First of all, happy new year! I hope 2016 is good for you, and that Arcana can at least play some part in bringing you some musical treats and writing that you will hopefully enjoy.
It may seem an odd thing for a music site to talk about, but I’m going to kick off the New Year by promoting the virtue of silence.
Silence is good on so many levels. It allows the full formation of thoughts, provides a necessary break from the frenetic activity of day-to-day life, and – for me at least – it cleanses the mind over a holiday period such as Christmas, after which the joy of music can be appreciated more than ever. Not that I made an active bid for freedom from music this time around, but stepping away from it for a bit was incredibly useful.
Pop songwriters and classical composers have used silence to their advantage on many occasions. One use of silence I often think of is incredibly minute but works an absolute treat, where King Crimson go for the jugular half way through 21st Century Schizoid Man:
Perhaps the most famous classical example is John Cage in the sound-free 4’33” – which, depending on your view, is a work of genius or flawed publicity stunt. I would definitely tend towards the former, because if you ‘listen’ to 4’33” (after the pretty loud introduction!) each performance is different – because all manner of tiny micro-sounds make themselves known in your environment:
The use of silence goes much further back of course. Can you imagine the works of Beethoven without the use of silence? How on earth would the start of the Fifth Symphony sound without it…
…or the beginning of the second Razumovsky string quartet?
…or, taking a fantastic example from the last century, the very end of Sibelius’ Symphony no.5?
All show just how powerful silence can be when used strategically. Yet if experienced over longer periods of time it takes on an even more special significance.
A New Year’s Day walk brought this home to me in vivid form. After hearing the radio for the first hour or so of the day – and inevitably U2’s New Year’s Day was included in this! – it was out for a walk where we were staying in Faversham, Kent.
Our walk, designed to cure the hangover from the previous night’s celebrations, took us out beyond the town and heading for the reeds and marshland close to a remote place called Oare, and its haunted pub The Shipright Arms.
Here all that could be heard were calls from what turned out to be little egrets, the wind in the reeds, and something quite astonishing in the whirring of a swan’s wings as it took off on the adjacent lake.
Little Egret (c) Ben Hogwood
Yet the wonderful truth was that if you stood and listened, most of what you could hear was…nothing. It was a cleansing experience, and one that has set me up to enjoy what 2016 has to offer musically. We at Arcana hope you choose to enjoy it with us…and share your moments of music and silence with us…and that you have a Happy New Year!
Ben Hogwood – editor, Arcana.fm