Occasionally the pin-pointed high pitch whine of tinnitus unexpectedly creeps up behind me and lets me know that it’s still there. After years of being in various recording, live music and environmental situations the damage of rugged and harsh times have left their ultimate tattooed mark. Using a combination technique of gentle ear popping, jaw exercise and swallowing I manage to temper this unwanted guest back into the much appreciated pool of silence from whence it came. Which then raises the question what exactly are sound and silence?
I recall the very first time I heard an acoustic guitar. At the age of two years old I toddled robustly down the hallway of our home in Newport, South Wales, drawn magickly by the deep tones of (unbeknownst to me at that point) a guitar. The sound emanated from behind a fence in the front garden. I then climbed the high fence and traversed the top into the wildly panicked arms of my sister and her friend. There lay the wooden machine of the magick tones that had so driven me. The girls then allowed me to strum the guitar. Much to my awe this simple device had created such beautiful and transcendent sounds.
Sound and silence are the ying and yang Doppler Doppelganger twins; the double sided twins that cannot exist without each other. And yet by some strange reason they seem to be so vastly different from each other. Space and divine emptiness seemingly are without sound, though Lustmord’s recent album Dark Matter, derived from an audio library of cosmological activity, would suggest otherwise. Music comes from silence. Nāgārjuna (c. 150 – c. 250 CE) an important Mahayana philosopher says: “Since all is empty, all is possible.” Maybe silence is the sound of possibility before its total and complete transformation. The corn before it has been popped. The flower before it has blossomed.
The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress hormone production and boosts the immune system. Japan’s Zen Buddhist masters have famously asked in the koan: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? It would seem that silence has precious virtues, which are treasure to be fought for in this increasingly loud and violent environmental warzone of sound. “There’s consistent evidence that road traffic noise leads to heart attacks.” says Dr Yutong Samuel Cai, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London. Maybe as artists we could defend the right to silence and thus save lives. This could truly be something worth shouting about.
This article was first published in TQ Music Zine TQ19 The Minimalist Issue.