On Silence

1. As this weekend was one of composition deadlines for my studio, I decided to try my hand at composing a small work that makes use of space. I like the vibraphone and it is one of my most favorite instruments for listening to and appreciating decay, so it was perfectly suited to the task. The notes used were selected when I superimposed an alphabet over a G minor scale and sought out the letters in “silence” and “silent.” I purposely left the tempo ambiguous and wanted the notes to “appear” long.


I. A Minutes Silence for the Queen Mum – Hoyland
I love the thought of the unsaid in this type of officiated silence. While not strictly sound art, I stumbled on this video which captures the essence of the Hoyland work in a visual fashion by taping the two minutes of silence prior to the Queen arriving for a Remembrance Day event in England. I love the faces in the crowd and I enjoy pondering what is in their minds as much as I like thinking about what was unsaid in Upton Park in 2002.

II. Silence/Silent Landscape – Brand
Like the unsaid in part I, there’s this mystifying and beguiling quality to spaces devoid of sound for me. Perhaps it is because I am a musician and am concerned with creating sounds, but the thought of a place on the planet where there is no sound is both fascinating and somewhat terrifying. Like the first example, this is another video that is not strictly art, but certainly takes the same line of thought as the Silence Landscape. Unlike the Brand work, of course, this was not part of a greater installation, but it brings back that unnerving feeling of a land devoid of sound. I have a similar effect when I look at pictures of salt flats (like this one in Death Valley itself).

III. World Trade Center Recordings – Vitiello
I wanted to look more into this interplay between light and sound. In my search, I found Camera Lucida, a production of various artists, that used inaudible pitches in a gas-infused fluid to create light and/or sound-based works. While it is not directly tied to the WTC recordings, I thought it was a neat little find and worth posting.


“Pregnant pauses” – I would love to explore the many “grand pauses” of highly tonal music. There’s such a strong tie to direction and tension/release in common practice period music that I think it would be interesting to probe those moments where we come to a climax and there’s a brief pause prior to the continuation of an idea. For example, in this Bach fugue, an anticipation is created with the fragmentation of the episode. I’d like to study this type of silence by stringing together recordings of these silent moments.
Negative Sound Space – Along the lines of the previous category, I was interested in taking a recording of a musical work and editing out everything except the negative sound space. I would be interested to see if it was possible to hear the sounds of the performer and if it was at all possible to still be able to follow the work.

Imagined sounds (or multimodal experience?) – For some reason, I’ve always been curious to see what kind of effects are elicited when one looks at speech-related gestures and cues with no actual aural stimulus; particularly when the context is quite vivid or explicit. I was thinking on taking sound-less footage of many different speeches or formal addresses laden in context and creating a silent collage. (Samples would include things like Hitler at a Nazi party rally or Khrushchev at the UN.)

Ma – I’d like to extend and refine my vibraphone composition and delve deeper into this concept of space between elements. Perhaps integrating the extra-musical sounds of the environment or performer.

Silence as a commodity – I want to see if I can find a place in Pittsburgh that is devoid of the sounds of civilization. If so, I’d like to make some recordings of it to “ration” out on days when I need to be away from it all and indulge in silence.


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