Silence is not a background, sound is the default, choose your sound.

Recently I’ve been into what’s often called psych drone folk, among other things, I’ll post more about that later if I can dig up online examples. From chasing down one of the artists, Loren Chasse, I’ve found and have been listening to Giant Ear, from the New York Society for Acoustic Ecology. That’s led me to two thoughts, and here they are.

1. Silence is not a background.
2. Sound is the default.
3. Choose your sound.

You may be thinking, that surely looks like three thoughts. But the second is an amplification of the first. A lot of music, if you listen to it, seems to assume silence as default. In other words, if there’s nothing going on, there should be silence. Similarly, sound, because we’re thinking of noises like cellphones, machines, Etc. is considered an intrusion on silence.

But think about this for a minute. Try to picture a place where you might go to get away from it all, to get some piece and quiet. Where is that? The woods? The beach? The mountains? The desert? All of these places are filled with sound. I haven’t personally been to a desert, but I’ve been to all three of the other environments. There are animals, birds, wind, water, and various other environmental features making sounds all the time.

So you should be able to guess where the two thoughts come from. If there’s sound everywhere, yes even in caves, then sound is the default. Silence is not the generic background we assume it to be. There is sound everywhere. Think of a cave, somewhere isolated from all external sources of sound. There might be water dripping. If not, at the very least your own presence causes sound, either by movement, or simply from your body, breathing and so forth. Thus, silence is an illusion. Actually this is likely true, since we now know stars and other celestial objects produce vibrations, they simply occur beyond the limits of our sense of hearing.

It then follows, if there is no such thing as silence, you should work on thinking consciously of choosing your sound. Choose, if you can, a sonic environment that works for you. This involves, of course, paying attention to how sound affects you, something we often fail to do in our largely visual culture. So this is sort of a call to action for that.

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