SILENCE. A Meditation on Music and Silence

7 Jun 2019
  • Behind the Scenes
by Ashleigh McManus
SILENCE. A Meditation on Music and Silence

by Rainer Jozeps

Musicians in the western world know that there are 12 notes in the musical alphabet.There is, however, the seldom acknowledged 13th note. Yet it has always existed, and some of our greatest composers have used it to astonishing effect.

The space between the two sets of four notes in the opening bars of Beethoven’s iconic 5th Symphony is that 13th note. The note is silence.

Silence is everywhere but hidden. It is both peaceful and discomforting.

The audience is encouraged to rest on yoga mats or to sit back and relax in near darkness during the 60-minute event, to be performed without interval and without applause.

Rainer Jozeps, a previous Managing Director here at the ASO and Classical Music Advisor for Dark Mofo in Hobart, conceived the idea of our upcoming Silence with your ASO concert. He took the time to explain to us where the concept came from, and the idea that drives our performance.

We will perform this show at 1pm & 6pm, Friday 21 June, at Grainger Studio. Get your tickets here.

I’ve been practising Buddhist philosophy for 15 years. Central to the practise, although failing regularly, I try to meditate every day.

In silent meditation the volume of the inner voice goes up. Our rate of thought-thinking increases, topics cascade over one another, and minutes can seem like hours. At the end, though, one senses a calm alertness, a sense of presence.

But it’s not for everyone. The mind’s relentless thinking can be a burden, while for others meditation is simply, as Sam Harris says, “thinking with your eyes closed”.

As one becomes comfortable with it though, silence can be a sanctuary. Although it is formless, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Like air, silence is everywhere. It’s the background to the sound-world, the canvas upon which life is painted.

It struck me that music and silence were two sides of the same coin and I began to explore how both could appear as one in an orchestral concert.

Both Mozart and Debussy observed that music is found in the silent spaces between the notes.  Miles Davis often said that what counts are not the notes you play but the notes you don’t play.

To merge silence and sound in a musical context demanded that John Cage’s 4’33” be the ‘high point’ of the concert. ‘Composed’ in three movements for any ensemble of instruments from solo piano to full symphony orchestra, the work requires the musicians and audience to sit in complete silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

Sheet music for Cage’s 4’33”

Cage, a Buddhist practitioner, gave to music what Robert Rauschenberg gave to art with his white canvas series. Both reflected the Bonsai tradition of exploring the ‘vacant’ spaces between branch, twig and leaf.

The world premiere of 4’33” took place in 1952 and has more recently been ‘played’ by Frank Zappa, death metal band, Dead Territory, Moby and Depeche Mode among many others.

The UK premiere of 4’33” took place in 2004 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

With all of this in mind I created a Silent Concert. The first took place at Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival in 2017 with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. The piano version of Cage’s 4’33” was ‘played’, preceded by a suite of selected orchestral works designed to familiarise the audience with stillness.

It was also one of the few concerts ever presented devoid of any applause either before, during or after the music. No applause means the stillness earned is not interrupted.

The success of the Hobart experience has encouraged the ASO to take the project one step further and be the first orchestra in Australia to devote the entire ensemble to John Cage’s 4’33”.

APRIL 26, 2019: ADELAIDE, SA. Yoga enthusiast Nicky Mellonie poses during a photo shoot at Carrick Hill in Adelaide, South Australia. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra are producing ‘Silence with the ASO’ where participants practice yoga whilst listening to music. (Photo by Brad Fleet / Newspix)

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Recording courtesy of ABC Classic

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