Tag Archive: noise

Tweets about Sound

(Picture taken in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, somewhere in the wilderness…)

I don’t really know what to do with Twitter. I mean, tweeting about personal trivialities is boring and the 140 characters of a tweet only leave space for a less-than-complex form of communication. But sometimes less-than-complex can be good: reading a short punch line that sticks in mind, social or political commentary that reduces complicated issues to an invocing sentence without simplifying matters. Anyhow, I decided to use Twitter as a kind of container or scrapbook for citations concerning sound, listening, noise and silence I find in books, films or articles. It’s not about collecting the best sound quotes that everybody already knows, it’s more like a personal anthology of findings while being exposed to media, little gems I don’t want to forget and that have a particular meaning to me because they appeared in a certain context. I hope it doesn’t look like I’m boasting with cultural knowledge, maybe it does… Well, here are the tweets of sounds of the last two years:

“Movement is the silent music of the body.” – William Harvey

“There is a silence where hath been no sound. There is a silence where no sound may be in the cold grave under the deep deep sea” – Thomas Hood

“Tonight I’m a noisy swamp squelching under your bare toes.” – Dorothy Porter

“Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolih acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Lauscht, hört aber nichts. Nichts regt sich, spricht. Das Dorfgehirn, zerschlagen, schaut mit kleinen Augen.” – Steffen Popp

“Silence is not the absence of sound but the beginning of listening.” – Salomé Voegelin

“The final thing. The illiterate. The dumb. Speech? Quiet but still something? Noises? Nothing?” – Tom Lubbock

“Their pleasantness or unpleasantness is felt without the listener knowing where the grounds for such feelings lie.” – Hermann von Helmholtz

“Du musst doch hören können was ich denke.” – Franziska Schaum

“And the hum, always that hum, which maybe wasn’t an echo after all, but the sound of time passing.” – Jennifer Egan

“And her shape is of such mysterious nastiness that you brace yourself to listen…” – Henri de Régnier

“Hunderte Töne waren zu einem drahtigen Geräusch ineinander verwunden, aus dem einzelne Spitzen vorstanden, längst dessen schneidige Kanten liefen und sich wieder einebneten, von dem klare Töne absplitterten und verflogen.“ – Robert Musil

“The ghost is fascinated by the soldier’s mysterious sound device.” – Apichatpong Weerasethakul (script of “Tropical Malady”)

“Und groß die Stille/groß wie der frischgeteerte Himmel/man müsste sie hören können. Ein tragender Ton für ein paar Sätze” – Christoph Aigner

“The static’s like the sound of thinking. It’s like the sound of thought itself, its hum and rush.” – Tom McCarthy

“In den Regen gesprochen, geflüstert. Staub u Schatten – welch Großeslärmen doch um die-Toten ist. Um die Lebenden Stille” – Reinhard Jirgl

“The longest silence is the most pertinent question most pertinently put. Emphatically silent.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.” – John Keats

“Im Sehen erfassen wir das Skelett der Dinge, im Hören ihren Puls.” – Erwin Strauss

“As if that sound were forming, unlikely as that might be, into a single high, strong voice striking the ear as if trying to penetrate further than into the mere human sense of hearing” – Franz Kafka

“The most exciting moment is the moment when I add sound… At this moment, I tremble.” – Akira Kurosawa

“On the way to a full silence the mark of language brands the body with a reminder of the time.” – Delphine

“Was aber ein regelmäßiges, stumpfes, sinnloses und sich stundenlang wiederholendes Geräusch angeht so müssen die Gehirne wohl verschieden gebaut sein.” – Kurt Tucholsky

“One can see looking. Can one hear listening, smell smelling, etc…?” – Marcel Duchamp

“By listening, one will learn truths. By hearing, one will learn half truths. Lucky numbers 6, 14, 19, 27, 30, 34.” – from a fortune cookie

“Bloom heard a jing, a little sound. He’s off. Light sob of breath Bloom sighed on the silent bluehued flowers. Jingling. He’s gone. Jingle. Hear.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

“Fear of sound, fear of sounds, all sounds, more or less, more or less fear, all sounds…” – Samuel Beckett

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Those unmindful when they hear, for all they make of their intelligence, may be regarded as the walking dead.” – Heraclitus

“While a word awakens other words, silence raises no echo. Silence only prolongs silence.” – Edmond Jabés

“Hearing is a physiological constant, listening is a psychological variable.” – Bruce R. Smith

“This music is about the silence. The sounds are there to surround the silence.” – Martha Ainsworth

“Noise and nausea, noise and nautical, noise and navy have the same etymology. We never hear white noise better than when at sea.” – M. Serres

“I don’t push the sounds around.” – Morton Feldman, responding to Stockhausens question about his secret

“And just imagine that in this infinite sonorous silence everywhere is an impenetrable darkness.” – Béla Tarr, Werckmeister Harmony

“I try to listen to the still, small voice within, but I can’t hear it above the din.” – Eliza Ward

“The only sound that I hear, the only sound in the entire world, is my heart beating.” – Dexter

“Imprisoned in a cage of sound, even the trivial seems profound” – John Betjeman

“Das Schweigen wird nur zum Zeichen, wenn man es sprechen lässt.” – Roland Barthes

“Im Ohr nistet eine Spinne, im anderen eine Grille.” – Michelangelo

“Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” -Shakespeare

“Any given silence takes its identity as a stretch of time being perforated by sound.” – Susan Sontag

“Noise may have lost its power to offend. Silence hasn’t.” – Dan Warburton

“When I am inside a sound then I am inside time.” – Christoph Korn

“Sound: everything we hear and many things we don’t” – Allen S. Weiss

“Sound is touch at a distance.” – Anne Fernald

“We should be sensitive to the thread of silence from which the tissue of speech is woven.” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

“…unlike other sounds, noise is a nomad; it has no place to go once it has departed.” -Haroon Mirza

„Er fühlte sich wie gehäutet von der Scharfkantigkeit der Geräusche…” – Ralf Rothmann

“…the roar of more slamming doors, the last one finally hammering shut, leaving the room satured in silence.” – M. Danielewski

“L’odeur du silence est si vieille.” – O.W. De L. Milosz (“The odor of silence is so old.”)

“Gerade weil sich die Musik der wörtlichen Beschreibung entzieht, finden sich unter Musikkritikern die größten Metaphoriker.” – R. McCormack

“Hearing silence is successful perception of an absence of sound. A deaf man cannot hear silence.” – Matthew Nudds

The vuvuzela is the signation sound of the 2010 FIFA World Cup (as it was already at the 2009 Confed Cup and the Africa Cup 2010). For many this blowing horn is a major annoyance. There are strong arguments against it: it can cause serious damage to ears of bystanders, it drowns the acoustic dynamics of the stadion atmosphere in a constant drone of a dissonant cluster, football players have trouble communicating on the pitch and the live commentary of the sports reporters is hard to understand. There is already a free plug-in out to filter the TV’s audio signal to get rid of the vuvuzela frequencies. But demands of critics to ban the vuvuzela from the stadions have been denied by FIFA president Sepp Blatter: “I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?” (according to Wikipedia)

More left-wing commentators followed this line of thinking and suspected behind the vuvuzela-criticism an eurocentric and bourgeois resentment, because the sound comes, sociologically speaking, from the lower classes, from the under-privileged. It appears to be politically correct to talk in favour of the vuvuzela. But is this really true? First, a very similar plastic horn or trumpet has been used in Mexican football stadions since the 70s. Only in 2001 the South-African company Masincedane Sport started mass-producing the vuvuzela and claimed it is of African origin, which is highly disputable. Nevertheless supporters of the South-African campaign for organizing the World Cup used the vuvuzela and finally helped them getting the bid. The vuvuzela was something like a unique selling proposition for the campaign. This leads to another aspect of the problem: noise is always tied to power, writes Garret Keizer writes in his book, “The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise”. Those who make the biggest noise are usually the ones with power, literally and metaphorically. Keizers writes (mainly from an american perspective):

“Make a list of the people most likely to be affected by loud noises (though not all noise is loud), either because of their greater vulnerability to the effects of loud sound or because of their greater likelihood of being exposed to it, and you come up with a set of members whose only common features are their humanity and their lack of clout. Your list will include children (some of whom, according to the World Health Organization, “receive more noise at school than workers from an 8-hour work day at a factory”), the elderly (whose ability to discriminate spoken speech from background noise is generally less than that of younger contemporaries), the physically ill (cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, for example, are often more sensitive to noise), racial minorities (blacks in the United States are twice as likely, and Hispanics 1.5 times as likely, as whites to live in homes with noise problems), neurological minorities (certain types of sound are especially oppressive to people with autism), the poor (more likely than their affluent fellow citizens to live next to train tracks, highways, airports), laborers (whose political weakness has recently been manifested in weakened occupational safety standards), prisoners (noise, like rape, being one of the unofficial punishments of incarceration), members of the Armed Forces (roughly one in four soldiers returning from Iraq has a service-related hearing loss) — or simply a human being of any description who happens to have less sound-emitting equipment than the person living next to her (who might for his part have car speakers literally able to kill fish) and no feasible way to move.”

The New York Times wrote that “Mr. Keizer thinks it is condescending cant to assume that the poor are fundamentally noisier than the rich. And among his most interesting ideas is his linking of noise with later antisocial behavior.” “You can judge a person’s clout — his or her social and political standing — by witnessing how much racket he or she must regularly endure. Those who lack silence in their lives tend to be the politically weak, whether the poor (investment bankers don’t live near runways) or laborers or soldiers or prisoners or children. In creating noise that others must live with, we display our contempt for those weaker than ourselves. Hear us roar; eat our exhaust.” From this premise, I doubt the vuvuzela can be seen as an instrument of the politically weak as it has been suggested by some commentators. Can anyone from the townships of South Africa afford a ticket for a WM match? Or are the football fans from Europe blowing the vuvuzelas representing a lower class despite the high price for travelling to Africa to watch some football matches? I doubt so. Uppermost, the vuvuzela represents nothing else as money making tool and a win-win situation for the manufacturer: According to Wikipedia, “demand for earplugs to protect from hearing loss during the World Cup outstripped supply, with many pharmacies running out of stock. Neil van Schalkwyk, manufacturer of the plastic vuvuzela, began selling earplugs to fans.” And maybe the political correct favouring of the vuvuzela here in the west shows nothing else than an underlying guilt-complex of a white elite and eventually even a twisted form of a reversed rascist resentiment.


“Music stands out from silence and has need of silence in the same way that life has need of death, and thought (…) has need of nonbeing. As something similar to a work of art, life is an animated, limited construction that stands out against lethal infinity; and music, as something similar to life – as a melodious construction, magic duration, an ephemeral adventure, and brief encounter – is isolated, between beginning and end, in the immensity of nonbeing.” Vladimir Jankélévitch in “Music and the Ineffable”.

An ephemeral adventure is in fact the already 1993 released work “Un Peu De Neige Salie” by German composer Bernhard Günter, and much more than that. It is quiet to an extend that it opens a kind of perceptual abyss of nothingness if the listener is willing to let himself or herself being drawn into this empty space of faintest noises. Even today, after 15 years of its first release the sound asthetic of this CD appears fresh and cutting edge, something rarely achieved in the quickly changing fashions of todays experimental music. The clicking sounds and sine wave brush strokes resemble the work of Ryoji Ikeda and others and has led people to consider the release as a landmark recording (one of the ‘100 recordings that changed the world’ according to The Wire). Bernhard Günter stated in an interesting interview for the Paris Transatlantic Magazine asked about whether quiet music is nothing else then the flipside of noise music, that “placative quiet music has no dynamics, and placative loud music has no dynamics, either – and I’m not interested in either. My music isn’t soft all the time. It’s not about loudness or quietness, it’s about dynamics.” Günther is running his own label trente oiseaux where most of his recordings can be found. He has also released works of Francisco Lopez like “Warszawa Restaurant” (another quietism experience…) and other artists like Marc Behrens, Daniel Menche and Steve Roden. On his myspace side one can hear some recent tracks in collaboration with Gary Smith that follow a more melodic and less ascetic strain.

Jankélévitch said in another passage of “Music and the Ineffable”: “Silence blossoms through voids that interrupt a perpetual din.” This perpetual din can be the stream of noise that our daily life constitutes, that “lasts our whole life and accompanies all we experience, fills our ears from the time we are born to the moment we die”, and a music such as this “ephemeral adventure” can constitute the interrupting void.

Metal Door Tones

Playing a metal door with tuning forks of different pitches, the sound was picked up by contact microphones…