“Find those moments where you can quieten your mind and find moments of joy that are just for you. Then you will find silence.” ~ Erling Kagge
Many years ago, as a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus, I was lucky enough to take part in a festival of music celebrating the work of pioneering American composer John Cage. We were involved in several different performances over the course of a weekend, the most memorable of which saw the choir splitting up into a number of sub-choirs, all positioned around the voluminous corridors and hallways of London’s Barbican Theatre. Our group had several pieces of music in front of us and, at a specific time, the conductor threw two dice. The numbers determined which piece we would sing, and from where within the piece we should begin. After a set amount of time (a few minutes I think), the dice were thrown again and we switched pieces and places accordingly. Our voices echoed around the music space, intermingling with the sounds of the other groups, who were all performing their own versions of the music, to their own dice throws. It was a remarkable experience, a total immersion in a multiplicity of sounds, which were at once discordant and harmonious.
In contrast, John Cage is perhaps better known for his groundbreaking work “4’33”, in which no instrumental music can be heard. The performers sit in ‘silence’ on the stage for the precise time of four minutes, 33 seconds. Cage’s point is that this time is not actually a period of no sound, but rather is an exploration of all those sounds made by a large body of people sitting together. As such, every time the work is performed, it is a unique and unrepeatable experience, exactly as is the case with any more traditional composition.
It is a fascinating approach to music and performance, and you can see an excellent version of the work in this film:
I was reminded of my Cage experience when my dear friend Gallivanta shared the following footage of a ‘silent interview’, also lasting 4’33. Erling Kagge reflects on the benefits of finding silence, wherever you are, and whenever you wish to do so.
“Silence can be anywhere, anytime. That is the joy of it! I believe it is possible for everyone to discover this silence within themselves, even when surrounded by constant noise.” – Erling Kagge
The interview led me to review Marina Abromavić’s fascinating art installation, where she sat in the middle of a room holding silent interactions with all those who queued to see her.
And if you will allow me one further link, I very much enjoyed revisiting the film in this post in which Johanna Norblad talks about ways of finding a different world of peace and beauty.
As I type, it is quiet, but definitely not silent. I can hear the clacking of my fingers on the keyboard, the whirr of the washing machine in its final rinse cycle, the gentle hum of our central heating boiler. And yet, through the wisdom of all these different links, I can see how easy it is to create your own atmosphere, your own conditions, whether it be your version of silence, a sense of peace and calm, or a moment of stillness.
Does peace come via silence, or do we find our own silence be being peaceful? I don’t think it matters. What is important, though, is recognising the restorative benefit of finding our own ‘piece of peace’ in the midst of life’s hurly burly.
“All the wonders of life are already here. They’re calling you. If you can listen to them, you will be able to stop running. What you need, what we all need, is silence. Stop the noise in your mind in order for the wondrous sounds of life to be heard. Then you can begin to live your life authentically and deeply.”