The Sound of Silence

There is a boardwalk in The Algarve that connects the beach to a nature reserve. Salgados beach, one of the most amazing and secret beaches close to Armaçao de Pera is long and sandy. Half way along this beach the boardwalk steps up and extends over the sand dunes for several hundred meters until it reaches a wildlife reserve, bird sanctuary and protected wetlands.

Walking from the beach the sound of the waves is clear and pounding. But there is one very special spot halfway along the boardwalk where the sound of the sea disappears and the wildlife of the reserve is equally distant. It is here that you encounter The Sound of Silence. For me this was accidental and profound.

Working in sound and constantly hearing a song, a tune, an idea even at night, the sound of virtually nothing was instant and a little disturbing. Grains of sand being blown around and scuttling insects accompanied by the sound of your own heartbeat threatening your senses was quite memorable. I wanted to bottle it.

We live in a world of extreme noise. I can never work out why everybody on trains, walking around, running in the park is so obsessed with wearing headphones or earbuds. What are they listening to that is so good? Or are they also trying to block out other noises that are worse, more disruptive, harsh, annoying? I fear that we are speeding towards a generation of the chronically deaf where everything will exist at ear-bleeding decibel levels due to years of in-ear pounding.

Further, there are many people, in this industry we call music, suffering from Tinnitus; a constant whistling white noise interference which, I am told, is more obvious during quieter moments. Often caused by years of standing in front of amps levelled at eleven on the volume dial, or cranking up the volume whenever they want to critique a piece of music in studios.

My last hearing test resulted in my being told that damage to ones hearing can occur not only progressively over years, but easily at one sitting in a loud theatre, concert or music venue. That is certainly very scary and great cause for concern. It’s certainly not worth the risk.

Noise cancelling headphones are a strange invention too. These do work particularly well on planes where the exterior white nose of engines, air conditioning and screaming children can be reduced considerably, But at what cost? Pumping your hearing with additional white noise to keep out the outside noise? What can that do long-term? And don’t get me stared on leaf blowers; The Devil’s anti-vacuum machine, the curse of anyone trying to work from home and probably the most pointless tool ever created!

One practice I have tried to keep especially when working in the studio is to keep the master volume as low as possible. Not only do you get a cleaner and more accurate end product, but you can work longer without becoming exhausted.

There are times especially when clients are present to crank up the volume. For a few seconds everything sounds more energetic, more ‘Rock & Roll’, in-yer-face, having the speakers moving and the bass giving your stomach a workout.  But it’s quite extraordinary that within minutes you start to feel tired and less like tweaking anything. Makes me want to drink a large one and start a party, certainly not work on to a better product!

Meanwhile try starting with the sound of silence. Find somewhere and then listen. See what you hear. Listen to the smallness of the sounds. Try to capture and enjoy the dynamic. It’s strange that out of silence music will come. A new hook, line, tune or arrangement. Imagine it and then realise it, quietly.

After the fire, a still small voice.