Friday, August 24, 2007


For this last languorous weekend in August, consider this outstanding essay by composer Andrew Waggoner regarding the end of silence and the need to rediscover the absence of music and other noise as something more than "acoustical 'negative space.'" Then, go find some true quiet, the kind that does not require $400 noise reduction headphones, and see if you don't agree.

"In many world societies...there are still spaces—if only interior, or metaphorical, or temporal—set aside for contemplation, for noiseless recalibration of the soul, and in contemporary American culture there are almost none. Our social rituals are constrained by the incessant soundtrack imposed in our public spaces, and our places of worship, by and large, have given themselves over to a muzak-based sense of liturgy that tells us at every step of the way what to feel and with what intensity. Many of us, turning away from both mainline- and mega-church, have sought peace in new-age bookstores, but these, even with their palmists and meditation rooms, surround their patrons with a noxious haze of synthesizers, pennywhistles, and Inuit drums. But beyond shopping, what primary experience are we having here? Are we listeners seeking an archetype of beauty or seekers listening for the godhead? It turns out we are neither—though we may have been duped into one or the other conviction. We are simply consumers. The hope is that, like dairy cattle, we will become more productive if encouraged in our purchases by this kind of marginal musical discourse.

"This, of course, is the common denominator in all the examples above, and it extends beyond the ritual into the political. If we frequent any number of the hipper clothing chains we will find ourselves buoyed by emo or hip-hop beats that serve to wash away the sense of complicity we feel in supporting a sweatshop economy; the music is telling us that we belong here, that we're different, we're aware, we're not the problem. We're down with all the world's peoples, with the losers and dreamers, with the left and the right. We're down with EVERYONE; we don't want any trouble, we just want to buy a pair of cargo pants. Once again, the absence of silence makes it impossible for us to decode the onslaught before we've succumbed to it. And this is not just a function of capitalism. It's worse.

"We find ourselves as a culture unable to assuage our loneliness except through the ceaseless accompaniment of our everyday actions. In such a world buying a book or a shirt is not merely to acquire a thing, to fill a need; it is, rather, to participate in the forced scripting of our lives according to commercial archetypes that tell us, through the imaginary film score by which we buy, eat, make love, crap, worship, and, eventually, die, not who we are but who we wish we were, who the music tells us we want to be. Even our sense of time becomes hopelessly distorted, as we float through our lives according to the dreamlike spans of musical phrases rather than the waking rhythms of clock-time. Thus our capacity to be present for our lives, for our work especially, is compromised by a time-sense that is artificially constructed along unconscious models in order to give perspective on the conscious experience of time's passing, not to replace that experience entirely. In losing silence, and the corresponding potential for musical discernment that silence engenders, we lose ourselves, our native sense of our motion through life."

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