Silence could well be the most feared quantity of the modern world
Modern culture seeks to extinguish mystery
Brian Eno: his work focuses on the avoidance of cliche and short-circuits of understanding.
‘If you sit in Hyde Park just far enough away from the traffic so that you don’t perceive any of its specific details, you just hear the average of the whole thing. And it’s such a beautiful sound. For me that’s as good as going to a concert hall at night.”
I came across this observation years ago in a book called Brian Eno: His Work and the Vertical Colour of Sound, about the music of the producer and anti-musician who midwifed innumerable classic albums by bands such as U2, Talking Heads and Coldplay.
Silence is a persistent theme of Eno’s work, which has focused on the avoidance of cliche and short-circuits of understanding. One of his legendary Oblique Strategies – a deck of cards designed as prompts for artists when they hit a blank or a block – reads: “Don’t break the silence.” Perhaps Eno’s most important contribution to rock’n’roll has been the understanding that making a noise, or singing something, can be a loss rather than a gain, especially if what emerges is a truism or a lie. “Every event,” he told an interviewer in 1981, “either obscures another event or obscures silence, so you may as well leave as much out of everything as you can.”
I quoted him the other Sunday – St John’s Eve, as it happens – when I helped launch a CD called Anáil, in St Ruain’s Abbey in the village of Lorrha, Co Tipperary. Anáil, produced by the local community, is astounding in both its conceptualisation and purpose.
The three-track CD is the outcome of a series of recordings conducted in the three ruined abbeys of Lorrha at the dead of night, the first part of the Breath Project, recently launched in the community as a way of raising funds and awareness about emotional wellbeing among young people.
The Breath Project aims to address matters such as suicide and bullying and seeks “to move away from providing children with a victim/victimiser vocabulary”.
Philosophically, Anáil derives from ancient concepts of meditation, and the more modern idea of “mindfulness” – reconnecting with here-and-now reality by quieting the mind and body and focusing on the breath or on incidental noises in the vicinity and beyond.
There’s little need to labour the particular relevance of this initiative right now, in the era of iPods, phone-ins and 24/7 pop radio – not to mention the unmentionable twit-twatting of the internet. Silence, or what passes for it in the babble of the modern world, seems increasingly to be the most feared force on the planet.