loud- QUIET- loud

Nov 5, 2015

“Falling silent should be cultivated, the way the woods fall silent in the snow. Messages you can’t send any other way can be heard.”

I’ve been thinking a great deal this week about silence.

I think this started when compiling my contribution to the playlist for the recent #relearn event. I was taken back to my days of editing albums and the painstaking- even agonising- process of first arranging songs in their final order and then negotiating exactly the right amount of silence (or occasionally lack of silence) between each track. The silence provided the segue from one emotion to the next, priming the listener, creating context and dynamics. It was a slow process, prone to last-minute revision but when it was right, everyone just knew it was right. The silence had a remarkable, transformative effect on the sounds that preceded and followed.

The internet is full of questions regarding the removal or standardisation of gaps between music. Auto-crossfades. Drag-and-drop pauses. There is an app for it. This is a space in which sound holds primacy.

Generally, I think that it is the pauses that provide the context in which stories emerge and from which they are understood. Pauses allow us to construct meaning, make sense, engage and collaborate with the storyteller. Pauses are the fertile voids from which non-verbal dialogue emerges and monologue is transformed. I feel that it’s during the silence in someone’s story that we hear ourselves. As such, I expect that everyone experiences silence in a different way and so silence holds meaning.

“He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.”

These thoughts reinforce my belief that dialogue is a most powerful mechanism for deep reflection and learning. Perhaps in the past I considered the words spoken to be the mediators for change but I’m now thinking about words as hand-claps in an empty room — creating a purpose and energy to the silence that follows one word and precedes the next. This is my thinking out loud.

“Music is the cup that holds the wine of silence.”

One of the tracks I selected for #relearn was John Cage’s 4′ 33″. Cage created a piece that would be constructed from sounds that are not produced as a result of musicians following the instructions of the composer or conductor. Rather, a spontaneous, human, complex palette of sound emerges from the affordances created by the space in which the piece is performed. 4′ 33″ is music. And it’s also about music.

I talked with Uppy about this. He recognised Cage’s creation of a space for independent, self-directed and self-organised performers. A composer uniquely interpreted by the conductor, once again by each musician in orchestra and from which new meaning emerges.

“…try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

I’m disappointed with myself for making a last-minute revision. I bottled it. I removed Cage’s silent composition and chose instead a more conventional performance (by Cage standards) with Takehisa Kosugi and pals. Simply, I think I feared providing our guests with a silent backdrop. I imagined and feared the music falling away and conversations becoming loud-QUIET-loud, foregrounded and unaccompanied. Unconducted.

Other words by: Phyllis Theroux| Elbert Hubbard | Robert Fripp | John Cage