If you live in a bustling city, you might find "silence" in a short break between honking car horns or trains whooshing overhead. If you’re on a farm, silence might occur when the cows quiet down. But even if you live far removed from most human activity, silence usually has a shape and texture. It tells stories and asks questions, if you listen closely enough.
For most of us, it’s rare that we get to engage with our silences, which is just one of the reasons why John Cage’s 4’33" has such longevity as a performance piece. To celebrate his "silent" work, the Museum of Modern Art has asked fans all over the world to submit their own field recordings of silence on Soundcloud, which the museum has been uploading to a map.
"Since Cage recorded his own four minutes and 33 seconds of ‘silence’ which naturally incorporated sounds of the surrounding people and environment, we wanted to give our audiences the opportunity to do the same," explains Laura Beiles, assistant director of adult programming in MoMA's education department. "We also wanted to expand our reach to international audiences that had sounds to share that reflected their own environments, whether they be natural or urban, domestic, or otherwise."
The MoMA started focusing on sound as an interactive exhibit when the museum launched its Common Senses studio, an exhibition that also functioned as a sensory playground to explore the light, taste, sound, and touch of nature and technology. Last year, the MoMA also asked visitors to record sounds experienced in the museum itself.
As the map submissions show, quiet is relative. While one might only detect the faint, hollow sound of trains on a Sunday night in Tokyo, silence in a Brazilian cave is alive with buzzing insects, maybe bats. "Anything alive is anything but quiet!" Beiles adds.
To submit your own field recording of silence, go here.