Friday, March 15, 2002

Reflections on Ursula Franklin and Silence

In tutorial yesterday, we discussed the definition of "silence" and came to the conclusion that silence, as Franklin describes it, must mean "quiet" because there is no such thing as silence, for the non-hearing impaired. I am inclined to agree. Even under very quiet circumstances, it is still possible to hear something, like the low droning of the air circulation in the classroom. Even in the acoustic chamber( ?) with all it's insulation, the composer John Cage could still hear the sound of his nervous system and blood flowing. Unnerving. It might actually drive a person insane not to hear any noise whatsoever.

I also wanted to comment on some of the comments made by whose blog is entitled "100yrs." This blog brought up a good point about the fine line between what is considered backgroud noise and what is disturbance noise. This point was also brought up in tutorial. It is a slipperly slope. What is considered to be distracting sound for some is fine for others. I have often wondered if it was possible to study in Sydney Smith because of all the noise swirling around but I see people doing so. The noise must not bother them. For me, anything louder than a typical library is distracting, when I am studying. Also, the harder the material, the more I must concentrate and the fewer distractions there must be.

Some people in my tutorial did not feel that sound was an assault on human beings, contrary to the argument that Franklin makes. I think that this is particularly interesting, especially when you examine it from a health standpoint. Earlier in my last blog, I had made the point that noise could be related to the smoking debate. I would like to amend this comment by saying that smoking is a much more serious infringement on a person's health than noise. As such, I no longer think that these two effects should be compared. Second-hand noise, although inconvenient at times, causing some of us to lose sleep, does not cause cancer or emphysema like second-hand smoke. I still do think, however, that it is important to realize that silence is a right in certain situations.

I am going to reflect on our blogging assignment this week and really pay attention to what musical sounds are around me, in my space. This is something I have never actively considered having gotten used to it as 'background" noise. It will be interesting to see what happens....

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Silence and the Notion of the Commons-Ursula Franklin

What a strange little article, I thought to myself as I first started reading. What does this have to do with nature, the environment, the garden or this course? Upon further reflection, however, I found that the space of the soundscape is indeed related in the sense that it is another dimension of the "garden."

Franklin highlights a very important point in the article--silence in the twenty-first century is rare. Technology really has permitted the spread of noise, decoupling it from the source and making it truly permanent. If you placed a cd player on repeat, the sound would never tire, unless the batteries ran out. It is also very scary to think how little control we have over the sounds that are around us on an everyday basis. Franklin's example of the elevator music is very appropriate. Even as I walk around Toronto between classes, I cannot control the fact that I will hear the sound of a car horn at least a half a dozen times, will hear a cell phone play the theme to the "Lone Ranger" or hear the sounds of the construction taking place down the street. It really is an assault because we do not request these noises yet they are foisted upon us, unwillingly in most cases. I liken this to the stresses a tree must feel in a forest that is being taken over for agriculture or the strangeness that a bear must feel when it is suddenly facing the back of highrise instead of the hill that used to be there. Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing.

I like the idea that noise has become "privatized" because it is a common good that is not that common anymore. Sound, or lack of it, is not really a human right. Oh, I know that people have the right to avoid excessive noise like really loud party next door, but the everyday, "normal" level of sound is given as a discomfort that we must bear. I also immediately thought of the smoking debate as a parallel example of this desecration of silence.

One of the things that I always notice when I go camping is the relative silence that surrounds me. I never realize how much sound that my ears take in on daily basis until it is not present anymore. It feels strange not to hear the dronings of the city in the background. Actually, it is sad that I think that silence fits strangely in my brain. I don't even fear the silence, it just is unusual, which is to say that silence has become rare, lIke the home-cooked meal or the hand-made dress that Franklin talks about. She also refers to the strength of collective silence as being one of the most powerful spiritual forces. I can only imagine the spirituality that must come from the silence of the buddhist retreats.

I am confused about a few things in this article, namely the forced silence that Franklin talks about. If an audience is silent so that a speaker may be heard, is it really considered silence? I can see the anticipatory silence that precedes an event like this as being forced silence but to refer to the space in which another is talking and you listening seems contradictory. Another things that I am unsure of is Franklin's suggestion that silence be observed before meetings and meals as a way to reclaim that silence in which unprogrammed events can take place. If people participate in this event of silence, isn't it a type of forced silence because we are anticipating the onset of the event itself? Like audience members are we not courteously engaging in silence so that no sound may be heard? Lastly, what is it that we are enabling by being silent? What unprogrammed and unplanned events is Franklin referring to? And if a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? (Sorry, couldn't resist).