Sound and Silence: a(n) (H)earpoint

Sound and Silence: a(n) (H)earpoint

“The important notes were the ones I didn’t play.” Louis Armstrong

Contemplation and meditation, as well as musings gathered from regular ocean walks, helped me to become aware again as to why sound was so important to me. People around me seemed to be able to be with a lot of loud noise, a lot of the time. Not so for me. I am starting to make silence a regular part of my day. Without it my nervous system becomes over-stimulated and the parasympathetic nervous system becomes elusive having all sorts of body ramifications.

From birth I was significantly vision impaired. I needed to hear and touch the world. I could not see things and did not see things as others saw them. I was exposed to an alternative sensorial environment: one where sound was paramount. Individuating people and their moods from their unique sound “aroma”. I have vague early recollections that this led to a great deal of fatigue; where silence was a balm when I did not have to be on alert. When i did get glasses it was a whole new way of information entering my psyche, which I adored. I would read to excess, under the covers, even though my eyes hurt.  

Even at this age, I had such a strong desire to know more; to understand the world. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 30’s that I had a true experience of depth perception: seeing the world in 3D. Oliver Sack’s book “The Minds Eye” tells the story of a woman who has 2D vision (unable to sense depth). I  related to that instantly upon reading it, where much of my visual world then made sense. From this visual lack, my auditory and kinaesthetic worlds are my strength. I am lucky for as a voice specialist, visual detail is not the most important aspect. I can hear the voice in a uniquely different way from so many early experiences where this was vital to my survival. It now acts as one of my primary tools of differentiation.

I looked to my creative world for silence to fully immerse myself in the experience of sound at its most delicate. We are exposed to copious amounts of “ambient” noise each day. On any given day in a local café, I could hear the sounds of gulls, traffic, cups, coffee machines, people chattering, exhausts, skateboarders and many other noise cues, as well as music. Interestingly, it was also here in noisy places that I had the opportunity to become aware of my body, my thoughts, and emotions. It seems that when there is too much sound (known as auditory bombardment), I have the opportunity to not listen to any of it (for short periods only).

I was able to contemplate auditory selection versus bombardment in reading the journal of  Acoustical Society of America (ASA) (2012) “Although we have little awareness that we are doing it, we spend most of our lives filtering out many of the sounds that permeate our lives and acutely focusing on others — a phenomenon known as auditory selective attention.” 

It is interesting that those who get hearing aids for the first time often give up for this exact reason. It takes up to 6 months for the neural re-structuring to filter out unwanted sounds. For many, they wear them non-stop for 3 days, become auditorally ‘burnt out’, place them in a drawer and never use them again. There needs to be a making peace with the sound world again.

The balance between sound and silence is a unique aspect of my musicality and performance. 

I began to look into my creative sound world through a lens of selective attention to express increasingly subtle nuances of sound. I started to question if could invite people into my auditory unique world: To show them a prism of my conscious world; an invitation to sense another viewpoint. Or a(n) “(h)earpoint.”

This led me to further performance musings.What state does one have to be in in order to truly hear and to be here? Does selectively hearing make us more present to our environment? The idea arose that there might be multiple stages of presence. What would guide people to be more present to themselves and the sounds around them? 

How could I invite others to be present to sound in performance? Is it through shock- as I have seen so many others do, such as in horror movies or certain theatre performances. Or is it through subtle sublime-ness, which I have also seen, such as a performance by Chamber Made Opera and Rawcus theatre company in their show “Another Lament”. Here there were definite feelings in the silence. Some silences were peaceful and others were strident. 

In performance I have a sense that I want to wait until the echoes have ended. Call and silent response, silent response and then call and so the cycle continues. 

Finding ways to strike the balance between sound and silence, for therein lies the power and the harmony between us and the world around us.