in celebration of silence

It’s never silent anymore. Noise is the sound of progress rumbling along: the faster the world spins, the noisier it gets. For a growth-hungry world, silence means recession, so cities swim neck-deep in crashes, roars and rattles, while microparticles of auditory exhaust fumes clog our ears.

In 1958, the French artist Yves Klein opened an exhibition at Galerie Iris Clert in Paris that became known as Le Vide: a whitewashed room with an empty display case. How beautiful that must have been: wall upon wall of nothing, hour upon hour of visual silence.

Fast-forward to 2014, when Vulfpeck released an album on Spotify called Sleepify: ten tracks, each thirty seconds of silence. It was a play on the platform’s payment model for musicians, yet I wanted the album on vinyl, for once to let nothing fill my ears. When Spotify pulled it down after a month, more silence was lost to progress.

Combine silence and music and you can get alchemy happening. Listen to the whole of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver for the false-ending, the silence, and the sudden burst of return at the end of “New York I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down.” Or the silent ringing after “The Tourist” on Radiohead’s timeless OK Computer. Or watch any classical performance and bask in the silence between movements. It takes an artist not to play every note.

It takes an artist with guts not to play any notes. In 1952, John Cage composed “4’33’’.” In it, the orchestra comes on stage, tunes up and proceeds to play absolutely nothing, in three movements. It still fills concert halls with paying audiences. When else do you get the chance to suspend reality with hundreds of strangers at once? It is the anti-news, the anti-phone, the anti-hero. I watched a performance of it on YouTube and my mind nearly burst from the silent intensity.

One day we’ll pay to see Silence at the Royal Albert Hall. The warm-up act will take to the stage and play nothing, the DJ will spin Vulfpeck. The headliner will take naps, drink tea and meditate on stage. When it’s all over, we’ll cheer, we’ll clap, we’ll whoop! We want more! We want more! We’ll talk to strangers around us, ask them: wasn’t that just the maddest experience? We’ll leave, making the sound a crowd makes. We’ll catch last orders in a busy pub and talk over the rabble, and then, without ever really meaning to, we’ll take growling, sighing buses all the way back to our noisy lives.

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