When somebody asks about silence…

Entering a balcony…

I have long been a nocturnal being; my mind connects better to the work I have before me. And the reason is simple: less distraction (except that I would be taking revenge on six-in-the-morning-get-up-and-prepare-for-school-because-parents-need-to-be-at-work sort of childhood years of schooling when the school is at least an hour away from home). Thanks to early-morning teaching, critical meetings and stressful insomniac periods, I have become more accustomed to early morning air, though, which I am not complaining. There is something exquisitely hopeful about early morning light and rhythms. Early on, if you can’t get enough sleep, don’t get it at all, has been one key tactic to fight bad dreams, avoid low quality sleep and manage time (see: bad management).

Dreams about waking life...

About ten years ago, I would have much stricter criteria about silence in the room when resting; now; you can have a small battle over a contested throne: I will get my sleep without you interrupting me. I can dream about your noise, though, and when I wake up, I tell you who will seize the throne. I’ve got my silence, and I’ve got my voice, all sorted out.

Pockets of a jacket…

So, when a friend asked me about silence (for her class paper) after discussions of what sort of silences can be there, I thought of a silent place as a big, warm jacket where every pocket has enough room to hold stuff such as keys, candies, coffee press and beans, and paper tissues (I don’t know what is wrong with my examples). None gets in the way of any other. It is a generous jacket: has enough room. Only it does not have coins clashing anxiously because of being of the same material and making an ugly sound of nervous encounter. You can wear it without fearing that the neighbors will wake up. Still, every sound can be heard in its own right, and non-aggressively.

I wrote the following response to her, getting out into the fresh air in the balcony one morning (I had woken up suddenly with a feeling that someone else is recording something similar to what I am trying to!) and trying this brief, scruffy record above of my morning, somewhere in central-seaside Kadıköy:

This morning I woke up earlier and found where I live quite silent, normally it’s full of everything, cars, construction, crazy cat woman calling her cat, barks, tram, but literally too many sounds at once. (..) Yep, I do think there is something called silence. It is literally impossible; however, when a sound has enough room to be clearly heard, or let’s say, when a bird song has enough space to be listened to without extra effort, yes, the place is silent. I am looking for such silence in the morning, when I just wake up and when I come home after talking to 20 people and my mind is full of them. I just want to follow one thing, uninterrupted, clear, non domineering, just itself. It could be sound of a motor too, if I am close enough to [focus] on it seamlessly. So am not favoring the so-called natural sounds over manmade ones. It is part of the soundscape once it is figured, made and contributed to the world. (…) Silence and other senses…This is a hard one. You are simply asking a synesthetic question. Other senses some people definitely recognize and put into words when it is already there for you. Others will try to fabricate some answers… So, silence does not smell like anything to me, but it tastes like a meal with full aroma. Few ingredients, each has superb aroma… It feels like I am free, unrestrained, and perhaps unlike on a bus squeezed in the crowd of people, where too many things mix and feel like garbage. Garbage smells always bad. Disgust is the feeling here, so perhaps that is why people love silence so much, it is just the opposite of something disgusting.(…)

So, I was more or less thinking and describing a hi-fi sonic environment where acoustic detail and richness of sound you hear constitute the peace (see Murray Schafer on soundscapes (1); see Andrea Polli (2) ). Such peace may come from the ongoing wake-up mood and pleasantly slow activity of the body, of course. You are not out of a pocket yet. You are at a corner possibly and you know this is temporary and you can still enjoy it, referring to other times which are not so silent. Then silence embodies a peaceful mood where it becomes categorically a different job to think of silence as a threshold mood (what am I talking about?!) than to think of silence as angelic opposite of evil noise; or, of silencing (enervating) masses; or, of silence as politically opposed to an aggressive, no-good voice. I come across these latter versions of described silences and experienced silences in my work; and, I tend to think of them as more than a mere jacket on a bare chest. Layers of experience, encounter, manipulation, contemplation and reaction to an audible act produce silence with a meaning. Think of Futurist noise-makers (3) and what they positively valued in sound rather than silence. I doubt if they made a deliberate effort to perceive silence somewhere around. Think of the politically transgressive agenda of someone who has suffered enough from car horns in traffic and is now making a conscious effort (activism) to control if not exclude them of urban life, just to fill space with some (healer) silence. Think of what it feels like when the (loser) brother of our suffering activist is actually the one who is responsible for some car-horning!..

…A threshold

The “pocket” silence “in my jacket” I did describe earlier seems a little devoid of such meanings of lived time and space, does it not? Perhaps it lacks “being broken” by earlier experience; it may not be part of an after-effect; it does reside with the pure more than an impure, interacted sense of silence? In that sense, can silence be essentialist; can it be constructivist; can it be passive-aggressive and even militant? Seems like yes to all, these are all possible meanings for silence: meanings to attach to silence. However: I have already linked it with peacefulness, but I am now starting to doubt if such peacefulness stays within the realm of “meaningful”. A morning’s peaceful silence in fact takes the days before as reference; there is nothing pure and abtsractly peaceful there. A morning’s peaceful balcony silence is the after-effect of waking up; it is an affective moment of passing a threshold from one sound-field to another sound-field. A morning’s little pocket silence gives me a lot of sounds to pay attention to; one (loud) sound does not mask another (low) sound (except when the rubber on my recorder makes a rubbing sound)… And it is silence what we sense before a roar of a motor, a loud master or a machine too proud to be a complex and fast machine.

The jacket is no more.

(1) Just like that, the jacket tells me what is “a field of interactions”, in Murray Schafer’ s words. (veya bir etkileşim sahasına güzelce düşmenin tastamam tatlılığı elinizde.)

(2) Polli, 2012. Soundscape, sonification, and sound activism. AI & Society, 27: 257–268.

(3) Russolo, 1913. The Art of Noises. http://www.artype.de/Sammlung/pdf/russolo_noise.pdf

*laçin tutalar, kadıköy, istanbul.


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