(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
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
"Silence" is the background of
And what makes it "background" is not
some quality inherent in itself but your perception of it as background. NOTHING ELSE.
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. Dont copy the solid objects in your drawing page. Simply
look at the empty spaces in between the objects and draw that.
1- Turn on the TV. It doesnt matter whats on. Dont look for something
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.
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!