Quiet Zone

March 10, 2009


The contents of this space are usually so preoccupied with music that silence may get short shrift. This fact has been brought home to me by being placed in the midst of a few days’ quiet in what, for a touch of mystery, I will call an undisclosed tropical location.

I wonder how many others are in my situation. Without giving it much thought, I have spent a whole year continuously in urban environments — my usual place of residence being the über-urban island of Manhattan. After just a few days in this Eden where the loudest sound is made by the waves of a calm gulf, one feels as though a RESET button has been pushed. And how.

Getting back, already, to our habitual topic, I have to say that music sounds different somehow. Thanks to the miracles of iPod, the Naxos site, and other such modern dispensations of a gracious heaven, I can invoke practically any music I think of whenever I want it. And that’s a superb state to be in.

But I’m more surprised to be reminded what a different occupation reading becomes in an environment like this. It seems to have a completely different function from that of reading on a subway or reading while waiting for (or dreading) the phone’s ring. While that may not seem a particularly surprising reflection, who reflects on such things in the midst of all the din we so easily become accustomed to?

A most peculiar phenomenon I’m experiencing (and I hope this reveals no pathology) is that I keep seeing inanimate objects (a beach umbrella, a potted plant on a pedestal, a lamp-post) out of the corner of my eye and then looking to see what person it is. So accustomed to being surrounded by an infinity of human beings, my brain seems habituated to assuming that shapes are human until being demonstrated to be otherwise. This is curious. And it even happens over and over with the same objects.

Perhaps most thrilling of all is rediscovering the wonder that is sleep. Accustomed as I am to regarding sleep as an inconvenience that reduces the amount of enjoyment or work that one can get done, or as something to feel guilty for not getting enough of, it is a profound joy to be reminded that the aforementioned sound of the waves breaking has a completely different effect on the sleeping organism than rattling trucks, accelerating buses, or screaming fire engines produce. To wake from a sleep that is not merely reparative but that seems in retrospect to have been almost consciously enjoyable is a sensation to be treasured.

Ah! the delicious silence!

Now I have a Mahler symphony I want to hear with my restored ears.

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