Hello, darkness, my old friend.
Silence is darkness, darkness of the ears. But there is no absolute silence. When I stood in an anechoic chamber, all ambient noise sucked out as by a sponge, the roar of blood filled my ears: always there, never noticed before. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, space is silent, as a vaccum is, but what you hear is the breathing of the astronaut. Silence is irrelevant if there are no ears to hear. If there are ears, there is blood and breath.
Silence is John Cage’s 4´33˝. For four minutes and thirty-three seconds the piano does not play. During that time there is silence. Silence of the piano. But the audience breathes, shifts, rustles; the air conditioning hums; cars pass on the street outside. You hear it. It is what you hear, what you had ignored before. The daily blood and breath in the ears of the concert goer. The chaotic music of the everything.
Silence is silence of something. Of the piano. Of the lambs. Of Jesus before Pilate. Of a freeway with no cars on it. Of that car alarm. Of a person spoken to. Of a signal: in a state of signal silence the sound heard is static. What are you listening for? Or what are you hoping to hear no more? Silence is when sound could be there but is not. Silence may be sweet, or solemn, or sullen. Silence speaks.
Silence that is sought is a silo, an asylum. Silence unsought is an exile. Silence in a Quaker meeting is the space for the spirit to speak. Silence in a war zone is calm, but may be followed by the storm. Silence in a city after an ice storm or earthquake is baleful. Welcome, soothing silence caresses the skin like silk. Isolating, stony silence is silex: flint. Desired silence in soulful solitude is selenic: look at the moon, so high and cool, simply there, emitting no sound, serene and reliable. Silence when you want to hear – hear someone, something – is also selenic, but it is the anoxia of sitting solemnly on the silicon of Mare Serenitatis on the moon’s surface, a quarter of a million miles from all that you know and love and wish you were warmed by.
Silence is a sigh, an island of sound between two hisses of white noise. It is a lovely, whispering, liquid word, instilling, insulating, licensing the eyes and cleansing the ears. It is also the lick and hiss of a snake, insolently inserting its venom. Silence is the sound of a razor’s edge, cleaning the stubble of noise from the face of your surroundings. Silence is the sound of a razor’s edge, slicing open the wrist or the neck and letting the blood fed by communion with others spill softly onto the floor.
Sound is what you seek to hear, and sound is what invades your ears. Sound comes before and after a moment of silence, and runs through it too, from the unsilent things. Sound breaks through, sound specifies, sound structures. Silence sits but sound walks, sound runs. Sound is the black marks on the white of the paper, but the white communicates too. Sound is disturbance, stirring. Sound is activity.
The rest is silence.