The Sounds of Silence
Posted by Gail | Filed under Thinking Out Loud
Do you work with the radio on? Do you find yourself more productive if you’ve got a soundtrack for your life? Some kids claim they can’t study without sound around them. Alex loves sleeping in her room in the basement of our house because all the machinery noises – the furnace, the sump pump, the air exchange, — makes for less “silence” which she find intolerable. Me, I like the quiet.
All silences are not created equal; some seem quieter than others, some seem disconcerting. I learned about the texture of silence doing television. After each scene the audio guy would ask for 15 seconds of “room tone” that’s when everyone had to stand stock still and silent as we captured the ambient sounds of the room. No two rooms sound the same, and if you move a body, the sound of the silence changes.
Our brains adapt to the world around us so what is deafening to one person is perfectly tolerable to another who has been exposed and adapted. You’ve heard the phrase, “the silence was deafening?” Well, according to Tom Stafford in his article on BBC’s Future, “The secret to a deafening silence is the period of intense noise that comes immediately before it. When this ends, the lack of sound appears quieter than silence. This sensation, as your mind tries to figure out what your ears are reporting, is what leads us to call a silence deafening.”
When I first moved to the country 10 years ago, one of the things I loved was the silence at night. My night noises were crickets and frogs. And when something disturbed them, they would all stop their chattering, whistling, chirping at once and there’d be complete silence.
I’d go into the city to work and the sounds from the street would travel into my hotel room rousing me several times a night. Do city people even know what silence sounds like? Never mind the ambient light that keeps the stars from view, the ambient sounds – those constant sirens, the horns, the voices raised in joy, anger and drunkenness – all rob the night of its silence.
After sleeping at home in my Little House in Brighton for several nights, a trip to any small city, never mind the big city, meant a noisy night’s sleep. I’d ask for a high-up hotel room, above the 7th floor, when possible, but that usually wasn’t enough. I had to ratchet up the air conditioner to drown out the sounds from the street.
Then I’d return to Brighton and the nights seemed even quieter. Tom Stafford says that once our brains adapt to one set of experiences, “once the constant stimulation your brain has adapted to stops, there is a short period when new stimuli appear distorted in the opposite way from the stimulus you’ve just been experiencing.” The after-effect of having been exposed to the noisy city is an even quieter country evening. The lack of the city’s cacophony means my country evening sounds quieter.
When was the last time you enjoyed the sounds of silence? How quiet is too quiet for you?