Incomplete Silence

Introduction

There is a tradition of ‘silent’ pieces of music, of which the most famous is John Cage’s 4’ 33”. However, that was not the earliest example: the first was probably the humorously titled ‘Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Large Deaf Man’ composed in 1884 by Alphonse Allais. In recent years, new technologies have enabled the creation of all sorts of music that is not exactly silent but extremely quiet, including sounds that sit outside the range of human hearing.

The Project

Make a digital piece lasting exactly one minute that consists only of extremely quiet or inaudible sounds. The audible level should never rise above 10 dBPSL. Try to work towards as much silence as possible, without losing atmosphere. However, at no point should there be total silence. The aim is keep the listener’s attention with the least possible information. At what point does the listener lose contact with organized sound and connect with environmental sound? Can this be controlled?

Notes

You may wish to explore extremely low or extremely high sounds. These will have an effect without being directly audible. They will also affect any audible sounds that are present. You will also need to consider the listening situation. Headphones may provide the best acoustic isolation, but may detract from any intended interactions with unpredictable environmental sounds.

One way of approaching this composition is to begin by listening to complete silence, then to start to add sounds. Repeated listenings will gradually build an appreciation of what little is heard. However, do be very careful of psychoacoustic fatigue. Intense listening of this type can be very tiring. Take frequent breaks.