The sound of silence

Turn off the tv.

Go on. Do it now. Turn off the radio. Turn off the central heating- just for a few minutes.
Can you still hear the outside world ? Children shouting ? Traffic in the street below ?
Pull the curtains across and try to muffle the noise.

Sit down for a while. What can you hear ? At first you’ll strain to hear noises from outside- anything. Then you’ll start to hear your body- your rumbling tummy, the steady thud of your hear, the in-out whistling of your breath.And when you listen beyond that you will hear…nothing…silence…or as near silence as you can get. What is it like ? Is it comforting ? Frightening ?

No two silences are ever alike.

I think that we have become frightened of silence. There is music everywhere- in shops,in cafes and restaurants, on the phone, in airports. It is as though we have to move from one island of noise to another. Notice the number of people in town who are plugged into their MP3 players. Are they music buffs, desperate to listen to their favourite composer every minute of the day ? Or are they frightened of listening to their own thoughts ? Or are they afraid of having to actually speak to someone ?

This comfort blanket of noise is quite a recent thing-a hundred years ago most people didn’t have access to recorded sound, or the radio. It was noisy when they went to work- the clacking of typewriters, the ear shattering roar of machinery, but the background of their private lives was human speech. There was music- yes- but it was a special treat, and it was always live. I think that maybe music has lost some of its power because it is so instantly available.

No two silences are ever alike.

Silence is more than an absence of noise. It is what happens in the gaps between your words and the gaps between your thoughts. Listen to this piece about silence by the French writer Jean Anouilh:

“Every kind of stillness. The hush when the executioner’s axe goes up at the end of the last act. The unbreathable silence when the two lovers, their hearts bared, their bodies naked, stand for the first time, face to face in the darkened room, afraid to stir. The silence inside you when the roaring crowd acclaims the winner- so that you think of a film without a soundtrack…and you, the victor, alone in the desert of your silence.”

Silence. Makes you think, doesn’t it ?

That’s the point.


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