Silence is the loudest noise.

The phrase “the silence is deafening” is often used when there an expected level of noise or background ambiance is not met.  Indeed, this phrase is usually said by people who are not used to total silence. Thus, it then could be said that silence is indeed the loudest noise. But what is silence, really?

Perhaps by defining what the lack of silence means first, we can then understand what silence is.

In Singapore, there is hardly a place/time normally where you will find total silence. Noise is everywhere, irritable or likable. Let’s dwell on the irritable nature of noise first. Here are some examples…

Construction noise pollution from our ever zealous housing providers into providing the citizens who seem to have an unfathomable obsession with housing upgrades. Car alarms belonging to inconsiderate and apathetic drivers go off and sets up a cacophony that could very well wake the dead. Toddlers with those oh-so-cute but insanity driven shoes that go squeak squeak wherever they walk (I swear I could hear some of the very bad ones even from my apartment high up). Even when you are sleeping, cars zoom by outside, thrill seeking motorcyclists speed down the slope, police chasing thereafter, cat/dog/people fights, bottles/things getting broken/smashed about,… and the list just goes on and on.. 

It seems like noise,not only content with making a nuisance of itself, follows us wherever we go too. In transport, the painful screeching of the occasionally needless braking of the buses as it taxis in the bus stop. The so called “sodcasting” meme, a term which I missed during the early 2000s, that I came across recently (thanks, honwai), embodies that “I love my music, you should love it too (and I don’t care if you don’t, I’m sticking it up your ass)” ideology. Thanks, but no thanks. And then similar fads or social phenomenon mimics this, like the really out of tune, totally fucked up singers singing along with their headphones in the bus from bad rapping music to yodelling old hokkein songs that even makes dogs, who don’t appreciate music, howl in irritation. Then there are the gamers who think the public transport vehicle they are in is a virtual LAN party, shooting everyone with their imaginary laser guns and exploding jewels. 

On the other hand, noise can also have a likable disposition or should I say, gives hope to the despair that one may be going through. A close relative or friend who is on a long coma, a noise from him/her would be very, very welcome. For child bearing women, the sound of the new born crying is a sound that invoke emotions of welcome relief and joy. People cheering as the sports team that you support scores a goal. If you are the team’s supporter, that gives hope, because it shows you are not rooting them alone. The announcements of test/trial results amidst the tense silence(pun intended) through a welcome voice brings exultation and jubilation. Celebration in an event worth celebrating. Laughter as appreciation for a excellent (or totally silly/corny) joke.  The noise of an engine of a stalled car that comes back to life. And maybe, the sound of the nuclear reactor engine starting up despite being damaged badly by a natural disaster,which gives some hope that radiation leaks may be controlled somewhat.

It seems that since audible noise, which is part of life’s positives and negatives is then suffice to be qualified as one of the important things that our daily life needs. I beg to differ.

There is another type of noise which is sadly, I think, at least, is being badly overlooked from the place where I live, something that hardly ever happens in sunny and humid Singapore, something that is alien, probably even morbid to some. That,is known as silence.

I don’t know about other folks, but work life can be stressful when you are forced to be someone you don’t like, pander to people that you don’t think are worth pandering to, dealing with people that think they are the world and everyone should fall at their feet. While that can be another long article by itself, after a lot of these in a day, the last thing that I would like to hear is the squeak-squeak sound of a toddler’s “radar shoes” or let alone the incessant cackle of gossip that aunties make about their amorous neighbor (which have nothing to do with them) be it from a mobile phone or otherwise. I just want some solitude to calm my fraying nerves, to calm my anger, to forget about humiliations that I had to endure. I can smoke a cigarette,drown my sorrows in sex or sake and these would probably have helped somewhat, but I can’t even make it to the above mentioned destination without hearing Eminem or Rihanna sing that they love the way I lie a 1000 times and sung by a tuneless wannabe.  I actually like that song, but not played again and again, and not with that mood.

Perhaps because I was a musician, so music is probably a skeptic hazard to me. Good music and good audio goes together.  If you played from your nearly busting iPhone or Nokia speakers, no matter how good the singer is, it sounds like fuck. But I apologetically digress…

The fact that people do not often see it as a problem with audible noise, and only with an supposedly inaudible one that is deafening brings some interesting views (there is no 100% total silence). Have we gotten so used to audible noise, that we forgot how to appreciate the silence. Is silence so terrifying that we cannot come to terms with it?

I look at the not-so-recent campaign in Singapore about “Loving Your Ride” with irony as well as a tinge of sarcasm.

Loving my ride?

Yeah, right.

Previously they had this thing called the mobile TV on buses, airing local programs, which I think, in addition to the game/sodcasting/shouting on the bus as society’s competitive reply, is enough to bring one to insanity within the bus. Ironically, when the mobile TV went away, I thought I could “Love My Ride” finally, but then the indignation and competition to the mobile TV did not go away, it had become the thing that it was meant to drive out in the beginning.

And then here’s another irony, we put on earphones where another form of noise comes from to drive out the noise we don’t want to hear. We try to band-aid bad audible noise with another of our own.  However, that band-aid, when made public, may be another form of social irritant which may make another application of the same, and the cycle continues…

I think that we need balance, there is a time for noise, there is a time for silence. And not everyone’s timing is the same.  As a case in point, when women have their monthly menstrual cycles, not every woman has it at the same time. So when you, as a woman, are not having yours and you are around some whom you know are, you somehow feel empathetic. Smells, feelings are all extra sensitive to women on their cycles so you take this into consideration when you relate to them. Likewise, not everyone is presumably in the mood to hear your song being sodcasted or sung.  You could do so in your private circle of friends and so on, but in a confined and narrow public transport or place, a bit of respect or consideration does not hurt.

I find it interesting that although I seem obsessive about the lack of noise, I actually enjoy nu-metal, heavy metal music blasted at a loud volume. But it is for my own private listening space.  And it is because that space has been violated and raped many times by other noise forms, thus, metal is a good way to drown out every one. But the best form of noise is this. As a light sleeper, I do often sleep with my ear plugs as any little bit of noise wakes me and I can’t sleep thereafter if I’m woken out of my first cycle of sleep.  And sometimes when the ear plugs are new, they are the best. I can, enjoy the silence. At first it seems odd. But it pierces my soul, I start to sob, smile, weep tears of relief, laugh, smile, blush. I can finally be myself in my own private space, no n
eed to compete with anything for once. And after a few minutes of that, I finally drift off to a nice sleep, awakened refreshed and ready to face more “noises” in my life.

Yes, silence is the loudest noise, but sadly we had settled for something much less. We only know of audible noise, an inaudible noise is something that is alien to us. With silence, there is a sense of fear, because there is nothing tangible, nothing perceivable, nothing conceptual about silence. It’s like a black hole that pulls everything into it. Sadly, this affects us mentally, we get so accustomed to a template, a methodology of how things should remain perceivable, tangible, that we forgot that there are things that cannot be quantified or put into absolutes like love, time and so on.. If we can appreciate the existence of non-audible noise, I think we can start thinking out of our comfort zones, be less myopic – in that only audible noises rule the universe, and eventually, only to make a noise that is befitting to the occasion. If we recognize silence as a form of noise, we should learn to respect when it needs to be administered like how we enjoy audible noise. 

I hope we can one day enjoy the silence, not be content to the audible noises that we are so accustomed to live with.

We should learn, therefore, to enjoy the loudest noise that speaks the softest and the most earnest way to us.