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How to Get a Range of Emotions From Nothing at All


I used to think that a silent recording, or invisible art was a bit of pretentious pap that mostly left people "apoplectic with rage" as The Independent put it. But last week I came across a book by Sheridan Simove and it changed my thinking. It was funny, humorous, blisteringly quick to read and actually made silence mean something fun. Then I started wondering just how many excellent emotions there are from silence.

Silence in a record, art or book can mean a couple of things and can actually add something. The first silent record that most people usually think of is John Cage's 4' 33" which has pure silence in it. It was meant to be a moment to appreciate everything around you, "the pulsing of blood...and the whistling of nerves" as Peter Gutmann put it in The Sounds of Silence. But it recently gained infamy when, in what has to be one of the most barmy lawsuits ever, the publisher of Cage's work sued Mike Batt and his band The Planets for plagiarism when they put silence in their album Classical Graffiti. How can you sue for someone plagiarizing silence? Surely that's about as difficult as trying to slap a trademark on the recipe for water? I'm putting the emotion this silence brought under 'Bemused' or 'Dispair'

Anyway, Boards of Canada, pioneers of low-fi electronic music and makers of fantastic albums, put a blast of silence on their album Geogaddi. It was called Magic Window and placed at the end of the record. In this instance it works just like the name suggests. After all of the haunting bleeps, electronic twists and nostalgic samples from 80s geographic program there's an unexpected silence. The band may have some other meaning, but for me Magic Window is just a window outside into silence that's a break from the hubbub of the album. It's relaxing.

Then there was this book that I was given last week: "What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex" by Sheridan Simove. The reviews on the back go into mock high-brow critic and the blurb drifts off into near psychobabble. Then when you open it, expecting to see a torrent of words, revealing to you what "after years of painstaking research, [the author] has precisely identified what men actually think about apart from sex." Unlocking the "age old secret" as the blurb describes, of just what men do think about apart from sex. And there it is. 200 hundred blank pages of answer. This makes it amusing, not pretentious or deep and meaningful. The book went on to be a hit among students, simply because it's funny.

Then there's the blank canvas art. Famous artists including Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Yves Klien have all explored this area. And in June 2012 an "Invisible" art exhibition was held at London's Hayward Gallery, touted as being about "firing the imagination" or, as The Independent pointed out, leaving "art traditionalists apoplectic with rage." Either way, it's definitely creating strong emotions.

There are always going to be massive arguments about whether silence really means anything, but for the moment I'm enjoying the varying emotions and feelings it brings out in people. It doesn't have to be pretentious pap, silence can actually be enjoyable, relaxing, amusing, a possible stocking filler (there's a theme for Christmas) and, yes, it can even leave some people "apoplectic with rage."

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