Monday, 4 February 2013

Silence - The Tree of Perpetual Yearning

Silence is both a blessing and curse.  I define it above in the heading of this blog entry as a tree of perpetual yearning.  Silence is a condition that seeks to be filled or obtained.  Human beings tend to find silence very uncomfortable yet when we are overwhelmed with a culture of noise, it is ironically more desperately sought than even human intimacy.

Curiously, one of the most prevalent innovators and explorers of silence as an ambient tool is the medium of music.  For example, John Cage's 4'33" immediately springs to mind.  This is a three movement composition in which the musicians are instructed not to play their instruments.  It can be any length, although as its title implies, it was originally intended to last for four minutes and thirty three seconds.  Interestingly, if you have the pleasure of seeing the composition performed, you will be confronted with the simple truth that silence does not really exist.  If you watch your fellow audience members, you will see them shuffling around, coughing and discreetly talking to each other.  Silence is not a natural human state.  Please see below a link to a performance of the composition.

Another time when silence is sought as a means of remembering the lost and deceased is 'Remembrance Day'.  Two minutes silence is an almost impossible goal.  Attention spans are rapidly exceeded and once images of soldiers running around battlefields and memories of loved ones are explored, the remaining time is spent pondering the people around us.

For me, my experience of silence is equally ambivalent.  I recall being in libraries and finding the pursuit of silence oddly oppressive.  Silence and concentration do not always exist in a harmonious relationship.  I tend to become more easily distracted when I am forced to be quiet.  In fact, it is important to highlight the fact that silence is somewhat more intense than 'being quiet'.  If you consider how silence in relationships can either be comfortable or uncomfortable depending upon the company and the moods of the people involved.  I have witnessed several meals where couples simply can no longer communicate.  They barely look at each other as the menu is scrutinised then handed back to the waiter, brief grunts articulating the required food and drink choices.  The playwright, Harold Pinter was also adept at highlighting this essential truth in human relationships with his use of pauses; momentary breaks in communication that in their frequency and sometimes length are horrifying.  Are human beings really incapable of verbalising their needs?  A comfortable silence in a relationship is almost a state of telepathy, where you don't need the other person to talk the whole time.  Simply being with them is enough.

When you think of silence, you may picture a Monastery and hooded figures in prayer or a foggy day.  Fog seems to shroud the world of sound in a thick blanket.  The disorientation that you experience is as much to do with the absence of sound as opposed to simply not being able to see.

I do not seek silence, I seek peace and that is even harder to achieve.

                                                                                           Barry Watt - 4th February 2013


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