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In praise of quietness - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 09:15 am
In praise of quietness

* The red headphones you can see me wearing in recent photos aren't connected to anything. No music flows through them. But they aren't merely cosmetic either. They're "portable peace". When I clap them over my ears, the world becomes a quieter place. And I like quietness.

* Peacefulness isn't merely the absence of sound, it's a way of being, a positive thing, a presence. Just as, in my Wired piece Hell is other people's music, I needed the concept of "roomtone" to show up pumped-in music as an intruder, so we need a concept of positive peacefulness. Low-level indigenous sound is not simply an absence, a blank slate. It's something present, something desireable, something you can hear.

* Last week's debates on the politics of texture raised the question: "How can you be celebrating peace when you're so violent and noisy?"

* I've always liked quiet people. My girlfriends have tended to be quiet, whispery, intimate. The sexiest people are!

* Japanese couples, as I understand it, don't feel the need to talk all the time. They can sit in silence for long periods without there being a sense that "something is wrong".

* Berlin is a very quiet city. I mean, if you want noise, you can find it. But there's a sobriety about Berlin, a tempered quality. In many streets, the loudest sound is birdsong.

* I love how, when it gets quiet, tiny sounds get "loud". That's my favourite landscape of sound.

* Last night I got home with John Talaga and nobody was in. The loft was so quiet! You could hear the wind, and roomtone, and the small sounds of the cat as it scampered about. I enhanced (or slightly spoiled) the poignant roomtone by playing Paul Lansky's "Alphabet Book", a very quiet record I bought in January in Tokyo, and one of my favourite finds this year.

* One day I will write about the vice of "Easy Power". The fact that it's easy to whip people up by cranking the sound up to 11.

* There's a video in the Chinese video art show at PS1 in which a performance artist films himself disturbing the peace on crowded Chinese streets. We see people filing calmly by, then the artist starts screaming and shouting, and people are momentarily alarmed, then continue about their business. It's interesting the first couple of times...

* At the soundcheck for my Tonic gig I asked the engineer to try to keep the levels down throughout our sets. The tendency at rock shows is for noise levels to creep up and up, but if you keep the sound down quite low, attention levels creep up instead. Of course, you miss the body-throbbing physical oomph of loud volume. But, increasingly, it's that sharp, focused, motivated, ultra-sensitive kind of attention I crave from audiences.

* Don't let the noisiest, least attentive person in the audience set the sound levels.

* I find myself slipping my red headphones on at films a lot too. Especially the trailers. The films I like tend to be quiet ones. The quietest film I ever saw was one about Bruce Goff. Goff in the Desert, it was called. It was a sequence of buildings by the visionary architect, accompanied by ambient sound from the buildings. No commentary, so the roomtone was foreground, not background. A kind of ambient film. I loved it, I found it exemplary and very... subversive, somehow. A "quiet revolution".

* Saturday night on the Lower East Side. We tried to find a bar for an after-party. Jesus, this area has got loud! Velvet ropes, security, bars where people simply bellow at each other and bad music clangs and hammers. We had to walk miles, down into Chinatown, to find a place where we could hear ourselves think. There's a range of frequencies and volumes people can communicate within, and once you go outside that everything becomes a bit of an ordeal, a bit uncomfortable.

* There's a whole school of "quiet music", like the The Mountain Record by Yuichiro Fujimoto. And it's interesting how often noise artists turn, sooner or later, to quietness. Like Otomo Yoshihide and his music venue Off Site.

* I notice that people are listening to music on smaller and smaller speakers these days. A lot of people I know just listen to music on the built-in speakers in their laptops. It's a way of getting music quieter.

* There's no shame in being introverted.

* People who love quietness love life.

81CommentReply

geeveecatullus
geeveecatullus
clodia pulchra
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 01:30 pm (UTC)

are these filtering out certain noises or just blocking out everything?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC)

The headphones? They just lower the general level of everything by about 40%. You can still hear people speak. In fact, the headphones reveal that (in America, at least) everything seems to be set about 40% above the level of basic intelligibility.


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cutup
cutup
Mr. the Cutup
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)

Your blog has a quiet tone.


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mo_no_chrome
mo_no_chrome
mo_no_chrome
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC)

I think one of the issues is that socialness is associated with noise. So there's no concept of soci(able)ness without a high noise level. Particularly in terms of pub culture, I'm constantly amazed at the music I have to yell over. After all, if I wanted to be deafened I'd go to a club where music is designed to give that 'oomph' that conduces to energetic dance. but at the same time, I'd like to be in a social space shared not only with people I know, but with people I don't know. It's a shame these things generally, in practice at least, work out to be contradictory...


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bifteck
bifteck
Meredith
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC)

I hate how loud music is in restaurants and bars. I still have yet to meet someone who enjoys having music so loud in a place of recreation such as these that they have to yell just to be heard and strain just to hear others. Nobody likes it. Why do managers do it?


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC)

When I'm walking around outside, it's so loud I can't hear the bees coming, and then they attack me!
If the world was quieter, I'd probably be able to hear the bees coming, but I wouldn't have to because the only reason they're attacking is that they don't like loud noise!

When I tell my friends that I don't like going to concerts where I have to stand, they tell me that I've gotten too old. I don't think that's true, because according to Professor Kawashima from Brain Age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_Age) my brain age is 23. Hm, now that I think about it, I don't think I'd mind the noise and shouting so prevalent at rock shows if everyone were sitting down. At least not so much. Maybe I'm onto something here – this binary opposition of loud and quiet you've been talking so much about lately is a red herring, it's really all about standing music and sitting music.

Today I'm listening to Dr. John's first album (Gris-Gris). It's not *quiet*, but it's music you can sit down to. Or lie down to.

Stay healthy, Momus! Stay healthy!

(Hm, LJ is making me confirm that I am a human by typing in some letters. I'm not sure I approve of how Mr. Anonymous has become a second class citizen on the web these last years)


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zenmonkeykstop
zenmonkeykstop
zenmonkeykstop
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 12:31 am (UTC)

You would approve if you had to deal with 2,000,000+ users' spam every day.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC)

I was at a party on Saturday night. Everyone was bellowing their heads off, because as the music got louder everyone shouted louder to be heard over everyone else. A common scenario. It ended up becoming unbearable. In similar situations in the past, I've turned the music down (of course, no-one even notices) and screamed in a bloodcurdling fashion to create about 1 second of silence, which then allows the volume level to creep back up, slowly. It gives me at least a few moments respite before it becomes annoying again.

Actually, it's not the noise I object to most of all. It's having to shout. I hate shouting.

Anyway, on Saturday I couldn't be arsed, so I went to sit in a room on my own and watched the Eurovision Song Contest with the sound turned off. It was great.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:14 pm (UTC)

Quiet gatherings > parties.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
antisyzygy
antisyzygy
antisyzygy
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:14 pm (UTC)

I'm sympathetic to much of this, and intrigued that in your attention to the quality of audience attention you should start to sound like Robert Fripp in his reports of his Soundscape performances. But listening to music through laptop speakers is potentiallly a disaster: there's no bass worth mentioning. Discussion of music on this basis would be like an architectural criticism that prevented anyone from seeing the ground floor of the building.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:25 pm (UTC)

Yes, I notice that some songs completely lose their (implied) chords when the bassline is inaudible on those tiny speakers. Songs with voice and abstractish accompaniment, anchored by bass notes. There's one on my new album called "Zanzibar". On small speakers it just floats off into space like a tiny balloon.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:29 pm (UTC)
Freedom

Those who love quietness love FREEDOM!


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:34 pm (UTC)


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relaxing
relaxing
a hardon for sophistry
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC)

well that's obnoxious on two levels...


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sunfell
Sunfell
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC)

I love good silences. And I understand 'roomtone' too. I cannot write with any 'speaking noises' going on- so I turn NPR off, and if I need sound, I turn on some music. Nothing with any kind of heavy beat, but generally something in my collection from Narada or Windham Hill.

I love techno and electronica, but cannot go to any clubs to listen to it because the volume is often too high. I am very sensitive to loud noises- especially high pitched ones. I have been known to leave restaurants when there is a screaming infant or child nearby.

I detest 'small talk' and noise for noises sake. I used to work in Circuit City, and the managers always wanted the audio people to play things at earsplitting volume to make the place feel 'alive'. I was always sneaking over and turning things down, or disconnecting speakers.

There are stores in the mall that I will not go into because of the noise.

And you are right: there is no shame in being introverted. I rather like it myself. I do not own any kind of portable music player- I prefer to listen to the world around me than have it force-fed into my head. The music in my head is my own making. Plus the batteries never die!

:-)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC)

"I was dismayed to read in Frieze (issue 98) about Kraftwerk's engineer who used to secretly cut the wires that transmitted muzak in airports, hotels and elevators because the band, at all times, wanted to hear the sounds of the technological society around them. Who do Kraftwerk think they are? The Human League?

Brian Pressburger, Basingstoke"

(Letter in Frieze magazine)


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armoire_man
armoire_man
Ricardo non-Montalban
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)

I love your big red ear protectors. I covet them. Well, no - I'm much more reserved, so I just use squishy beige foam earplugs at loud movies or on jet planes.

A lot of people use loud places to be loud themselves. Airplanes are often filled with drunken salesmen whoo-hooing! their way back and forth. With my earplugs in, they almost vanish.

Aahhh.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 03:04 pm (UTC)
Turn it down!


SPOKEN LIKE A -- (sorry) spoken like a fellow pushing 50.

* People who love noise (my child) love life with unrivalled passion.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC)
remember the cd backing tracks tour?

i don't know if it was stars or songbook. but your cd was skipping, you tried to clean the disc with your scarf. when i saw you at bottom of the hill i suggested the soundperson turn the bass down on the mix...voila, no more skips....

baddiddlybingdahippdlyshashawoow

rr


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 03:48 pm (UTC)
Re: remember the cd backing tracks tour?

I devised some of my best choreography skipping along with skipping CDs.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 03:34 pm (UTC)

Too right, especially about the noise level at concerts. There is no good reason for the sound engineers to pop the volume to the levels they do. It's painful. I think the first sign that my ill-advised "punk phase" (at age 15) was doomed was the fact that, at my first "real punk show," I ended up creeping outside to read. My parents found me, wallet-chain and all, sitting on a stoop outside a horrible club in Cincinatti, Ohio, staring intently at my copy of Big Sur. They were both ecstatic.

But really, why do they jack the volume so very, very high? I remember seeing Jon Brion at Tonic, shortly before I left the City, and wanting so badly to run back to the control booth and plead the technician to drop the bass as low as possible. He's one of my favorite artists, and I had a great time, but by the end of the show I felt like I'd been punched in the guy for a half hour: this, from the man who composed the I Heart Huckabee's soundtrack. Hardly fitting, right?

Ugh. Oy. Sigh. Grumble. I feel like an old man complaining about this, but apparently I'm in pretty good company, so fuck it: You guys wanna sit around and listen to each other breathe for a while?

-Rob


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
People who love red also love life...

>And it's interesting how often noise artists turn, sooner or later, to quietness. Like Otomo >Yoshihide and his music venue Off Site.

Be careful, Nick. The Off Site kids turned to quietness simply because they have neighbors and thin walls. Their architecture caused their musical space.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 04:11 pm (UTC)
Re: People who love red also love life...

Necessity is the mother of awesomelycoolosity.


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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC)

> Don't let the noisiest, least attentive person in the audience set the sound levels.

Yeah, but the one thing as annoying as a gig that gives me tinnitus for thew next two days is a gig where a band think that Playing Ridiculously Quietly automatically lends their unremarkable music a timeless, fragile beauty. The kind of gig where one leaves humming the PA rather than the tunes.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC)

But what could be better, more life-loving? Love the Earth, hum the earth!


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