Reflections on silence



When you listen to silence, silence listens back to you

There is no traffic hum or any other urban sound. There are no trees around or even the softest breeze to filter through their leaves. With nowhere to find a shadow and rest, birds are absent too. As far as the eye can see there is only red sand and the rocky hills of Wadi-Rum, the desert in Jordan. I focus more on listening, the silence is overwhelming. I fall on my knees shaking, being blown away by this extraordinary experience…

Remembering Wadi-Rum, thirteen years later, I cannot recall hearing anything specific there. Nonetheless it is certain that there was sound. Author George Michaelsen Foy writes that to be perfectly silent is to be perfectly dead and actually that evening in the desert I felt more alive than ever. It was as if I was connected to the divine, the infinite, god – name it as you wish. My mortal self was intertwining with eternity and the limits between the objective and the subjective world were blurred, mainly because of the mystifying and ambiguous nature of sound and its apparent absence: the presence of silence.

More than meets the ear

When I lie down on my bed late at night, the overall auditory level is really low and the quietest sounds are audible and significant. Although familiar and cozy, the dark bedroom is transformed into a space of unknown possibilities. Early morning on a mountain in south continent Greece, I am focusing on the proximity and distance of non-visible sound sources: A fragile rustle over my head, a crack a few meters away, a strange voice echoing from the valley. In the Thai Buddhist temple Buddhapadipa, in Wimbledon, everyone is praying silently. This allows me to notice the barely audible ticking sound of the clock that is installed there, counting the seconds that pass by. I even remember sounds that I have never really heard. When reading Homer’s Iliad, the great poet’s description of the epic battles of Troy was silently generating the most powerful noise in my head and imagination.

Silence cannot be measured in decibels; it is a subjective notion that can appear in the most unexpected places. The mysteries of sound are emphasized in silence and in it some can easily relax, while others may get distracted and even feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Within silence lies the concept of infinity, a power that gives life to sound, connecting the everyday with the divine.



Yiorgis Sakellariou

Sound artist, manager of the Echomusic label.