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'Silence' Music

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(newer>)Okay let's focus on the use of using silence in music. e.g the effectiveness of say, leaving some movements or large bar numbers empty.

Does it add effect, would anyone on this site consider using these techniques or is it a bad idea?? etc etc

(older bit >) So I was looking around on wikipedia and read about John Cage's 4'33" e.g the one with no notes in it.

I understand what he's trying to do, and I admire allot of his other work, but I just think the concept is a bit crap and pointless, like why bother composing rests?

I also found out about these pieces

Alphonse Allais's 1897 Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man, consisting of nine blank measures.

Erwin Schulhoff's 1919 "In futurum", a movement from the F

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To add to the list: 60 seconds of silence - lennon

Basically, it seems so silly because it is a period piece. This is where music and sound diverge, and these composers were working with that concept. Not much really to it; and I'd agree it's more than sophomoric now, but it's not 1xxx anymore.

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Well, silence music is not really "music" but, just silence. Sometimes if you wait for just a few bars, then blast out something it could be interesting and a shock, but I wouldn't do that for more than 1 bar at slow and 2 bars at fast :)

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Let's try and keep this civil, and avoid getting into the same philosophical quagmire as the 4'33" thread... ;)

@ KLY - do you mean using silence and/or "environmental aleatory" in conjunction with more traditionally notated music? I expect this could be effective with some VERY minimalistic approaches, but would be horribly ineffective with anything else. Perhaps the juxtaposition of densities could be interesting...

...

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Back when I was a music major in college, I used to compose minutes of silence into my music. The idea was that each period of silence got longer until people just assumed it was done. Before the performance, I announced that the audience should leave when they think the piece is over. If they got it correct, they got a coupon for pizza hut. Sadly only two people figured out that when the conductor got off stage, the music was over.

So I had silence with a purpose but it wasn't purely musically.

I'm not entirely sure if long extended period of silence within a piece of work adds any value. Maybe if someone thought that like 5 minutes of silence will somehow do something in the brain that would make the next section sound brilliant, but I'm not sure. It's art, people do things just because and that's good enough for me.

As for your second thingy. I don't know, it doesn't matter. I wouldn't say it was pointless or crap. It served it's purpose and if some composer can find influence from the concept that it sure did have a point! My own personal opinion is complete apathy though. Music is art, and sometimes nothing means more than something.

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Mahler demanded that the orchestra be silent for five minutes between two of the movements of his second symphony. I think it was the first and second movements. I don't know that anyone actually does this, though.

John Cage's 4'33" isn't really supposed to be silence, but the music is supposed to be all the sound that can be heard in the room where the music is being performed. (Substitute other places for "room" where necessary.) That is, it's an aleatoric musique concrete piece, rather than just being silence. Honestly, I don't particularly like it, but eh, it was an idea, and some people do.

As for using silence within otherwise non-silent pieces, this seems pretty normal to me. At the very least, you can give one voice a rest so that it doesn't become trite, and can be enjoyed more in places where the voice is not silent. This applies even to the melody voice in homophonic music, or to monophonic music. I think it's pretty normal, even, to have jazz solos where the instrument doing the solo goes silent for a few seconds.

And, of course, there are dramatic pauses, e.g. rests with a fermata. Like at the end of the first contrapunctus in the Art of Fugue...

And, of course, there are many other things that can be done. And I think like all other ideas that can be used in a musical piece, spans of silence (whether long or short) can be a useful or a detrimental effect, depending on how it's used.

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I think it's hilarious that some people "don't like" Cage's 4'33'' since all it really is is "listen to stuff around you, thx." You can't STOP listening, you just choose to regard different sounds in different ways and that's all that piece was meant to demonstrate.

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I think in most cases, bars of silence are okay, as they add intensity, when you are on the edge of your seat waiting for what happens. But after more than thirty seconds, it just gets boring. I haven't heard the pieces you speak of, but five minutes sounds like an awful long time to wait.

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@SSC: Well, there is the whole "setting", the performative aspect, that encases the "listen to stuff around you", i.e. "sit on this chair and listen now to what surrounds you and hear it as music, together with all those other people". In other words, a very active role is imposed on the audience, that comes out much stronger in this piece than in others, since here you really aren't "presented" with much, except the visual/formal surroundings - you have to "gather your tone material" from the hall yourself. That's fine if you are deliberately out to "hunt for sounds" on your own, but a slightly different matter when you feel compelled to do so by a composer.

Of course in reality it isn't that extreme since no "purpose" of the piece is not actually stated, but I can still extremely well understand why one might not like it. I might not enjoy a "historical performance" of the piece very much either. A clever reinterpretation might be a different thing.

I actually wanted to say something more on topic too, but then I realized I actually have nothing to say that's not either totally banal, or on the other side not really clear enough to myself yet, in order to state it in a coherent fashion.

One thing to consider though would be the rather different (but often combined) "functions" of silence, either as a structural/sonic element (be that a rest that forms part of a certain rhythm, a caesura, an extreme of "playing softly", etc.), or more as the concept of "emptiness". "Emptiness", as an idea, is not strictly bound to silence. A tone, white noise, or an ostinato playing for five minutes would often be considered "empty", and not be perceived that much differently to silence from a formal/conceptual point of view. So I think many comments that mentioned silence here in certain ways (such as what impresario said right above) aren't really fundamentally about silence, but about "emptiness", in the sense of "nothing new happens".

Of course, the nature of said emptiness can differ a lot and has no well defined borders (e.g.: Is a totally randomized sequence of chromatic pitches in one specific octave and in constant speed that goes on for ten minutes "empty", since nothing new happens structurally, or not, because "there are always new sequences of notes"?), so it often depends on the exact context of a piece and the mental state of the listener. And of course, depending on said nature of that emptiness, perceptions such as "how long can it last until it gets boring" may change a lot.

But I still think that for such formal concerns, the question isn't really about "silence", since it may primarily not be silence per se that creates the formal impression of such a piece, but simply "a long duration of one thing".

Of course the fact that it is silence and not any other kind of "emptiness" may matter a lot. But I think in a different way.

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This isn't about John Cage... this is about the use of silence in music. He's not the only one out there!

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All the 4'33" threads out there address the issue of silence in music in general though. Besides, we all know 4'33" is going to be what people focus on in here.

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Just a little note: This was first posted in the last 4'33" thread, but deliberately moved out of it (so I assume) to create a separate debate from those and not just reheat those Cage threads. We probably can agree that 4'33" has been debated almost to death (while it certainly does present much to talk about) - so I find it a good idea to draw this discussion away from that single focus. Silence is, IMHO, an interesting aspect of music to discuss, so I don't see why we shouldn't have a thread devoted to it.

If it turns out that people still primarily focus on 4'33", it can still be considered whether they add something new to the debate or simply repeat what's been stated in those other threads tons of times. But we could try to be optimistic that it won't end up with that single focus.

P.S. Actually, it turns out that I was wrong about where it was posted first. But that's not really so important. I still prefer it here than to revive that other thread.

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Well, in the spirit of actual discussion, I do find the use of silence in music interesting as well. Rite of Spring may be one of the first major pieces I can think of that incorporated it with dramatic effect with harsh, sudden changes in volume. It has a rather unsettling effect.

But what I find really interesting is Varese's use of silence. His earlier works were quite busy at times but, even in Ameriques, you can see him playing around with the notion of silence as a "texture". One moment that stands out to me is towards the end where almost an entire minute of music is built on a crescendo from a single, non-transposed chord. Not only is chord itself developed by variations in orchestration, intensity, duration, and volume but it's also contrasted by dead silence in between crescendos. Almost like a "call-and-response" type dynamic.

Then, in his later works, silence became an even more important part of his texture. Deserts, Poeme Electronique, and especiallly Nocturnal all come to mind. In Nocturnal, silence is almost the dominant texture with only spare instrumentation throughout. It creates a very unsettling atmosphere and I find it genius.

Then, of course, there are composers like Morton Feldman who experimented with near silence: Having music so faint that the audience has to strain to hear it at times which can also have it's own kind of effect. Sort of like a contrapuntal interplay between atmospheric sounds and vaguely audible noise from instruments.

Just my two cents.

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Nice examples.

Personally, to add someone much earlier, I'd also include Haydn as a very extensive experimentator with silence. Letting the music come to a sudden halt, like "stumbling formally", appears almost as a constant idea in his works. But of course here the silence is primarily a means of disrupting meter/regularity and to throw the listener out of a content stasis into a more active listening position - which is kind of the contrary of the "emptiness" I mentioned before. The silence here often seems to be much more "loaded" than the surrounding parts. But it too shows the role silence, as such an extremely "basic sound quality", can play for striking formal decisions.

In Var

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we've already went over this, the thread is about other pieces that use silence in music and it's effect, rather than just that piece alone

Yes. That was my bad. Though, I still say that this thread will derail into another "lulz 4'33" dat not music!" thread.

Besides, read my other posts. I actually did contribute.

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Yes. That was my bad. Though, I still say that this thread will derail into another "lulz 4'33" dat not music!" thread.

Besides, read my other posts. I actually did contribute.

sorry I just seen this comment on the first page and quoted it.

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Back when I was a music major in college, I used to compose minutes of silence into my music. The idea was that each period of silence got longer until people just assumed it was done. Before the performance, I announced that the audience should leave when they think the piece is over. If they got it correct, they got a coupon for pizza hut. Sadly only two people figured out that when the conductor got off stage, the music was over.

So I had silence with a purpose but it wasn't purely musically.

I'm not entirely sure if long extended period of silence within a piece of work adds any value. Maybe if someone thought that like 5 minutes of silence will somehow do something in the brain that would make the next section sound brilliant, but I'm not sure. It's art, people do things just because and that's good enough for me.

As for your second thingy. I don't know, it doesn't matter. I wouldn't say it was pointless or crap. It served it's purpose and if some composer can find influence from the concept that it sure did have a point! My own personal opinion is complete apathy though. Music is art, and sometimes nothing means more than something.

I used some silence techniques in a piece for my school exam .The piece is only abou 2 mins long (due to the exam requirements( and I used silence for about 1 and a half bar lengths. I am looking to Extend this technique in some of my next pieces hopefully.

Anyone heard QOTSA's songs of the deaf? They use quite a allot of 'false endings' where they go silent and start up again. This is cool ;ive becuase they can go silent for ages and then 'kick in' again, so it might be cool to put this idea into a contemporary piece.

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A lot of things are relevant with that album.

The other thing is the exact opposite of the silence, which is the mixing. That album (except for the two Oliveri songs, and only the first half is different) is extremely consistent -- same sounds. Thy heavily compressed it and put some kind of filter on it to make it almost like a 70s radio... Anyway, combined with the false stops (which is in most Oliveri QOTSA), its a very interesting sound -- disorienting yet claustrophobic. Again, something about space.

i always like hiding tracks under other tracks or white noise. Stuff that only I know is there, y;know.

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I think that an important aspect in music, or most art, is about what's NOT there.

Perhaps it helps to think of it like so: Silence is to music as negative space is to positive space. That may be flawed but I think it serves my point well.

To me, silence is just the next step from a breathy tone, which is just the next step to a pianississimo note, which is just the next step to a pianissimo note, etc.

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I don't think silence is music, but it can be part of music, just as noise can be (nonpitched percussion, for instance). Pieces like (LOL) 4'33" just remind us that we're not sure where the line between music and not is, and that's something I've grown to accept.

(I don't call it music.)

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I don't think silence is music, but it can be part of music, just as noise can be (nonpitched percussion, for instance). Pieces like (LOL) 4'33" just remind us that we're not sure where the line between music and not is, and that's something I've grown to accept.

(I don't call it music.)

....If you just said what I think you said (that non-pitched percussion is not music) then I think you've just opened a can of worms that shouldn't even exist.

Furthermore, the nice fat LOL that you included in your post was highly unnecessary. Opinions are welcome, certainly, but flippant derogation is kind of....just....rude. Wouldn't you agree?

I personally find it somewhat limiting to shut myself off from something that many people clearly have conflicted opinions about (such as 4'33'') - there are conflicting views for a reason.

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I don't think silence is music, but it can be part of music, just as noise can be (nonpitched percussion, for instance). Pieces like (LOL) Mahler's Symphonies just remind us that we're not sure where the line between music and not is, and that's something I've grown to accept.

(I don't call them music.)

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To be fair, I read the "(LOL)" as: "(LOL at bringing that piece up again)", which is a rather valid LOL, rather than "LOL at that piece". And as long as someone can comprehend how a piece like that can be seen as music, I don't find it too tragic if they don't consider it music themselves, as long as they take the matter seriously and at least consider it. The only thing that really annoys me is when people go "it can't be seen as music, and you don't see it as music either, nor do you like it, nor does anybody else".

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