Blog Post

The rest is silence

The rest is silence. - William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2

In music composition the rest is used as punctuation, as a reset for the volume creep of dynamics. Silence is golden and like gold the price of silence keeps going up as its rarity increases. In modern pop and rock music the constant use of compression to make the quiet parts louder and increase the overall loudness of the music has over time been labeled the loudness war. (Also see Over The Limit.)

Turning up the gain on any signal, however interesting and informative, degenerates into noise either by the incapacity of the output media to reproduce only and exactly as closely as reasonably possible what it is given, or through repetition decreasing the information content of the signal averaged out over time. After a certain point you can't hear it or tune it out or run away or get earplugs and whatever information was there is lost in the distortion or thrown away. Noise pollution will grow as human population density grows and industry grows further. Recent studies have shown that birds are leaving urban areas or singing louder or singing at night because their dawn chorus cannot be heard over the cacophony of humanity's rush hour.

We will pay for silence. For better soundproofing in walls, or lacking it we will rest less when we sleep. For more distance from high-density zones, creating longer commutes and increasing fuel consumption, and reducing the time we have by sacrificing it to the extended travel. For active noise canceling cellphones to talk with and headphones to listen to our overly compressed and distorted music on our portable music players and *still* have to pump up the volume until we reach the limits of our ear fatigue before we want to stop listening. For white noise and for nature sounds that become rarer and more exotic over time. For recordings of silence at the bottom of a well, in a cathedral, in the soon-to-become-misnamed Rub' al Khali, the Empty Quarter of Arabia.

More rest.  Less noise. Listen more. Use negative space. Think of loudness as a criterion to select against when choosing equipment of any kind. Then when you choose to make sound or listen to people or music or just live, you don't have to waste as much energy struggling against the ocean of sound.


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