The Soundscape: Our Environment and the Tuning of the World (1977, 1994): R. Murray Schafer speaks of Silence. Part 3 of random comments

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I refer now to a section of Chapter 19: Silence entitled: “Western Man and Negative Silence.”

This section requires translation into non-patriarchal language. We encounter here a passage built around the noun “man,” treated as representative of all of humanity including women. In this form of language usage, women are treated as absent – as silent somewhere in the background at the margins, ignored. So, I will summarize the gist of what is said while avoiding this form of language usage.

Schafer argues that people like to make sounds to remind themselves they are not alone:

From this point of view total silence is the rejection of the human personality.

He adds:

As the ultimate silence is death, it achieves its highest dignity in the memorial service.

The discussion serves as a way to introduce the work of John Cage:

When one stays for a while in an anechoic chamber – that is, a com­pletely soundproof room – one feels a little of the same terror. One speaks and the sound seems to drop from one’s lips to the floor. The ears strain to pick up evidence that there is still life in the world. When John Cage went into such a room, however, he heard two sounds, one high and one low. “When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.” Cage’s conclusion: “There is no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that makes a sound.”

The discussion proceeds with a reference to what I would characterize as the pragmatics of sound and silence:

The negative character of silence has made it the most potentialized feature of Western art, where nothingness constitutes the eternal threat to being. Because music represents the ultimate intoxication of life, it is carefully placed in a container of silence. When silence precedes sound, nervous anticipation makes it more vibrant. When it interrupts or follows sound, it reverberates with the tissue of that which sounded, and this state continues as long as the memory holds it. Ergo, however dimly, silence sounds.

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