Conditioning SIlence


Conditioning Silence

Conditioning Silence is an ongoing performance based project which records and mediates periods of group silence or quietness in a range of different acoustically rich and/or culturally significant sites.

During these performances audiences are exposed to a period of pink noise, which is intended to 'cleanse'  prior acoustic conditionings of the day (sitting in a kitchen or on a train) in order to prime the ear for a concentrated listening. After projecting the noise, the audience is asked to observe a period of relative silence. During this period I set about to record the resulting sounds (the internal and external ambient drone alongside the sounds of shuffling, breathing, coughing, gulping, ligaments and bones cracking, etc) through a range of acoustic perspectives such as from the inside of a resonant container, through a windowpane or floorboards and from more conventional perspectives of omni directional microphones placed in an A/B configuration. After recording these sounds, I then perform an amplified playback diffusion of the various perspectives back into the space – presenting the audience with a heavily mediated, heightened and in some cases phantasmagoric perspective of the prior encounter.

In the summer of 2015, I was invited to perform an early development of my Stadium work for Live Proof, a live concert that was held in and broadcasted out of the ABC Radio National recording studios, Melbourne. In the moments before my performance, whilst waiting for some late arrivals to be escorted into the studio/performance space, I found myself sharing a brief yet profound moment of silence with an audience, who had just been seated and, due to a change in lighting, were uncertain as to whether my performance had actually began or not.

Situated in a liminal time and space, an underdetermined moment between the world of the performance and the world not of the performance, in which the very roles of listening had yet to be defined, the silence I experienced that night spoke less of a strict acoustic phenomena and more of mental focus and dynamic tension between bodies and minds. This silence could in no way be heard as an absolute absence of sound; the type of silence that John Cage claimed was impossible after experiencing the sounds of his own body in an anechoic chamber . Instead, the silence I observed was defined by an absence of the particular sounds of speech - of social discourse, articulated and heard through the sound of a group of people trying to remain quiet. In this way the subtle, yet eerie and acute, sounds of several people locked in a moment of anticipation and expectation: gulping, breathing, sniffing, joints cracking, shuffling, etc, provided a sonic body through which a type of silencing and silence could manifest and be experienced through.___________________________________________

Alongside the social and situational factors of a sonic arts performance, the controlled, sterile and ‘dead’ acoustic conditions of the recording studio, a space not too dissimilar to Cage’s anechoic chamber, significantly facilitated and shaped this experience of this silence. Devoid of the ubiquitous sonic drones that mark the ambient thresholds of everyday life: fridges humming, distant traffic, ventilation systems, heaters, air-conditioners, wind, etc, the intimate and otherwise near imperceptible sounds of the body could discretely be heard with unusual clarity. 

In addition to these accentuated intimate bodily sounds, the sterile and ‘deadened’ acoustic conditions of the studio also rendered the sounds with a particular immediacy and intimacy. Bereft of reflective surfaces, which in most everyday contexts work to define a sense of spatial difference and definition, the vacuumous conditions of the studio made it difficult, particularly when my eyes were gazing downwards, to gage exactly where or who the sounds were coming from and, indeed, difficult to completely differentiate my own sounds from that others were making. In this way, the conditions of the room could be heard to facilitate a truly intersubjective experience of silence: your silence is my silence is our silence.

At the end of a sustained tension, in which time felt to have momentarily frozen, between me, waiting for the event organisers to come back and commence the show, and the audience, who were unsure if I had started or not, all I could do was marvel at the situation and, in a state of anxiety,  break the silence by saying something along the lines of “these sounds of intimacy..!”