Spotify Playlist

Michael Quick

“The Sound of Silence”
Follow ChargerBulletin on Spotify

Everyone leads busy lives; people go back and forth from work and school all the while listening to the hustle and bustle of the world around them. The human race, as a whole, is afraid of silence. Watch any horror movie and you’ll become aware of this. Silence causes tension and takes the “listener” to a place of uncertainty.

Probably the most famous (or infamous) example of silence being used effectively inside of a piece would be in the contemporary classical composer, John Cage’s “4’33”.” The piece consists of three movements, and for the duration of each movement the instrumentalists are instructed to be “tacet” (not play anything), so the piece essentially entails a bunch of musicians to just sit quietly for a total of, you guessed it, four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Cage is known for his work with experimental music, often pushing the boundaries of what is defined as “music” and many people call him out as not being a “real” composer because of that fact. Are his critics wrong? Obviously, this is a rather futile argument as neither side can really prove their point. But Cage’s piece does make the listener think. Cage himself said that the piece was completely lost on the listeners, saying that they perceived silence when there was, in fact, a hall “full of accidental sounds.” His point is to draw the listener’s ear to the sounds around them: the wind blowing, people shifting in their seats, the hum of the lights. I think that his piece is also a testament to the fact that people can’t deal with quiet. In any situation where a group of people is supposed to remain quiet, there are those who break it, be it with a cough, a sneeze, or even idle chatter.

Silence is something unfamiliar to most modern people in our hectic society. The lack of sound applied within a piece (or as the entire piece as Cage demonstrated) causes tension to grow within the listener, forcing them to the edge of their seats. This often occurs at cadential moments within the harmonic structure, to further reinforce the listeners’ draw to the “home” (I or i) chord within the key. Often times it is the space between the notes themselves that carries the most weight in the melody itself, but it is something very seldom thought of.