an eagerness to provide and please.

Inside our walls, landscape takes the form of the many systems thrumming at a steady rate to remind us that the house itself is alive and well, and at work. The sump pump produces a familiar whir as it hinders yet another flood, a shower fan turns on somewhere, shepherding steam to an unseeable exhaust. A cursory online search reveals the ubiquity of such sounds—even Bob Vila devotes an article or two to identifying the noises that could signify system failure, the way seasoned car mechanics diagnose a car by just listening.

In the home, a world of now-amplified digital consumption, the dominant sound is often a fan blade. One could say that the fate of our digital existence is directly tied to its development; no information could be transferred without the proper means of cooling the instruments. The rate at which a fan blade spins is directly equivalent to the frequency that it produces. Because sound is a factor of air movement, and frequency is measured in the same unit as the rate of spin, this is one of those tidy equations that you could tie a bow on: One revolution per second produces sound at one Hertz, 20 revolutions per second produce 20 Hertz, and so on. There are few things in life that are simple, but this is one of them.

Outside, divorced from the half inch of drywall that typically shelters us from discord, the passive landscape can be heard almost without refrain. Not unlike a choir of insects, all buzzing completely and nondescript, it’s there and not there at the same time. While the wash of noise could once be brushed off, in favor of a cursing cyclist or the revving of motorbikes down the block, now isolated it presents itself emphatically and the chorus can be plucked apart tone by tone.

So this is the point: quarantine affords an opportunity to observe infrastructure naked. While it may not be beautiful in any conventional sense, it is a calming reminder that the many critical systems we rely on strain and bellow to demands as we do. And yet they remain, confident as ever, even as our world changes.

Contribution to A Guide to Getting by at Home, a publication intended to alleviate the isolation of quarantine life, with all proceeds directly benefiting National Bail Out and Protect the Sacred.