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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.

81CommentReplyFlag

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

This is all too true, and I'm glad to see other people agree. The unnecessary noisiness of other spaces is why my wife and I essentially stopped going out to clubs and other mixing venues. What's the point of being in an environment where communication consists of having to shout in your neighbor's ear?

Living in the city (or at least in a busy part of San Francisco) is likewise unbelievably noisy, with emergency vehicles and their sirens, cars with thumping stereos and fools on unmuffled Harleys going by 24/7. I had to build 2" thick foam sandwich shutters to fit our front windows just to be able to sleep at night or think by day.

And I've also gotten in the habit of wearing these old Koss isolation cans when the situation calls for it.


A year ago, when I was rigging a show of mine in a gallery, I had to wear both earplugs *and* headphones just so I could think over the noise of the jackhammering on the sidewalk and the rap-playing salon next-door. Next month I'm being drug to a Hyde concert. Maybe I can wear earplugs, the cans and an astronaut's helmet as well.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC)

I find that earplugs plus cans just aren't enough sometimes. Certain "ear worm" pop tunes can still creep into your head with that set-up, especially "Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders or anything by Madonna. It's not so much that you can hear them, as that you can recognize them and then they're in there on an endless loop, in memory.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)

i think i need the red headphones too coz i live in the place that the peoples like to talk very very loud so......i really need quiet!


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ewigweibliche
ewigweibliche
Ewigweibliche
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)

Oh I so wholly agree with you! I love music, but I love quiet too. I've never understood shows where one needs earplugs to enjoy the concert. In fact, it seems contrary to the purpose of going out to hear music. I rarely go for that reason. I also plug my ears when loud cars or sirens are going by. I think I look a little insane, but I value my hearing. I also grew up in Alaska and I'm used to enormous spaces where the quiet is so dense as to be... well, loud. In place so still that one can hear the trees rustle and the water ripple, it feels like my whole body is listening and not only my ears. It's very easy to get overwhelmed in cities, but perhaps I ought to try out Berlin.


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merrow_sea
merrow_sea
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 06:21 pm (UTC)

The most amazing sound I ever heard was while standing on the Hudson River landing at Cold Spring, N.Y., at midnight, in a heavy, slow, snowfall, listening to large thick plates of river ice clunking together as they drifted downriver. Indescribably beautiful, weird and sonorous.
Pointless noise (and small talk) fractures my brain, while quiet leads me to the richest thoughts and experiences. I love music, and the more I like it, the more I want to actually pay attention to it and not treat it as a background track to the movie of my life. :)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 05:40 pm (UTC)

There's also the whole issue of ego. One of the reasons I love the art world is that no matter how big the artist's ego (Damien Hirst comes to mind), he won't blow your ears proving that he's the best. Many, many rock artists do want to do permanent damage to our hearing equipment just to mark us with some sort of territorial scent.

Two things I've learned through the years: never store contact lenses and always carry earplugs.


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beverlyhillscop
Andrew
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 12:07 am (UTC)

I always bring earplugs to gigs. It's a unique feeling to be out dancing to really loud music for hours, only to step outside the club, pop your earplugs out, and be able to hear the smallest of crickets chirping.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

tundraboy
tundraboy
tundraboy
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)

Word.


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eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)

I'd just add that quiet has physical benefits, too -- eardrums are sensitive and irreparable things.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 07:10 pm (UTC)
quiet composers

Otomo's venue might be quiet, but his new one Tails Out is fucking blarring. man is it good although Sachiko M does an amazing sinewave piece for some Charles Mingus' compisition. Anyway, one of the things I like about your blog is that I don't actually subscribe to it (tried, but lj and rojo don't go together), but that I always hear about it through other people. Getting to the point of my long winded interruption. R. Murray Schafer. Yes or no?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._Murray_Schafer

If you're not familar, his theory of noise ecology is always interesting. He once calculated the least noise polluted place on earth. It was in Canada of course.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustic_ecology
The Tunning of the World I've never read.
I once wrote an incredibly horrible article about Schafer.


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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
silence is never really there

The lack of noise, which I am happy to live in only reminds me of the fact that there is no real silence... the most "silent" sound I've ever heard makes raindrops roar with echoes: the sound of being in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, about 63 degrees north not far from the mountains that mark the boundry between Sweden and Norway.

The stillness makes the blowing of wind, which is a sometimes sudden event, even when light wind, turn towards this scraping sound of the evergreen foliage against the air. On a lake, in the middle of a wide open sky surrounded by mountains, a gentle rain shower in the middle of a sun-lit summer night, takes on its own thunder, without a thunder storm, or hard wind....

I'm pretty much a punk, but I found that after living with a bit of quiet, all the Americans cities, and the UK's London and Manchester were far too loud to even hear my mobil...

Noise has its place but so does silence... but sometimes the awareness of silence, stillness and inner peace let one open up to see that it IS ok to be "introverted" and that after the Loud singing Divas of Eurovision have sung their songs, that a quiet song can often be much more appealing and better for the nerves.. but on that "note" a huge louder than louder, harder than hard act won... would you like to try out for Eurvision with me and see if we can TRY something "different"? ;)


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silentalarm
silentalarm
i'm such a moron...
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 10:37 pm (UTC)

thank you for this lovely entry


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henryperri
henryperri
Mon, May. 22nd, 2006 10:41 pm (UTC)

Isn't this the equivalent of walking around in your own personal gated community?


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 12:14 am (UTC)

my voice has gone almost entirely hoarse...Virgil says "cute and gravelly"...since the start of my New York trip. i feel that i sound very sexy. perhaps i'll make an intimate voice post. oh my.


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iamcoreyd
C.T. Dalton
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
Good post

I'm glad you wrote about this. My day feels incomplete without coming home and listening to quiet music (or no music at all).


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(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 01:20 am (UTC)

so momus, which bar did you end up in chinatown? i recently moved here...there's some interesting finds...quiet and out of the way. the l.e.s. has turned into the palladium.

also, are you at the whitney the rest of the week?

-quiet as a mouse


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)

We aimed for Double Happiness, but that was blaring and ultracrowded too, so we went next door, to some weird place with Christmas trees and 8-bit video games.

The Whitney is shut Monday and Tuesday, but I'll be there briefly on Wednesday and Thursday, probably 1-3pm.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 01:49 am (UTC)

* People who puppet show quietness puppet show life.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)

http://www.deafart.org/


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(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 02:14 am (UTC)
quiet

Radu Malfatti to thread.


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