Quietly Connecting

For the first – I don’t know how many hundred thousand – years of human life, (when we were out on the Savanna learning about the forest) silence was essential to our survival. So, silence is our natural milieu, and the farther we get away from silence the more we lose our humanity.” — Maggie Ross, theologian

This week’s Available Light Cinema documentary is essentially a study of how noise affects our minds and even our bodies. The 2016 film In Pursuit of Silence explores human beings’ long-term relationship with silence; the message is that we’ve become dangerously distant from it as of late.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been incorporating more and more noise into our daily soundscapes that has now reached a sort of fever pitch. Our natural habitat has become an overcrowded circus of sound.

In Pursuit of Silence begins by recalling experimental composer John Cage’s 1952 composition 4’33” wherein no instrument is played for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

The film offers an array of perspectives on what silence means to humanity, in terms of the scientific, medical and spiritual. Dyson engineers measure the decibels as well as the “quality” of sound emitted by their home appliances; a Japanese doctor prescribes and conducts certified “forest therapy” sessions as preventative medicine; and seeking auditory asylum, a young man takes a vow of silence and walks from Nashua, New Hampshire to Los Angeles, California; and

Watching this documentary is like taking a sensory vacation from the franchise movie junk food crowding our theatres and living rooms. It’s amazing how jarring a simple image of a peaceful windswept field can be to our over-stimulated minds.

The film makes the argument that amid the constant barrage of beeps, rings, action movie explosion sequences, aeroplanes, automobiles, canned laughter and babbling radio stations your inner voice becomes dangerously muffled, and a fundamental connection with the universe is lost.

This documentary asks us to listen closely to the silent moments in our modern lives as they become ever more precious oases of reflection.

Humans have a tendency toward the visual; we obsess over colour and form. Take for example that interior decorating and architecture directives consider the appearance and physical feeling of a room, but rarely do they consider the soundscape.

So, how will we experience sound in a postmodern world? Will architects, city planners, and interior designers soon be tailoring complex soundscapes to accompany their designs?

We have put our technological cart before its horse, if you will. It is healthy to consider the effects the sound pollutants of the last century have had on our organic minds and bodies as they struggle to keep up with our addictive, noisy technology.

The Yukon Film Society presents In Pursuit of Silence at the Yukon Arts Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. Whitehorse musician Scott Maynard will perform John Cage’s composition 4’ 33” before the screening.

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