Saturday, September 01, 2007

...the sounds of silence...

HT to ALD for this little piece which certainly rings a bell or three with me.

The colonization of silence is complete. Its progress was so gradual that even those who watched it with alarm have only now begun to take stock of the losses. Reflection, discernment, a sustainable sense of tranquility, of knowing where and how to find oneself—these are only the most obvious casualties of marauding noise's march to the sea. Much more insidious has been the loss of music itself.

But wait, this can't be: Music is everywhere; we have more of it, available in more forms, more often, than at any time in human history. I can go to the web and find O King of Berio, Baksimba dances from Uganda, something really obscure like Why Are we Born (not to have a good time) of the young Buck Owens, even Pat Boone's version of Tutti Frutti; I can find all of the same at the mall. Surely this is a good thing. I can find renewal of spirit in Sur Incises of Boulez or stand aghast at the toxic grandiloquence of Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals. Music is everywhere. Long live it.

Just give me five minutes without it; that's all I ask, perhaps all I'll need to bring it back into being for myself. Imprisoned by it as I am now, assaulted in every store, elevator, voice-mail system, passing car, neighbor's home, by it and its consequent immolation in the noise of the quotidian, it is lost to me as anything other than a kind of psychic rape, a forced intimacy with sonic partners not of my choosing. When music is everywhere, it is nowhere; when everything is music, nothing is. Silence is as crucial to the musical experience as any of its sounding parameters, and not merely as a kind of acoustical "negative space." Silence births, nurtures, and eventually takes back the musical utterance; it shapes both the formation of its textures and the arc of its progress through time.

But it is not just music that suffers. Think of the "hearing experiences" that you, and your children, have had. The song of birds; the silence of a forest; the running of a stream; the drip off a leaf after rain.

As part of my recuperation I am doing a twice weekly gym session under the supervision of the physios at MM hospital - there are six of us ex-hearties there at each session. We finish up the activity with a relaxation period of about ten minutes. Because I have a bad tendancy to flake out when I stand up I have been tapping into the old and long forgotten TM of the sixties. Fun all round. Everyone else thinks I am a Buddhist and consequently more than a little strange. Well that I might be but not for the reason that I "relax" sitting cross legged rather than lying down.

Why does this have to do with the sounds of silence? Because the physios seem to think that everything must be done to noise - in the case of the relaxation period to some sort of mood muzak.

Waggoner closes his article out thusly -
One thing is certain: No luddite sensibility will save us; we've come too far, too fast. Even as I write this angry missive I, like every other musician I know, am striving to hear through the noise and find what is essential in it, what speaks uniquely of my and my neighborhood's experience and to sing of that in my music. To hate the media is to hate ourselves: we all want the big medicine in the magic box to touch us, to dazzle us, to heal us. We know that ultimately it can't, but we simply don't know how or when to stop, we're children eating Skittles; our mouths are full and we just want more. To pretend otherwise is, I think, poignant at best. But, at some point, stop we must. For now perhaps the best we can do as individuals is try not to be complicit in the occupation of our lives by music made noise. We don't have to listen to music all the time; we still have some, though not much, degree of choice when it comes to the quantity and quality of sound we experience in our everyday world. Exercising that choice wisely, with an ear for the complexity of the aural environment and the need for space within it, will constitute a big first step toward righting the imbalance.

In the meantime, the problem of silence remains.

I agree.

1 comment:

T. F. Stern said...


Reading your entry reminded me of the something I wrote, Pecaw’s Gift, and did a clumsy job of posting; it being a novel and I was new to the internet and blogging, it was helter-skelter since I posted one chapter at a time and it shows up backwards to somebody trying to hash through it. Here’s what I wanted to show you, chapter one is called, The Sounds of Silence.

It’s an introspective examination of the character, very much autobiographical since a goodly portion of the novel is based on real events and people regardless of it being called a novel. I wrote most of it on night shift with my lap top wedged into the steering wheel of my patrol car during the slowest part of the shift, usually around 4 or 5 in the morning when I struggled to stay awake until the end of shift.