Silence - is it achievable as a human state? Is it, like perfection, an abstract ideal, realized only relative to another state? I have worked deeply with music, creating rhythms, textures, timbres, melodic motifs, mixing them together, playing them with musicians, composing, improvising, editing, and above all listening while engaging in music from highly complex to simple.
What is this, compared to just sitting quietly? Sitting and experiencing the ambience of air - a car rushes by, someone turns on the water upstairs, your own body gurgles, a bug flies by your ear, footsteps in the distance, an emergency siren, kitty bumps the chair. Then withdrawing the senses inward and hearing the subtler sounds of the body -again beautiful orchestrated goings on. Then going underneath that, to soundless sound - the impression of movement, neither sound nor light, yet both -all together as feeling awareness.
After playing with all that sound as musical/audio clay, it can seem like music is a narrow contrivance compared to this. Music as propaganda, trying to influence the listener to focus on a certain group of emotive or colourful expressions to see the way of the composer's viewpoint in capturing that snip of reality. Sometimes I think - "what value could that possibly have compared to just listening, all by yourself, to the sounds life (love) makes?”
We can read about the Dadaists in Berlin, 1907. They proposed that to make a decision on form, shape, colour is to distort and editorialize what might have been if left untouched. One method was to put glue on random pieces of flat objects, throw them up in the air and wherever they landed on the canvas - that was the composition. Whatever the universe "randomly" did would reflect an enlightened as valid as, or broader than anything the artist could have decided.
Recently I met Steve Addison who loves concrete. He did our floors. There was broadloom on a cement floor. We tore up the carpet exposing the 100 year old concrete underneath. Previous use of this room was a shipping area of a hemp rope factory. The concrete told a story of moments. A channel had been cut out , presumably for some kind of drain, then filled in with a newer mix of cement, now revealed as a different colour from other parts of the floor, and with larger sized stones embedded.
Steve ground down the concrete until more stones were visible, revealing further shades and textures which made up the roadmap of this floor's history. The way he looked while doing this felt like a state of meditation - only the floor existed, only the working on the floor, only this moment. After that he applied epoxy glaze (think "wet" looking) to reveal this history. 100 years, exposing fixes of cement patches - white among dark grey, the randomly aligned stones showing little bumps. At the end we had something that looked like regal marble - a story told without contrivance - a pleasing, soothing, reverence-inspiring surface shining in the room. How could this have been improved by "designing" something as the floor surface? Whose one mind could attempt to improve or conceptualize a story more compelling than this?
When I was eighteen or so I had a radically minded musical friend who told me he was searching for something other than music which had a snare drum backbeat. He was referring to music which counted time in a regular 4/4 fashion, with the snare drum hitting on beats 2 and 4. Later when reflecting on this, I realized that most music I was listening to had this property. In fact, pretty much all popular music had this property. In fact all music on North American radio (with the exception of classical stations, some jazz and a few off-beat alternatives) has this property. You hear a constant-1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4. Even though this pulse exists naturally due to constant tempo, this nature of music underlines every single beat, in some ways preventing our development of ability to just find this pulse on our own.
And do we always need a full orchestra, or a vividified electric combo - the beat, the bass line, the chord progression, the melody - words telling you prosaically what it was about? How much valuable information is there in a simple bell, struck once and slowly dying out, or the wind changing randomly, blowing things about or simply tickling the outer channels of the ear as it passes by? Do we think we provide "more" information or more insight, passion in a more complex rendering? It could be worthwhile to consider this. Just like talking less or reading between the lines when someone speaks with their heart, using sparse words.
This line of thought presents a new dimension for the musical composer and performer, and this ca nbe exdtended to the entire culture of musical presentation. By what authority does the musical performer stand on a raised platform, lit by thousands of watts and amplified by thousands of other watts, address an audience bound by seats, darkness and silence? Music seems to be a form intended as contexted, paramatered, and as an "us to them"communication. It is set as a personal propagandism, describing a given theme, then varied, dramatized and imbellished within the moment. A musician who has penetrated some of the beauty of ordinary real life sound wil know something deeper about their responsibility when they present their work. This is the wonderful opportunity I refer to above. If we assume that music works in a "higher" realm of communication than ordinary real life audio, that moment requires a deep development of something special, original, and descriptive of a unique experience, an enigmated spin on the story. And the pay-off of this investment could be huge!
On the other hand, we have two more things to consider - mantra and idiomatic (tribal/cultural) music. With respect to a mantra - there is a simple and complex interaction between the practitioner, the ancient mantra (and its original source) and all beings. These three harmonize together in the process, intended to cause a positive and useful causation of change, through the medium of sound and/or music. This, compared to "music" per se, could be seen as less contrived than a contemporary variation on a theme, as most music could be described as.
The second item, idiomatic music, is also an interesting one. Here, a community of creators/purveyors, with a common cultural reference and a common awareness of a body of work, will create music within a strict set of guidelines, each expressing a twist of originality within the understood framework. Here, we are talking about Indian classical and folk music, African tribal music, American blues, jazz, rockabilly, reggae, minuets, house, jigs, metal, drum n' bass, bluegrass, and so on..hundreds of forms each reflecting a specific culture and limited set of allowed musical devices to speak to a given community who understands and enjoys the particular idiom. An outsider to the idiom may see this as limited or lacking originality, while an insider may recognize the subtle spin each writer or performer puts on the variations, and will recognize how a particular artist is advancing the form by a new invention. Going outside of the form too far, or at the wrong time in history may disqualify the artist from being valid for the idiom, while just the right innovation at just the right time will be genius.
This brings us to the question of context, and contrivance vs. random/natural occurrence. Where does silence fit in? Here I am attempting to discuss, not ultimate silence, but silence of the individual, silence of the composer, in effect, total observance/non-contrivance/surrender in an attempt to see what already "is". In this sense, silence is not contrived, has no "context" and is random/natural. Is this a higher "composition" than someone making up a "beat" or a melody to "sell" the listener on a happy, sad, sexy, or contemplative "feeling"?
Of course it all fits and it all serves according to context. But in our fun & games we can remember silence - our source.