Since going to Compline last night, I’ve been thinking all day about silence. Mostly about how I’m not sure that true silence exists. My thoughts on this aren’t really formed into a cohesive whole yet, so this will probably read like bullet points.
Silence, I think, is like the color black. Black technically isn’t a color because it’s simply the absence of light, but it’s shade and hue is still recognizable to the eye. We still think of it as a color. In that same vein, silence is supposed to be the absence of sound, but strangely enough, there is a distinct sound to silence. To me, it sometimes sounds like buzzing, or like softly rushing water.
If you locked yourself in a soundproof room, could you maintain complete silence? I don’t think you could. You could hear yourself breathing, and at a certain point, even the dull throb of your pulse would become a deafening sound.
There have been a few moments in my life where I felt like I was enveloped by profound silence, but even in those moments, there was something at least vaguely audible: another person’s inhale and exhale, a body adjusting its position, crickets softly chirping. Which is (maybe) to say that each small sound, that would be otherwise unextraordinary and insignificant, is given great weight when it acts as a punctuation to silence.
One of my friends told me about John Cage’s “3’44” piece, and I almost couldn’t believe it was real. Below is a performance of the piece by the BBC Orchestra.
Silence can be so unnerving! Especially when there is an expectation of sound that is being turned on its head. But I think that’s why this piece is so incredible: it forces one to hear the sounds of silence, and interpret it within the context of music. I love how the announcer calls each cough and sniffle and itch-scratching of the audience a musical movement, because it truly is. And it’s never the same musical movement; it changes with every new audience, with every individual of the audience.
There’s a part of me that thinks silence as we experience it is just a sign of life, of being and existence. And I think that’s kind of comforting: to think that true silence could exist only if the state of being alive didn’t. Thoughts?