<<Back to Reflections

Silence! Noise is speaking

(digression  published in the book “La Tua Libertà”  (“Your Freedom”) printed by Domus Academy and Marietti 1820, in 2000)

      In the revelry of noise more things we hear, less we listen to.

      Floods of high-sounding words trouble that comprehension which keeping silent would promote with sufficient clearness and appreciated discretion. Streams of thunderous sounds inundate us also on those last resorts represented by the longing of vital silence: many voices would speak to us from that restrained domain. And where could it happen to us to hear the wail of our intimacy, together with the voice of those which speak to us with love and which we do not hear anymore in the roar of everyday life. It is ‘ unheard-of ‘ to ask for some respect for the desire of quiet conversation, serene exchanges, tacit propositions, respectful trades and silenced industries? Living produces sounds; not this obscene noise with makes us deaf, aphonic, aphasic.

      Animals delimit their territory with olfactory tactics. If the task of marking our territory is assigned to the Racket, the ubiquitous noise would be the evidence that we no longer have any room at our disposal, as the deafening signal of the presence of other people is ringing everywhere.

      But to be silent is no more a virtue; that virtue recommended by the saying ‘silence is golden ‘. To listen to what eyes, hands, posture have to say is a neglected exercise. And yet we remember the glance with which we looked at, or were looked at, with loving purposes. That glance turned out to be a more effusive madrigal than a noisy serenade.

      Keeping silent in order to listen. To keep silent in order to say more things at this point denied to words by the orgy of racket.

      But to keep silent is no more possible. Neither it is to speak. We are dominated by noise to which words are assimilables. Having become noise themselves they take part in the base prevalence of Noise. In which also the most elementary linguistic structures are wrecked. Actually grammar, syntax and rhetoric imply, besides the notion of their rules, a concentration and a quietness which alone allow their correct and effective expression. The sophist, with rhetorical virtuosity, was able to bend his arguing to whatever purpose. An exercise practicable in the presence of a silent audience. Unfeasible wherever there is noise. In the funeral oration, which Antonius delivers in Shakespear’s Julius Caesar his words are pronounced when the silence of the plebs occurs, previously excited by other words: those of Brutus. Between the noise induced by the rhetoric of Brutus and the fury roused by that of Antonius only silence and silence alone allows the words of Antonius to transfer onto Brutus the latent homicidal rage of the audience. The task of silencing the noisy plebs harangued by Brutus can not be assigned to words: for lack of silence. Therefore Antonius gives up words and relies on the mere appearance and exhibition of Caesar’s wounded body. To which rhetoric do young people entrust the funeral oration of their precarious youth? To the booming coarse language? Conformist as the decorous way of speaking of the past generations, it results acoustically boorish and vulgar. To the point that one looks back with nostalgia to the reticent and aphasic young girls analyzed by Freud.

      The continuous noise of ‘modern times’ disjoints the talk, makes it superfluous. Words that mean something are not there anymore. Words that fascinate are silent. Words that soothe, raise, fall, upset, inspire, incite are recumbent petals of a withered flower: in the desert of noise. The bombast adapts itself; the hyperbole plays the lord and master; the reticence languishes in mannered remembrances. The rethoric of the commercial, splendidly knowing how much ‘time is money’, must talk big and in very few seconds. Obviously at full volume. Changing from a radio or TV dialogue to a commercial the volume all of a sudden raises automatically and becomes piercing in spite of our hearing. And not only of that.

      No ecology protects us from the noise pollution. One favors the poisonous mushroom – as long as it is in the extinction phase – to our right to quietness and silence: basis of emerging thoughts. They ruin our eardrums but nobody considers us consumers cheated by the violent intrusion of the ‘pornophonic’ noises. Maybe because noise ‘protects’ us from thoughts and above all from those thoughts that would make us reflect had we still ‘ears’ to ‘listen’. Those ears perennially forced by unavoidable noises. Where is the helpline of the auditory rape, perpetrated under our ears? Again and only sex to outrage us?

      In this deafening context here comes a new, delicate, euphonic musical instrument: it moves forward and draws the attention of everybody with its consequent new way of making and enjoying music. It is an improper aerophone – such is the pompous musicological terminology – unknown to the previous classical and popular musical tradition but suddenly so intriguing that it changes the countless neophytes in professors of a planetary orchestra with singular acoustic characteristics. A result which millenary school strategies have failed. Not by chance the word ‘professors’ was chosen. Of the instrument in question many varieties of versions are known; but it is the many-sidedness and the virtuosity of the working methods which impose themselves and surprise.

      Somebody plays it to express an uncontainable joy: playful, conjugal, political etc. It is a choral playing with polyrhythmic aspects. Others intend to ‘touch’ it (in the sense of Toccata) to send various messages either in classical or popular style. The latter is dominant because of the superabundance of texts unsuited to an advanced musical practice. Actually it has to do with a few and recurring aphorisms containing veiled hints at an Hellenic erotism, spontaneous and idyllic evocations of the profession or vocation of the dedicatee’s  mother, references to the praised conjugal fidelity (in the style of Fidelio or Of Married Love), rebukes, refusals, scoldings counterpointed by zealous and sagacious answers echoing the ancient musical movements of the Responsory and the Antiphon. Patented contraptions allow  to play it – in a mediate and slightly cunning manner – also during the absence of the lawful owner. It suffices to be driven by a strong and urgent musical passion and to touch some protected parts to produce sounds of which the above-mentioned and lawful player is jealous, as well as proud. Finally there are some who play it with really tragic tones when ‘colliding’ with another player, smarter or luckier, the first one succumbs in the fashion of the incautious Marsia who dared challenge the revengeful Apollo in the memorable, mythological and musical challenge. In which – as reliable texts relate – he lost his life. Apollo actually skinned him.

      We are talking of the much tested horn, this amiable instrument which has changed every driver into a musician, with an insuppressible communicative vocation. The major beneficiary of the musical effusion of the horn player is always that auditory apparatus so generously stirred and so eager of reiterated experiences. And to think that our present civilization was improvidently considered the civilization of image. But when would the driver skilled in ‘sound and light ‘ prefer to give a convincing proof of a videoart performance (and yet the car has a sophisticated, variegated and graduated light system) rather than to venture on some example of musical invention? For which he is inclined when, relying on its creativity, he begins to sing hymns to celebrate coexistence and tolerance. It is a sane and strong musical vocation that which ‘bursts out’ from the bonnets. And those who insist in saying that such vocation is ‘a pain in the neck’ are wrong. Definitely wrong. As every musician knows, didymousclasm is not workable with musical means, not being the male attributes sensitive to sound. Eardrums are.

      And what about that other music preferred by the futurist optimism and which happily expresses itself through exhaust pipes, mufflers, light motorcycles and other instruments having attenuating mutes capable of voluptuously caressing the most sensible and refined ears?

      The list of the instruments of the new musicality recently has known a significant increase – of high quality and very high quantity – thanks to the cellular telephony and to its inexhaustible versatility and musical creativity. Some privileged places had inexplicably and deplorably protected themselves from the overflowing musical force (churches, cemeteries, museums, hospitals, mortuaries, operating theatres, enclosed convents): places where a partial and moderate silence – though with thousand exceptions and intrusions – could still be attained. In front of an uncontrollable craving for music – as we have tried to highlight above – also those niches of silence have been at last conquered by a much beseeched Muse. And now it is sound to affirm that no place can anymore resist to music.

      To tell the truth there is no reliable news of a conquest of the underwater and interplanetary spaces. But it would be a deplorable pessimism fearing that decades may pass before also the above-mentioned and refractory spaces be won over to the very noble art of sounds.