April 07, 2010

A world filled with noise


6:00 AM I sit at my desk in my Rosslyn, Virginia, office—just across the Potomac River from the downtown Washington, DC, hotspots. A mere two hours earlier I was in rural Front Royal, Virginia, where the sounds coming through the open windows included deer foraging in our back yard, birds chirping as they awaken for the day, and the gentle whisper of a spring breeze rustling the curtains. But here at my desk, eight stories above Lynn Street, I listen to bellicose horns honking their anger at other angry motorists. I hear the screeching of brakes, the screeching of tires accelerating too rapidly, and the screeching of sirens tearing down the streets every quarter-hour or so. The contrast is striking, and typically quite unpleasant on this side of the contrast.

But then I remember back to my days in college when I dreamed of a career in music. I remember Dr. Ellsworth’s music history class that began the semester with Gregorian Chant and ended with John Cage [Wikipedia].

If you are not aware of the musician (can I actually use that word to describe John Cage?), this quote may help you to understand how John Cage’s “music” can make the most ardent rock n roller appreciate Gregorian Chant:

Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.

I must be ignoring the sounds of Rosslyn, Virginia, because I find them tremendously disturbing. They make me long for the sounds of Front Royal, where I would not ignore the sounds, much preferring to listen to beauty rather than ignore disturbing noise.

Here is an example of John Cage’s philosophy as expressed in music. With full orchestration, this is John Cage’s “4'33"” (prounounced, “Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds”). Enjoy:


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