Giles Fraser on Noise and Silence

Giles Fraser*1 “In the age of noise, silence becomes a political issue”

現代を「騒音の時代(the Age of Noise)」と呼んだのはオルダス・ハックスリーだったか。少し切り抜き。

Silence is not a luxury. It is crucial to our physical and mental heath. We need it to think, to sleep, to recover from life’s frenzy. My particular interest is that silence has been at the heart of the spiritual life of the church for centuries*2. For many religious traditions, silence is the great proving drawer of prayer. And continual noise is an assault on the soul as much as the ear. But it’s also important for the arts, indeed even for music itself. Creativity, concentration, contemplation all demand it. It is little wonder that being constantly bombarded with noise was used as a torture technique during interrogations at Guantánamo Bay*3. The military and the police understand that “sound bombs” are highly effective at disrupting civilian populations. A world without silence is a world that is inhospitable to human flourishing.

But of course, there is no such a thing as absolute silence. When the composer John Cage*4 experimented with an anechoic chamber*5 in 1951, a place in which there was supposed to be no sound, he could still hear the workings of his own body. And listening to his famous 1952 silent composition 4’33”*6 only forces the audience to be more alert to the noises around them. Silence is not zero decibels, it is the volume of human tranquillity.

And one cannot celebrate silence uncritically. Being silenced is what happens to those who are victims of abuse. Moreover, what counts as bad noise is often controversial. The Israeli Knesset is currently passing legislation to silence the Muslim call to prayer, legislation that has been recently redesigned not to effect the Jewish Shabbat siren*7. “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” goes the carol about the city of Bethlehem. Hmm. Even silence has its politics.


Ballad of Fallen

Ballad of Fallen



*1: See also

*2:See Stuart Kelly “Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch – review”

*3:See also

*4:See also



*7:See Bethan McKernan “Israeli ministers to ban use of speakers for Muslim call to prayer due to 'noise pollution'”