Thursday, 10 March 2016

A Moment of Silence


There’s no such thing as silence. (1) If I didn’t know that before, then living in a city has made it clearer. Not because a city is constantly noisy, exactly - because the noisiness makes it a little easier to think I might be getting moments of silence here and there. And then, as someone who adamantly does not believe in silence, I'm much more incited to investigate just what intrigued me, prickling in the background, when a shift in volume grabbed my attention.

George Home-Cooke and Lynne Kendrick (among other sound studies academics (2) ) write about re-sounding - the sounds of attention an audience makes. And, here, an audience is anyone listening. Anyone focusing. Often, the act of focusing in a sudden absence is louder - emotionally, mentally, in decibels - than the initial soundscape.

Here, I’m compiling a list of moments of silence - mainly ones I’ve encountered in the last week or so. (This is a tiny bit stylistically influenced by Maddy Costa’s blog post of “ink polaroids” for Every One. BUT, I’m not writer enough to attempt a series of those, so this is formally a kind of a loose knockoff.)

1. The silence between the blackout and applause. Lesser-loved cousin: smattering of claps or too-long pause between the end of a show without a blackout and a full round of applause.

The audience wishes to carry the world of the play into their own respective, impending worlds.
The actors wish to judge their entrance so as to take an appropriately timed curtain call. Often because no one really knows quite what curtain calls do.
The technicians and ushers (and maybe creative team, if they are in attendance) compare silence duration and depth for after-work show reports of varying levels of formality.

I wonder how many people are scared of how long this silence could go on if we did not interrupt it.  I am, too, but I am also very excited.

2. The silence when you are not quite sure how to reply.

    In theatre, there is a system of channels of response to a conversation. Applause, post-show chats, congratulations to those you know involved, reviews… 

    In life, even after the most satisfying conversation finishes, there is always silence in the next one (or lack thereof) - what is not spoken of again, for three conversations, for ten, what gets repeated to other people, in other spaces, but does not check back in.

The message thread you don’t touch for an hour or a week because you want to get it just right.

[ “Speak now or forever hold your peace” and you think of the perfect thing to say that night in the shower. ]

3. The looks of people turning heads and swiveling back to phones or a train ad or the ground when there is a public outburst. A man who has been leaning against a wall, asking for change, suddenly springs out at one passerby, swearing at him, and chases him down the pavement. Another man shouts aloud to no one in particular on a tube carriage and, perhaps embarrassed, runs over to a different car at the next stop. I didn’t hear him shout. I hear passengers discuss it as I board, just after he left. 

Silence that wants to be respectful and uncertain and afraid and distancing.

4. I watch Akeim dance for the last show of Every One. The first I heard of him was in January. My boyfriend met with him, and mentioned to me that it had been an interesting meeting, as Akeim had been taking part in a month-long sponsored silence for Calm (a charity aimed at preventing male suicide). One of my first conversations with him involved a pre-show check-in where he said he had recently lost his voice for a while, but, then, he said, “I don’t really need my voice to do any of this.” After some carefully chosen words from me at a later check in, about where I was, and what I was excited about for the day, I was re-taping a fixture, and Akeim hugged me. A fraught and self-frustrated balance of silence met with an insightful and forgiving one.

5. Radio silence. 

Technical dysfunction. Absence on the other end. My own lack of ability or faith in myself to accomplish the task unaided. 

6. Late night silence.

I wake up and it takes me a few minutes to think to check for my partner’s breathing. For my breathing. For the sound of birds to gauge the time of night or morning. For the sounds of my dreams to stop. The silence of beginning to listen or remembering what listening is or reaching without knowing where or to what end. The silence where I put the noises I am not awake enough to locate.

7. Headphone silence.

I turn off my headphones when I might have to talk to someone. Usually, in a store or if I see someone I know or something. I think I should feel guilty about this sometimes. Like, I should always be listening to everyone, just in case, and, anyway, not just as a sort of protocol of politeness when I might want to say something.

I’m walking towards a bookshop in Oxford Circus. I hear this couple talking, and the guy says, “That was definitely a woman.” The girl says, “How do you know?” And the guy says, “Look at her waist - and I’m pretty sure I saw boobs.”

And, I’m just like, fuck, why do you have go to dissecting the gender and the body of some poor person on the street just minding their own business, being quiet, keeping their head down, probably just trying to get home without people staring and being dicks, trying not to attract attention. (And, of course, I’ve just gendered the couple, and I feel pretty confident about that, because they are obviously so happy and comfortable in their binary-cis categories, which is probably bullshit at some subconscious level…) And I’m wrong.

I take out my headphones in case they say anything worse, because I’m in a fighting kind of mood. And also in case the person they’re talking about is nearby, and in case anyone gives them beef. I hear yelling. And behind me, walking past me, is someone in a dapper pinstriped suit and waistcoat, with a pipe and a bowler hat and shiny black shoes. He’s shouting a stream of things as he swaggers along, mainly, “I’m a fucking man don’t you say otherwise don’t you look at me like that don’t you deny me look at me look at me you bastards yeah don’t stare I’m a fucking man all right what the fuck do you know

And it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in a long time. The interior monologue of so many people, and such a loud and piercing and deeply rooted and justified one for so many trans people. This stranger is just letting it out, got dressed up in his best to take a walk and say it all.

8. A moment of silence.

We are all sick of the silence.
We all want to think of all the loud things that we now hear differently or on repeat or at a strange pitch or volume, because the original feed is gone.
We all want to be louder than retreat or betrayal or death or losing or uncertainty. And we want to do that together.

(1) See John Cage's visit to an anechoic chamber during his pursuit of absolute silence, when he heard his own nervous system and pulse, amplified. Among many, many other physics, philosophy, theatre/sound studies, etc. texts.

(2) See "Theatre Noise: The Sound of Performance", or other writings by Kendrick and/or Home-Cooke.

Other People's Things

“Black Aperture” by Matt Rasmussen - a striking foray into suicide, nature, cinematic time slippage and contrivance, escape, new starts, and fracturing. “Chekov’s Gun” has been stirring my thoughts a lot the last few days, and the first “After Suicide” is both literary genius and something I wish I could hang on my wall as artwork.

London Improvisers Orchestra - I went to their gig this past Sunday (they do one the first Sunday of every month), and if you want an incredibly talented, attentive experience of engagement with music, silence, and conversation, this is your best bet by far.


Radicalized - Desparecidos - Payola
Eagle on a Pole - Conor Obrest and the Mystic Valley Band   -   Conor Obrest
Young Caesar 2000 - The Mountain Goats  - Zopilote Machine
A Conversation About Cancer  - The Daredevil Christopher Wright   -  In Defence to a Broken Back
Bad Wine and Lemon Cake   -   The Jane Austen Argument   -   The Birthing Pyre
Harsh Words   -   Loney Dear   -   Dear John
Purchase or download
(Or if you really want to listen to an easily accessible quality recording of something similar, go for Young Hearts by Loney Dear)
Me and Jane Doe   -   Charlotte Gainsbourg   -  IRM

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