Written: Audio: Composing Silence
by Beauchamp Art
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]
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. .