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(with references to John Cage)

John Cage's perception of silence is directly connected to a particular experience that he had at one point in his life. He visited an engineering lab where scientists had constructed a particular kind of chamber, a chamber of silence. He asked to experience this silence by entering the chamber and staying inside for a while. The scientists agreed and he went in. Once inside, at first he experienced what seemed like absolute silence and quiet. Then he heard a growing low drum beat and a whirring high frequency drone. At first he thought something was coming through from the outside. But according to the scientific specifications of the chamber, no noise could come in! Then he thought there may be a malfunction. Finally he simply listened. When he came out, he asked the scientists what those sounds had been. They explained that the low drum beat was his heart and the whirring drone was his blood, flowing through his veins. Those were the only sounds he had heard, since he was producing them himself.

Cage then realized that true "silence" was impossible if the very apparatus that is perceiving is producing sound of its own. If the machine that is taking in the sound, by virtue of being alive, creates sound and noise, then complete and utter quietness could never be experienced. And yet... we do experience "something" which we call "silence". What is that? It isn't absence of "sound" or "noise". That is always there. So our experience of "silence" must be based on something other than the mere absence of "sound".

If you are in your room and no radio is playing, the TV is off, no kids are screaming, there are no friends or family around... what do you hear? What is that? Right now, if you place your attention on it, you can hear a thick bed of constantly shifting sounds and noises, rhythms appearing and disappearing, tiny drones flashing in and out, sudden disruptions in the distance, laughter and calls from the great beyond. All this usually goes unnoticed, as a background to the foreground of the "sound" that you are actually "hearing".  And this is the leap:

"Silence" is not the absence of "sound".

"Silence" is the background of "sound".

And what makes it "background" is not some quality inherent in itself but your perception of it as background. NOTHING ELSE.

Experiment 1

1- Place a chair in front of you, along with some objects on top of each other creating a weird mesh of odd objects.

2- Draw the empty spaces. Don’t copy the solid objects in your drawing page. Simply look at the empty spaces in between the objects and draw that.

Experiment 2

1- Turn on the TV. It doesn’t matter what’s on. Don’t look for something you like.

2- Turn the volume off, completely.

3-  Listen to any sound around you. Listen to any silence around you.

4- Do this for five to ten minutes.

5- Record your experience.

Experiment 3

1- Do this experiment with at least two friends. If you can get two children to this with you, do it!

2- Two (or most, if you have many) of the participants will have earphones, but each will be plugged into a different type of music.

3- One participant (or a couple if many) will use ear plugs, but no music.

4- Dance as a group.

5-  Switch roles. Have fun!



Where or what is the Clear Light? ] The Blank TV ] Human Call and Response ] Call and Response with the Clear Light ] No Thought ] [ Silence ] Noise and Music ] Chaos and Information ] Safety ] Shame and how to overcome it ] Build Up and Release of Energy ]

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