“Listen to the sound of silence.” ~ Buddhist saying
The anechoic chamber at Orfield Labs in Minneapolis is the quietest room in the world. It records a staggering sound level of -9.4 decibels (humans can only detect sound levels above 0dB), thanks to its special walls, floor and ceiling design that absorbs all sound instead of echoing it. The room is so quiet that the only sound you will hear inside is the sound of your own organs: the sound of air drifting in and out of your lungs, the blood being thumped out of your heart, the digested food gurgling in your stomach… Even your ears generate a tiny amount of noise from the tiny blood vessels in its walls. The absolute silence is so disturbing that the longest anyone has ever spent alone in the room is merely 45 minutes.
The disturbing power of silence is also demonstrated in the infamous musical piece 4’33” (4 minutes 33 seconds) by John Cage. When it was first premiered in 1952, the audience watched in anticipation as the pianist David Tudor entered the stage. Tudor calmly approached the piano and sat down with a graceful demeanour. Then, he closed the piano lid. For 4 minutes and 33 seconds, the pianist did not play a single note. His only actions were opening and closing the lid to mark the end of one movement and the start of the next one. After the 4 minutes and 33 seconds, he stood up, bowed to the (stunned) audience and exited.
The audience was confused, bewildered and angry. How dare they be mocked with such an outrageous performance? By definition, silence is the absence of music, meaning that the audience were not given the musical performance they expected. However, the audience simply did not understand the “sound of silence”. Outside of the anechoic chamber mentioned above, there is no such thing as absolute silence on Earth. For example, that concert room would have been filled with the noise of the unsettled audience shifting in their seats, the raindrops pattering on the roof and the sound of the footsteps of those who walked out in rage.