In the modern world places of silence have become rare. During the industrialisation noise has become a synonym for modernism. Many people even celebrate noisy engines as an image of strength or horse power. In the wake of the 21st century is has become evident that this co-evolution has made us sick and whole cities suffer from the abundant sources of noise.
Can we talk about silence? No, wrong approach, but we can write or realise images dealing with silence. Yes, surely. Spiritual locations often build on the mystic experience that silence might incur. Measuring silence in physics is a lot more complicated. Sound has several forms of measurement. Also, silence is probably experienced by most of us as a relative concept. Compared to a noisy atmosphere we might appreciate less noisy situations as more or less silent already.
Therefore, a reasonable, but evasive definition of silence is the absence of noise. Depending on our auditive capabilities different persons will define silence at different levels. Sound near us blends into sound in the background and vice versa.
Temporality plays an important role. In complete silence we might imagine even to be dead. Otherwise, some distant vibes or vibrations will reach us and potentially stimulate our senses. Silence works as a bridge between two atmospheric impressions. It creates a feeling of expectation for something still unknown. Silence is underrated as our smart phone attempts to disrupt silence as much as possible to draw our attention to messages or reminders. Hence, silence is about to be turned into a new status symbol. Practice of meditation, listening to isolate and subsequently to discard sound, has become an advanced level competence, not only for musicians. Feel free to be silent and see what happens around you. It is easy in locations of supposed spirituality or in most libraries. Almost everywhere else you have a hard time to experience a silent atmosphere.
The composer John Cage made silence the title of one of his quite well known pieces. The willingness to pay for the entry to the silent concert might be surprising although the listening experience is unique to each location and diversity of audience. Composing silence remains a challenge, making noise is easy. (Image: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, extract of Link)

Sax and the Sax

Adolphe Sax is celebrated for his celebrated design of musical instruments in what it known and played as the Sax family of musical instruments. Most museums around the world have an example of an early Sax instrument in their collections. Beyond the many fascinating musical delights and emotions produced with the instrument, there is a century-old debate around the issue of the patent attributed to the various designs claimed by Adolphe Sax for the Saxophone among others. The patent attribution was hugely different across Europe in the 19th century (largely inexistant in other parts of the world at the time). The reason for this were differing laws guiding intellectual property rights. “In France no preliminary examination was necessary before a patent could be granted; in Germany examination was obligatory; and … British patent laws, which allowed makers to register designs or apply for patents for developments that had been copied from abroad (imported inventions), as long as they had not been published in Britain.” (Mitroulia and Myers, 2008 p.93). There is a well-documented controversy about the “Berlin valves” and the contested patent in France of it. Design of instruments, particularly popular ones, guarantee sizable earnings for producers of instruments. After 20 years of the 1846 patent in France 1866 the patent expired and the copies could become even cheaper. Some ugly disputes in the middle of Europe were fought around this issue. Remember that military music was still accompanying troops for better or worse. “Visionary or plagiarist? The authors are unable to give a simple verdict. … The fact that Sax claimed originality for some borrowed ideas seems in retrospect less important than the true vision shown.” (Mitroulia and Myers, 2008 p.135). We might not agree with this statement. The visit to the MIM in Brussels gives a good overview of the evolution of musical instruments over thousands of years and across continents, which pushes us to rethink the link of society and technology through the lens of music and technology. Welcome to techno music beyond patent laws. Pushing the boundaries of copyrights on sound sequences to new limits.
(Sources: MIM Brussels, Rice A. R. (2009). Making and improving the nineteenth-century saxophone. Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society. 35:81-122. Mitroulia, E., A. Myers. (2008). Adolphe Sax: Visionary or plagiarist? Historic Brass Society journal, 20, 93-141).


Each society has its sound. Each person lives in her/his sound cloud or bubble. Cities are generally noisy places, Lots of traffic, mobility and moves leave sound bytes all over the place. Each city though has its own sound and spectrum of frequencies. Libraries, museums, places of worship, all build their special atmosphere due to specific sound design. The Singing Project by Ayumi Paul (Gropiusbau Berlin) created its own sound environment. Reminding us to consciously design our exposure to and experience of sound is welcome. John Cage started to build his very own language of music, similar to Schoenberg, from scratch. His writings Empty Mind explain his view and techniques a bit. Starting with silence and the time between sounds we recreate our own sound experience. Notation of it comes second in place. only for the potential to repeat the experience notation is useful. But it is only one form of conservation for posterity. Noise canceling is the amazing tool from sound physics which allows you to neutralize noise by adding specific frequencies to noise which cancel out each other. Design your personal sound experience beyond noise if you like. Nature recordings or familiar person voices allow you immersive experiences when and where we want. your home sound can be everywhere nowadays.