The sound of silence

Image taken from masha_k_sh's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

More and more lately I feel like the odd one out.

It used to be that only the serious music lover or band fanatic was continually plugged into their music.

Now the iPod, iPhone and their various imitations are everywhere you look.

And everyone is plugged in.

I don’t think I’m ever going to own an iPod.

I’m no Luddite. It’s just that the idea (and the reality) of sticking noise producing things either into, or over, my ears has no appeal. I understand that some people have a particular aversion to ear buds. They ‘can’t stand them’ and that therefore gives them licence to buy the (coincidentally currently trendy) 1980s ear muff style headphones. It’s not that I am physically uncomfortable wearing a particular type of headphone or earpiece. I just don’t like being plugged out of the other sounds around me. And I just like the sound of ‘silence’.

I’ve never been particularly big on music, in the sense that it is not constantly part of my life. Days go by where I don’t listen to any.

There are certainly some songs that I really love and appreciate when they play. And I would never want a world without music – music touches our souls. But I have never had this need to have music on all the time.

Sometimes I do find it really helpful to play some music to relax, or conversely to help energise myself or cheer myself up.

A particular favourite ‘pick me up’ song is Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be’ because it gives recognition to the fact that times can be hard, but you need to be strong and hopeful for the future. Some people hate the song I’m sure. But to me, it can be just that little something that helps me get through one of the periods of deep depression I sometimes get.

I think for me music is a way to help move me to the ‘places’ I want to get to. Whether this be motivating myself to run with strength (for which my favourite is a classical piece by Sibelius), to crawl out of depression, or to enjoy the absolute fun of kicking back your heels and dancing and singing along to dear old Neil Diamon’s Sweet Caroline and giving the kids twirls and dips whilst grooving to the catchy beat.

Whilst I like the odd classical piece, mostly I love music with lyrics. When I learnt the piano I was only ever really interested in learning the pieces that had words to go along with them. If I could say the words in my head as I tried to remember the piece I usually got the notes right. I knew the tune through my connection to the words. My site reading skills were abysmal so I just couldn’t play things when I had no words to remember the tune.

When I have music on I can’t help but engage with the words and what the pieces are saying. I like trying to interpret the poetry and gain some reflections on life from songs. Again to some it may be cringe worthy, but I’ve found great value in pieces like John Farnham’s A Simple Life for this reason. The words are great, but the music gives even more power to them. I love the passion and emotion and the way music can take you to places that even the most powerful orators would find challenging to do. Good music is easily as inspiring as the best speeches from the West Wing. The lyrics are like poetry.

I get a lot out of music, but music is not my backdrop. It is not something that I can have on all the time. And when there are times when it is on all the time, it’s kind of sad because the good songs lose their meaning and to me the music becomes kind of irritating, and is just noise.

I like the sound of ‘silence’. I’ll often drive along in the car with no radio on and just be free to think and reflect. I love running, but could never run with an iPod. I value the time and space for thinking and breathing to much. I love the fact that when there is no noise around you the world slows down. When I road home on my bike this afternoon, I was taken in by the silence around me. No car noises, no walls between me and the sky, the wind and the birds: just the real world around me, slowed down and able to be absorbed. Sure it’s not really ‘silent’, but it’s a whole lot less noisy.

So that’s why I’ll never own an iPod. Or if I do own one it’ll be to play music via speakers: music that joins me in the real world, out there and loud, not music that separates me from it.

Funnily enough I really do like Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence. It’s kind of unrelated to this post in that it’s talking about the danger of silence and people who can’t communicate with each other, but maybe with all those headphones on all the time we’re not communicating. 

Do you plug in to an iPod?

How do you engage with music in your life?

What do you think when you get on a train and realise that the majority of people are tuning out from the world around them?

(Rest assurred this post was written with plenty of singing and grooving – it can’t be helped if you click into some of the You Tube links!)

Image from with thanks to masha_k_sh.

About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
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3 Responses to The sound of silence

  1. Ken Coulter says:

    Ah, the iPod. For years I lived without it. My brother-in-law, a diehard technophile, told me owning one would change my life. So I bought one.

    Now, I won’t say that it changed my life – that’s a tall order than can only be filled by such momentous events as having a child or losing a loved one, or perhaps winning the lottery, not that I’d know, I don’t buy lottery tickets…but I digress… the iPod didn’t change my life, but it did perform a sort of magic.

    I’m a huge music fan. From classical to punk, and pretty much everything in between. I’m also a musician, currently playing in two bands, rehearsing/jamming twice a week and gigging as often as possible. Music is a very large part of my life. As such, I own a lot of music; when I made the move from records to CDs it improved my ability to grow my collection exponentially, due to the small size of the discs. Now, with an iPod, I’m able to store literally thousand of songs on one tiny contraption. And that’s the magic of the iPod for me. My entire music collection is now at my fingertips, available any time, and easily grown by shopping on line.

    But to the question of when and where I listen to music – that’s a different story. I never walk/hike with my iPod, for two very big reasons. First, when I’m walking in the city, I need to be aware of what’s going on around me. To me, it’s downright dangerous to wander the streets while blocking out the activity around you. And to block out the existence of other people, to plug in and pretend you’re the only one on earth as so many seem to do, just seems wrong. Although this may be a symptom of a larger societal problem – I’ve come to believe there’s been a global memo issued (that I seem to not have received) that clearly states saying hello or even making eye contact with a stranger is strictly forbidden, and to do so raises suspicion that you may be sociopathic. But once again, I digress…

    Secondly, hiking with an iPod seems counterintuitive. Nature has a music all its own – from the whispering pines to the song of the chickadee and the crash of the waves on the shore. Why would I want to tune that out? Not to mention the fact that in Northern Ontario you need your wits about you when hiking the back country; concentration is essential as you manouver along the jagged cliff edges and skirt moose bogs.

    So, there it is. I’m a happy and proud iPod owner, but you’ll never catch me plugged in when I’m moving. My evenings are reserved for listening, and nothing helps me drift off to sleep better than an old Jim Croce love song or soulful ballad by David Gray.

  2. Jason says:

    Another great topic!

    I can’t seem to deal with “silence” on public transport, cos its never really silent. The squeak and rattle of the train, other people on their phones, telephones ringing, annoying conversations, annoying people! Most annoying of all, teenagers on their way to school. The bubble created is a nice zen zone to prepare oneself on a crowded train before the bustled shuffle to the office. Maybe it’s life in a big city, everyone is anonymous.

    I was on the train the other day and decided not to put the headphones in. Instead enjoying a book I had just started….when onto the train came a Tiger mum and her 2 daughters. She just kept nagging and nagging and nagging them. I didn’t need to relive my childhood, so I rushed to put the headphones in to drown out her whining.

    Also as an escape, I have the headphones in most of the working day too….luckily because my work allows it. The work is repetitive, solo and quite process driven…it is rare I need to talk to anyone for the entire day or answer the phone. The office I work in is also open plan, with no partitioning, so there are always 5 different work and non-work conversations being spoken or shouted around me. With 200 people in the same room, being able to put myself in a bubble is sometimes essential to get things done with less distraction.

    I listening to lots of Podcasts, so its like pick and choose radio programs on the go. Its like combined activity, working and learning at the same time. Am loving sports, politics and news updates from around the world and in different languages!

    Music-wise, when in a particularly frustrating part of the day or as a wind down after some serious things have been done or require doing, its nice to play music I can drive the rest of the day to.

    Outside of work, I’ve stopped listening to the iPod on the bicycle. I find its much better to have the time to think, the rushing wind and road tyre sound tend to help creative a reflective and meditative state of mind. It’s safer too!

  3. Yeah I imagine commuting on public transport everyday might be a different scene. I’m rarely on it having the luxury of living close to work. But when I do go on it at the moment I’m able to tune out to others and just use the time and space to think. It would be interesting to see if this would change if I was on it day in and day out. This year my partner is doing more of the driving around after kids. Last year when I was doing it the first few months were silence but after a while I found my self tuning into 702 a bit and enjoying some of commentary of there. Never the headphones though!

    Ken I’m contemplating burning all our CDs onto computer and transferring them to a USB or an ipod like thing. For people who don’t listen to music much we sure have a pile of CDs! The task looks a little daunting… but others have also encouraged me down this line and I think it might be the way to go, to engage with music a bit more (but yeah, never on the move!).

    I’d like to get just a nice sounding digital radio that you can stick a USB or ipod into. It’d be great to actually listen to some podcasts too that would expand my horizons a bit. You’ll have to recommend some Jase!

    It’ll probably mean there’s music (or intellectual discussion) in our house more often (a good thing I think), but I’m sure there’ll still be many times when all I feel like is the sound of silence.

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