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After so many explosions, I can finally hear the silence.

May 18, 2019

A place where the study of sound (or music) and photography intersect is in the issue of motion: music is always in motion; photography is never in motion (making it the most unnatural of illusions).

In the mid 1800s, when the sequential photography of Muybridge began to be incorporated by Degas, and simultaneously technicians began devising machines to rapidly display such images, both painters and technicians realized that the effect of image retention allowed for the visual illusion of motion via the still photograph. (This attempt to animate the inanimate has a long history in art, myth and religion.) The solution was sequencing.

Fast forward to the 21st century and after 150+ years of constant industrial bombardment, musician/composer George Lewis can rightly note that:

“It seems that one of the hardest things is to teach people how to listen to things, how to hear things in a different way. One of the things I’ve noticed in teaching classes is that when I ask people to describe new and unfamiliar music, they can’t. They don’t have the vocabulary for it. What they can do is make up an impromptu movie scenario instead, a music-video scene. It’s not like synesthesia, seeing sounds or hearing colors; it’s more like they hear a sound track and they create the movie. More and more, in this culture, sound’s major purpose is to serve as accompaniment for moving pictures.”

Bomb Magazine, October 1, 2006

The difficulty stems from the inability of audiences to hear sound moving in a non-sequential framework. “All music begins and ends with silence” Pauline Oliveros once told a group of 8-year-olds. The silence at each end creates a frame (a framework, a boundary) within which music moves unbounded. For the modern audience, generally speaking, without the division of sound by the use of regular beats, rhythm, or other blatantly dramatic devices, music is incomprehensible. Because you cannot comprehend stillness, you cannot comprehend sound without measure (pun intended).

“No one tries to photograph silence anymore.” ~ Cartier-Bresson, photographer

“A photograph can create silence. Can words do that?” ~ Patrick Modriano, novelist


My photos are on Flickr
Follow me on Instagram @smalagodi

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