“The sound experience I prefer to all others is the experience of silence.”
~ John Cage
“John Cage was an American composer, poet, philosopher and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde.”
About a year and a half ago, I listened to an interview with John Cage. During this interview, he spoke about the meaning of sound and silence. At one point he said, “When I talk about music… I’m talking about sound that doesn’t mean anything.” Being someone who searches for the meaning behind any experience, I was a little surprised when I first heard this. I didn’t understand how sound – music – could have no meaning. I didn’t like that idea and even felt a little defensive, but since I have a lot of respect for Cage, I wanted to try to understand what he was saying.
This began a long journey for me during which I explored new kinds of music and sound – things I had never taken the time to listen to before. I crossed the boundary of music as I knew it and entered musical worlds I never knew existed. This wandering opened a door for personal reflection that went deeper than just exploring the philosophy of music. It became a spiritual quest, a way of exploring the nature of relationships, and a way of expanding my world view. All of this began with a simple question proposed by John Cage. What is the meaning of sound? Over time, I’ve come to understand a little of what Cage was saying, but there is still so much more for me to explore, question and wonder about concerning the nature of music and sound.
I’ll share some of my thoughts so far. Sound is used to communicate whether it’s by talking, laughing, crying or singing. Tone of voice is important and that’s a variety of sound. The sound of a baby’s cry and a mother’s cooing response is the first form of communication we experience. And as they say, silence speaks louder than words. Those are human sounds. There are still other sounds to consider – the sounds of nature, musical instruments and the sounds that make up everyday life such as the traffic on 6th Avenue. Sound by itself may not have any meaning. It’s the context in which the sound is heard that’s important. I think the meaning can be found there. And yet… there is something to be said about listening without trying to understand. There is joy in just hearing sound for the sake of hearing sound.
This morning I read an essay by Colin Blundell On The Art of Non-Wording. ( http://colinblundell.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/on-the-art-of-non-wording/ ) It seemed to be picking up where I left off with exploring sound and silence only this time concerning words, not sound. I think the idea was to eliminate words (temporarily) from our thinking and begin to see things without relying on words to identify them. I think of it as experiencing things in the silence of our minds. And so the adventure continues down yet another path.
But for now, I’ve been struggling with a poem I’ve written. It was the inspiration for this post. I was trying to express the restless and relentless searching I’d been experiencing, but just couldn’t seem to find the right words. There was not enough depth in what I was saying. The words were too simple. The feeling was not there. I’m wondering now if this is something that was never meant to be put into words, but only experienced. It’s something to think about. Or maybe I should just listen…
Sound and Silence
Sound and silence.
a strange mix.
“What is the meaning
From the beginning
it was the question.
Until the end
I’ll want to know.
But more so …
What is the meaning
sifting through the white noise
the red, the blue and the black noise,
trying to solve
composing endless enigma variations
with words, not music…
for the friend pictured within
and that union of sound
What is the meaning of sound?
But more so…
What is the meaning
John Cage speaking about silence – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcHnL7aS64Y
Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enigma_Variations