Written: Audio: Composing Silence

by Beauchamp Art

Composing Silence

Composing Silence

I write music no one will hear

Most of the songs will remain incomplete

They are without words or a melody

Just notes clinging together in structure

Regular times, chords that do not go anywhere

The whole tune just paces about

Occasionally building to a sort of climax

Of indecipherable polyphonics

Getting louder as the texture thickens

Until all there is, is an impenetrable mass

A wall of sound with no way in

An not foot holds to climb it

Stretching away to a hazy horizon

Crumbling before it every gets anywhere

Not containing anything; a vacuous state

Mechanically produced through a learned routine

*

There is nothing for me to be proud of

No audience means no applause

And I bore myself with this rhythm

It drones on and on anon

Not in meditation of anything sublime

Just lecherous in lethargy

Being dragged alone like a useless limb

Hindering progress when making trails

They go around in wide circles

So I cannot see the other side

Nor know where I have come from

Haunted by where I soon shall be

Back at the start again with nothing to show

But the seconds on my watch that have gone by

And the weariness that has deepened the wrinkles in my brow

A few more hours of banality

Another song that cannot be sung

Another tune that cannot be hummed

Another incomplete piece to be forgotten

And thrown to one side and gather dust in the tracks

Unplayed and uneventful, like a life half lived

A song unfinished is not music at all

Just a passing thing with no resolve

No joy or misery just idleness

Through this routine I shall go again

And see the tracks that lay before me

Like those that predecessed and those that return

And there must I end, my life incomplete in the music that does not conclude

*

Left as uncomposed parts

An assemblage of potential

Being less than nothing in the Chaos it was abandoned to

Where it should have emerged from whole

Now undeveloped, a parasitic creation

Taking what cannot be reclaimed

And the energy in this failure

Is washed away and taken by the tides

But eventually this ocean of ideas will dry up

And hang instead as clouds over the barren waste

Of unmoving and definitionless dirt

With the remnants of the previously walked tracks

Still there, underneath, half-remembered, and half-buried

And all that could have been is just a mocking corpse

With bones eroded as they stand limply

Casting faint shadows, unclear shapes

Formless remains of the past

Unclaimed produce there to rot and wither

Long after they were quickly forgotten

Dismissed as a pointless enterprise

All the passion infused in their crafting

Is valueless in their incompletion

What labour is lost, what hope fades

And everything decays in the echoes of a silent song

The life half-live is not lived at all

The song half-complete is never to be sung

It is the void of unresolved

It is the darkness of chaos

Reading through ‘Composing Silence’, broadcast and re-recorded over short-range radio multiple times; then compiled together.

With each recording and transmission, the speech broke rhythm further and became increasingly desynchronised. In some of the recordings I shifted the transmitter and aerial, deviating from the sound of my recording to the radio signal I was overriding/jamming with my short-range mobile-phone radio transmitter, before returning to the drawling sound of my monotonous meandering monologue in which I describe and existential composing crisis.

 

I originally planned to just have increasingly distorted version of the recording it was played through the radio repeatedly, breaking down and disintegrating into a hazy noise, however when I play the original recording with the re-recorded version, the asynchronism due to computer lag [overheating processors do all the work] seemed a fitting extension to the linguistic element, and when composed together produced a confused noisy conversion that echoed within itself, taking the piece further.

In terms of composition, along with fading different recording in and out, and playing with the panoramics, I felt I had two primary option; have all the recording start on the first word; ‘I’, or conclude on the same word ‘Chaos’, and I felt that ending on the same point more resolving to the piece not only in terms of the implications of ‘chaos’ and its connections with the chaos of the soundscape, but also punctually seemed more conclusive. Moreover, the potential implied egocentricity  of beginning with a unified ‘I’ was a concern, though to break from ‘I’ into a chorus would be a curious counterpoint, essentially transforming from an ‘I’; individual, to a ‘we’; plural.

Nevertheless, I settled on ending simultaneously rather than beginning thus to be more effective sonically, as the sound felt out of sync almost immediately after the first recording quite dramatically. This alternative composition drew too much attention to the words being spoken rather than the sound being produced. The words themselves are a small part of the piece, and they distracted from the overall warped controlled chance structure of the soundscape.

The voice in music (or sound in general) is like the figure in the visual field. Instrumental sound in considerable more abstract than lyrical audio works, much as non-figurative pictures are further from familiarity than those with the comprehensible human element. Furthermore, the ‘sampled’ non-human noises used in music, like that of falling rain, crashing waves or a cannon, in order to create a dynamic atmosphere within a sound piece or musical composition is comparable to the landscape in terms of imagery. Recorded, sounds; noise, speech, environmental audio can all be used to further the illusion of space within a wider sound-composition (though arguable, “all sounds one hears are music,” according to John Cage’s doctrine), or as the basis for whole pieces.

(Much as in the sound of the till opening and closing repeatedly and rhythmically in the opening of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’, leading into the first verse of the song. (For more contemporary examples of integrated, multi-layered atmospheric use of sampling, one may turn to the band ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor’ whose mass use of noises in music is tactfully executed.) Noise itself plays a greater roll in music from the turn of the twentieth century onwards, whether the glissandi of strings to wretch at our heart’s own, or in the proliferation and popularisation of distortion in the latter half of the twenty-first century onwards; from The Beatles whose amplifies tore out sound to ascend beyond the screams of their fans, to the subsequent unprecedented children of distortion; through Rock-and-Roll to Black Metal, all are ripples in the pool of sound emanating from the Black Swan of noise. As I believe Brian Eno observed; as soon as something becomes obsolete, it becomes desirable.

In my piece, the atmospheric sounds created by the radio; its interference, electrically hums, beeps and so forth, are integrated into the piece and highlighted by repeated recording and reprocessing; then used en masse in conjunction with the asynchronous layering and juxtaposition of imperfect recordings of a voice echoing the problematic nature of writing unlistenable music in order to create a single unified sound piece.

I intended ‘Composing Silence’ to not just speak of an autobiographic audio apathy, but a wider havoc of noise, how “wherever we are, most of what we hear is mostly noise” [Cage, 1961: 3-6, in Kahn, 1999: 135], and the difficult of penetrating this gluttonous smog of information; the everyday forgettable noise, the spam, the kibble, the clutter and calamity; the chaotic over-abundance of data in all that one sees and hears, its incomprehensibility, its banality, its shear worthlessness that must be filtered down to an infinitesimally tiny proportion of the overall available sensory and informative input in order to function; to focus on the face in front rather than the shifting crowd around, to hear the voice clearly above the traffic and the wind, to read one word at a time when the whole page screams out all at once, to browse through the countless websites, search through unending streets, to digest and process everything one encounters in order to find the one bit of relevant information that can enable a continued existence.

In the dense vacuum of chaos, a breath must be taken.

Silence is the one thing above all else that cannot be composed or controlled, only aspired to. Everything else can be turned up or down, or turned away from, there is only one level of silence, and it can only be measured in time; beyond that it is formless.

“Silence is all the sound we don’t intend. There is no such thing as absolute silence. Therefore silence may very well include loud sounds and more and more in the twentieth century does.”

– Michael Zwerin [ Kostelanetz, 1970: 166; in Kahn, 1999: 163]

Composing Silence [Clean]

 

References

In Kahn, D. (1999) Noise Water Meat: History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge: MIT Press:

  • Cage, John. The Future of Music: Credo. In Silence. (1961) Middletown: Wesleyan University Press. [3-6]
  • Zwerin, Michael. A Lethal Measurement. In Kostelanetz, Richard. (1970) John Cage. New York: Praeger. [166].
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