Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Thoughts on Silence

Tracking iii - Walking with White & Arvo Part - Gesso, ink & pencil on a ply crate lid - CB 2006

There's another conference coming up in October - in Launceston, Tasmania. Titled Sounding the Earth: Music, Language, Acoustic Ecology it's being orchestrated by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Australia and New Zealand. I'm hoping to be able to contribute a paper and am in the early stages of putting together an outline with a friend over in Oz. Ideally, we'll end up with a collaborative, 'two-voice' presentation-come-sound installation. The subject of sound inevitably brings up questions around silence for me; the spaces between notes being every bit as important as the notes themselves. Arvo Part's glorious music epitomizes this principle.

I've jotted down thoughts on this subject over the years; it's been interesting to dig some of them up. . .

Silence suggests an experience of absence or aloneness, where it can in fact be one of presence and oneness.

Stillness and silence are dynamic. Each suggests a potent space - a way of being that resonates with energy.

Silence contains and emanates all the fullness of sound. Similarly, stillness is anything but static. Each reveals our connectedness with - and separation from - our selves, others, our environment. Each has the potential to expose memory, challenge reality and the imagined, highlight knowledge or ignorance of self and other.

Silence and stillness accompany us through life and death, teaching us patience, protecting innocence, advising discernment, encouraging autonomy whilst nourishing community.

There are times when silence can equate to cruelty. Omission. Crime?

Perhaps it all comes down to love and listening? If we truly listen - to, for, on behalf of and with - will we know better when to act and when to practice restraint? When to speak and when to hold our tongue? When to move forward and when to step back? When to pick something up and when to set something down? (Or someone?)

Tough calls. And always, we wrestle the ambiguities and intricacies of language.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject?


  1. I think of limbic/ threshold states as silent. The open-stop before crossing over or stepping back.

    It's mysterious how silence can exist in text. The spaces in between.

    Between inhalation and exhalation.

    All best luck with your paper!

  2. The sudden, absolute silence which occurs immediately after a death, and not just in he/she who has passed, but in the greater shutting down of the world, if just for a moment.

    So much to ponder in this post.
    Thank-you, Claire.

  3. The silence unbroken ... is it ever completely silent? (I have a constant (low) ringing in my ears - I am totally used to that and it doesn't bother me, but it does mean that for me complete silence is unheard! (I like a quiet house when I am here by myself ... But I like music too! Just some thoughts anyway.

    BTW I have not only been having annoying probs. with Comments disappearing and what not, but being able to get into blogs - the browsers keep freezing and refusing ... SO frustrating ...

  4. Claire, being a blogger and a poet and a painter communicating is obviously important to you but,yes, silences are so important.I always remember a japanese visitor we had who said she loved the hills and the sheep and the dogs but most of all she loved the silence.

  5. I'm thinking of:

    Profound silence. Shared silence. A moment of silence. Musical silence. Ecstatic silence. Uneasy silence. The right to silence. Enforced silence. Refreshing silence. Hollow silence. Lonely silence. A silent mind. Burgeoning silence. Silence between stanzas. Between people. Open silence. Thoughtful silence. Library silence. Sweet heavy silence. Electric silence.

  6. Dear Mim - I agree, there's something other-dimensional about liminal/threshold spaces. They take us somewhere else, and that somewhere else seems to be beyond sound? Perhaps the same thing happens between inhalation and exhalation?

    Factoring silence into the conf. paper will be key, I think! (Because, as you say, silence in text can be very mysterious.)

    Thanks for your thoughts, Mim x

  7. Dear T - yes, the silence immediately following a death is unnameable, really? It can seem like a vortex one could fall into; as much about space as time. All the senses seem to stall in that moment. You've put it so perfectly - 'the greater shutting down of the world... '

    What you have said resonates beautifully with Mim's comment about threshold spaces, too. Lovely when that happens ; ). Thanks, T.

    L, C x

  8. HI Richard - I wonder whether perhaps there are some things that can only be communicated via silence? Whether, so long as every space is filled, we cease being able to listen effectively, let alone hear?

    Being out in the landscape is a sure way to de-clutter and fine-tune - excellent reasons to take to the hills!

    Thanks for coming by.

  9. Hi Kay - let's hope the gremlins have taken their leave!

    I know what you mean when you ask 'is it ever completely silent?' We are plagued by white noise in the outer world and very often by our own white noise in the inner!

    Perhaps silence in our modern world can be equated with the 'untrammeled space'? Or perhaps it's a state of mind that's less to do with measurable sound and more to do with a damping down of mental clamour that allows for peace of mind?

    L, C x

  10. Hi Mariana - you have offered us a portrait of silence! Thank you.

    A few thoughts in response...

    Shared silence can be a profound and intimate way of communicating.

    Uneasy silence can speak volumes.

    The right to silence is as essential for human beings' well being and succour as water is.

    Open silence creates an opportunity for a different kind of communion with self, other, the land, a situation, a dilemma. Allowing for it suggests a form of deep respect, I think.