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1952, John Cage and the ‘sound of silence’

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

There were – not one, but two articles on the ‘nada’ sound in this month’s London Review of Books.

One, an article by Jenni Diski on noise pollution and how irritated she gets by it. She mentions the ‘sound of silence’ but clearly hasn’t done much meditation since she spends her whole life trying to block out noise and change everything to try and achieve a perfect silent space. A patent example of non-acceptance and the enormous head-ache that brings.

The second piece is a biographical portrait of the American composer John Cage who was famous for writing the piece 4’33” in which nothing happens and the audience sit in silence listening to the ambient ‘noise’ as music. This is in itself – of course – an act of mindfulness and Cage was a great student of Buddhist thinking. But there’s an interesting note on Cage’s 1952 visit to the anechoic chamber in Harvard,

a room built to absorb sound reflections and so create absolute silence. ‘In that silent room;, as Cage never tired of explaing, ‘I heard two sounds, one high one low’. When asked what they were, the engineer in charge of the reoom replied that the highsound was Cage’s nervous system, the low one his circulation.

Now I know what to answer when people ask me in class.

I’d love to know your thoughts about John Cage. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

Find out more about The Mindsprings School. A series of courses created by Alistair to help you live a happier life.

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