The sound of silence
True quiet can be hard to come by these days; particularly in our cities, suburbs and satellites. From the steady drone of traffic and the blaring of horns, to the panicked incision of a siren, muzak from the retail outlets, pedestrian clatter. In our homes there is the functional noise of all those necessaries; the insect hum of the fridge, shudder of the tumble, the hairdryer held by an ear reaching decibels that damage within a couple of minutes.
We are often mercilessly stimulated; savagely entertained from all sides. That connectivity of our tech-frenetic modern living, where we must always be plugged-in, has become part of the fabric of our lives and movement; those bleats and alerts melting into the canvas with the traffic and the chatter, each becoming more and more simply a given, simply the background we understand.
What then of the connectivity of the hermit or the meditator?
‘If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected to everything.’ – Alan Watts.
When the human noises of everyday are so commonplace as to be utterly unremarkable we can cease to question their effect on us and the extent to which they pervade, the stress factors they are triggering. We also cease to seek and to understand quiet, the natural states and silent communion overwhelmed by the noise.
And so to gather, on a beautiful July evening, in the natural conservation woodland area of Kew Botanical Gardens on the 5th birthday of Quiet Mark for the launch of the ‘Woodland House’ and an open-air woodland screening of the film, In Pursuit of Silence, which will be released on DVD in August, introduced by Poppy Szkiler, the founder and managing director of Quiet Mark and executive producer of the film.
Quiet Mark is the international approval award programme associated with the Noise Abatement Society charitable foundation, which works with industry, consumers and government to create awareness of the value of quieter technology and noise-reduction solutions. The Quiet Mark symbol is awarded following rigorous testing of products and approval by an expert team of acousticians in order to provide consumers with the option of choosing quiet products which, collectively might transform our aural environments; our homes, workplaces and outdoor spaces.
The Woodland House, which opened to the public on 22 July in Kew Gardens as a space dedicated to learning about and celebrating native woodland, was developed and donated by Quiet Mark to combine the latest acoustic and architectural design; to chime harmoniously with both the eye and the ear and offer a peaceful, beautiful representation of the value of quiet. It echoes the serenity and naturality of the woodland setting, the smooth lines and flow of the tree limbs.
With evening sunshine fading to soft lighting and the delicate luxury of live orchestral music, the background here is very different. Languidly picnicking and communing, the natural quiet can be truly felt and enjoyed; that subtle balancing, uncoiling of mood, unclenching of that which we hadn’t quite realised was clenched. The gardens, however, are on the Heathrow flight path and, against the leafy quiet, each blunderbuss interjection of jet engines, intermittently overhead and almost as loud as Brian Blessed, does feel like an assault, at odds with everything that is right about the setting; playing so harmoniously with our dispositions. Through this contrast, the invasive and unsettling nature of our man-made noise becomes appreciable; the word disquiet begins to make sense.
In Pursuit of Silence explores this understanding, the great impact of noise on our lives and our relationship with silence; the profound connectivity of the hermit or the meditator, those seeking to escape the clamour or to sink into their natural surrounds. It gives illuminating insight into the untapped potential of design which gives much greater credence to the damage and the benefits of sound and silence; the harmonising effect greater consideration of the impact different volumes and timbres have on our physical and mental health. We sense both the short, sharp, transient sounding of humanity and the subtle, slow, expansive and healing resonances of nature. Expert acousticians, philosophers, spiritual leaders and seekers weigh in on the profundity of, and future for, our sounds and silence.
I moved with my family from the city to the Kentish countryside five years ago now. Each excursion back into the city comes with an edge of anxiety I did not fully recognise whilst living there and I look forward to returning to the simplicity and quiet of our little home and village flanked by woodland and scourged by poor wifi. I recognise the physiological changes brought about by the sensory environment in which I find myself and the shifting of my mood. Most of all I recognise the ocean of nourishing subtleties that resonate in the natural, quiet places I have come to so hungrily seek: The sounds of silence beneath the bedrock of bluster we have built.
It is edifying to see awareness raised and importance attributed to our aural landscape, where aesthetic, location or functionality so often shout louder and claim the ground. Reinforcement of the benefits of a little time spent with the pulse of the earth, the hum of the air and an evening in the woods is a welcome call to listen more carefully to ourselves, how we are tuned & that which is discordant, that which is exultant.
Find out more about Quiet Mark here.