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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.


ted maul
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 02:20 am (UTC)

Hell is other people's music.
Hell x2 is other people's distorted music played at 11khz through someone's mobile phone speaker at full crank.

I found that shure E3c in-ear headphones do a great job of cancelling out background noise rather well while listening to music, and also double as discreet earplugs while not.

A Dignified Devil
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 05:02 am (UTC)

interesting. you deleted my post.


Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 12:34 pm (UTC)

No posts have been deleted! But after 50, they get collapsed into archives.

ReplyThread Parent Expand

Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 08:06 am (UTC)

I've been reading your blog for over a year now, but I haven't commented yet because I'm quiet. Then again I didn't really make any noise while typing this.


Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 08:42 am (UTC)

how can artificially cutting out sound be 'peace'?


Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)
let's squinting our ears

I totally agree!

We just finished mastering on the new Lullatone album. It is set at a level a lot lower than most other CDs (or even homemade CDRs) out these days for a lot of the same reasons people have been mentioning here. I also recorded all of the finished tracks to tape one time to (among many other reasons) add some tape hiss that would detour people from turning it up too much.

Also, I am glad to see that you got Yuichiro's new CD! He is one of our best friends here. I wish you could have seen his live set earlier this month in Shibuya with us and e*rock. It was brilliant!

I didn't feel like we were in brash busy Shibuya at all... sitting there squinting my ears to catch the few notes in between his pauses.


Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 10:29 am (UTC)

i like it how late at night you can lie in bed and listen to the stereo in the next room, even though it's set at what during the day would be a minute volume, it is loud enough now (tonight it's juana molina).

Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 10:32 am (UTC)

oh, and i love the new yuichiro album too.
his quietest yet, i think...

ReplyThread Parent

Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 04:24 pm (UTC)
Tonic Show on Saturday

Dear Momus,
I had a really good time at your show. The new songs from your upcoming album sounded wonderful. It is very sad to hear that you are going to Berlin to live. Hopefully you will come back to New York City soon.
PS. Thanks for signing my CD cover

Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)

The Soundbomb:

at the very least it's tangential to this discussion. sound as graffiti.

Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)

What about ambiverts? Should I be ashamed for sometimes being a bit extravert or "way too communicative"?

Zygomatic Arch
Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 09:17 pm (UTC)

I'm in the middle of moving house from noisy downtown LA to an eerily quiet building in Koreatown, and many of these statements resonate with me. I don't agree with all of them one hundred percent, but I am learning to value quietness again. Great post.


Tue, May. 23rd, 2006 09:53 pm (UTC)

I saw Animal Collective in March and they had a this fellow opening up for them who kept asking the sound man to raise the volume. It got to the point where my ears were hurting, so I left. Like you said it was almost like he was marking us with his volume. ugh.


Fri, May. 26th, 2006 10:37 pm (UTC)
filtration abstinence ?

Does your externo noise cancellation technique filter out your own geotistical egotistical self dialogue ? or does it highten the self internal musings ? I'm picturing in a audio sense the sound of unhindered momus sound; Enclosed in those chic audio dampners....the sounds of a river, babbling brooks, I focus, twas not what I thought,nary was the sound of a saturated fag butt at the bottom of a urinal, bobbeted vigorously by a persistant stream of man piss after a long lunch of cornish pasty, half lager shandy tops and a tuppence a view at mom-mums saggy paps round the Duck and Arms, Waybridge.


Wed, Dec. 13th, 2006 07:29 pm (UTC)
Quiet Headphones

Sony makes a pair of headphones that take a AAA battery and actually generate 'white noise' effectively eliminating the outside world...very nice for those times you really need to concentrate!

www.laptops-express.com (http://www.laptops-express.com/)