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The Color of Silence (carlosalvarenga.substack.com)
56 points by prismatic 21 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 24 comments

To take Cage's investigations into "silence" further, he sat in an anechoic chamber - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anechoic_chamber - and afterwards remarked to the technician that he heard a high whine and a low rumble so there must have been an issue with the soundproofing. The technician told him that the high whine was his nervous system and the low rumble was his bloodflow.

Cage's book "Silence" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silence:_Lectures_and_Writings - is a really interesting and accessibile read for people interested in sound.

I can second this observation. I'm autistic and my brain is less adept at filtering out stimuli, so it's easy for me to detect both of those phenomena.

I do wonder how the nervous system itself causes that high whine simply by existing, though. Is it something inherent in how audio signals are transmitted to the brain?

It could be mild tinnitus no?

No, sometimes one or both of my ears will suddenly start ringing for a few minutes and that would be tinnitus. But this seems to just be inherent to existing.

I mean that some people with Tinnitus hear it all the time. Maybe you've got another background quiet tinnitus. I know I've got it all the time and when it's quiet I can hear it.

Yeah, I have a relative who can barely hear because their tinnitus is so loud all the time. And maybe. I don't know if it's possible to tell for sure.

>I can second this observation. I'm autistic and my brain is less adept at filtering out stimuli, so it's easy for me to detect both of those phenomena.

I have ADHD, and I wonder if it also makes us better at picking up "background" sounds, since we're so easily distractible in general, and our focus tends to drift away, unless we're "hyperfocused". It stands to reason that any change in the background is better picked up when your focus is usually so wide, so to speak, perhaps to the detriment of perceiving foreground phenomena. I'm always that one person who says "hey, what's that sound coming from such and such, can't you hear it?" or can locate their source better.

I have ADHD too, and I do notice small things like that, too. Most people I've talked to that are not autistic, though, cannot even hear any background noise when it's quiet, even if they try. It's as if their brain completely filters it out. But my brain's filters are defective, so.


Even if you're right, why sign up a new account on HN to post a one-line insult about someone you've never met?

The Atom editor played a silent audio clip to disable throttling in Chromium:


It could be the same as whitespace Unicode or periods in build files: the encoding of "nothing" or "not-meaning in a context" as data.

However, interpreted in an outer context, gives rise to clever ploys.

Given what Cage said about audience participation and the framing of the piece, I wonder what he would think about playing it outside of the concert hall. If I listen to 4'33" on my headphones in a silent room, does the experience degenerate into meaninglessness, or is there still artistic merit in it?

Something something sensory deprivation chamber something something art!

Exactly. It's precisely this about art that I find frustrating, not the inability to pin it down but the desire to expand the definition to fit anything someone wants, thus debasing the concept of art.

If art is valuable (and I most definitely believe it is) should be treating it differently I feel; a little less 'precious' and whole lot more discerning.

It's so subjective though. I think more or less people have this feeling with whatever things-other-people-call-art that they find boring/uninteresting/meaningless (as opposed to just bad). Which makes it feel less subjective, because the categorisation still allows for things you don't like to be art, but interesting/uninteresting is still a very subjective judgement.

(for example my subjective view finds explorations of abstract concepts to be a lot more interesting than most fine art, which most people would normally consider safely in the 'is-art' category)

Thanks. It's that very subjectivity that makes me doubt we should classify things as art because other people say so. Perhaps that is the core of it. I don't like going into art galleries and being expected to like a picture because it is 'art' because someone else said it is. I expect to like it because I like it and nothing else, and nobody else needs to like it just because I do.

Which is in turn precisely why I find frustrating - the idea that art is some sort of sacred ‘debase-able’ concept in the first place.

Art is valuable because it is so subjective and malleable, narrowing the definition and limiting people’s experience of art is what devalues it in my view.

Coincidentally, ...or not..., a Catholic priest used John Cage's 4'33 in a German radio devotional that piqued my interest on last Holy Saturday while driving to the hardware store, picking up on Johann Baptist Metz' idea that the shortest definition of religion is 'interruption'. You may understand my amused confusion when I discovered this thread on HN yesterday. To deepen the discussion, I'll add a quote from Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow about some special kind of silence:

"A screaming comes across the sky…He won’t hear the thing come in. It travels faster than the speed of sound. The first news you get of it is the blast. Then, if you’re still around, you hear the sound of it coming in."

I really enjoy Klein's visual works, especially the IKB series which are quite striking and impactful in person. When listening to the original Symphonie Monotone-Silence embedded at the end of the article, what comes to mind is "the sound of magnetic tape" which is, to my ear, the dominant sonic feature. Also, this version seems to lack the major 3rd.

It is funny to consider the wide range of reactions that people have to the presentation of perception without stimulus.

> They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds.

The notion of "without stimulus" seems related to the use of "silence" in what Cage is saying here. Personally I would say that it's not that there's no such thing as silence, just that it's relative, and in this case "without stimulus" is relative to the audience's (reasonable) expectation at a concert hall.

In his book Cage said "notes are sounds the composer intended and rests are sounds the composer didn't intend". As somebody who does algorithmic and aleatoric music the question of intent in art is something I think about a lot.

Nevermind that, I'd like to see the Color of Magic. With VR headsets it should be possible: display a different color in the same position for each eye, maybe cycling between yet more colors each frame.

don't necessarily need VR headsets, see 'redgreen' and 'yellowblue' on this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossible_color (to me redgreen is very similar to the effect you get from the old-school 3d glasses)

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