Silence is a strange thing. We think of it as quiet, simply no noise or to use the dictionary definition; “complete absence of sound”. Wrong. It is more complex than that.
There are many kinds of silence. There are the “be silent!” silences, the various forms of “awkward” silences, the “everything just falls silent” perhaps in awe,terror, excitement, love, tranquillity, or rest. Unexplained silences, necessary silences, still silences, loud silences or simply empty silences. No silence is the same, no silence is empty; it can never be repeated.
But are they empty? Listen; no infact do more than listen, engage, think. Can you hear noises? Of course you can. that isn’t silence is it? Your thoughts or dreams dancing swirling and teasing your brain. They aren’t being silent. In that awkward silence, there is something there…why else would it be awkward? Those ever present emotions in that silence…they are not quiet, and if they are, they are still there.
“The absence of sound.” Which sound? What kind of sound? How? Where? Why?
Artists are aware of this. Some paintings, they are simple, they may be only a single colour. What does this colour mean? This colour in this context has a exact meaning and purpose. The artist perhaps is not aware of it, it may not even be complicated. But there is one. They are using this colour to express something. Something that words cannot portray.
Music is the same. Different notes, different sounds, different ways of portraying them, they all have different purposes and different meanings. These are thing that words can’t express.
We use words, colours, music to express things. But sometimes, they fail us. That is why we have the silence. It expresses the unexpressible.
The next time you see a painting, think. What do these colours mean?
The next time you read something, think, perhaps these were the only words the author could find that came closest to what he wanted to say…they aren’t the literal translation of the emotions present
The next time you hear a piece of music, just listen, those breaks in the music, they aren’t just rests. We play the silences too.