The absence of SOUND. This may be a theoretical expression, at least in the biosphere, for wherever there are ears to hear there will be sound heard. "There is no such thing as silence," concluded John Cage after visiting an ANECHOIC CHAMBER. In choosing Silence as the title for a book about sound, he emphasized that the word must be qualified or assumed to be ironical.

"Quiet we call 'Silence' - which is the merest word of all," wrote Edgar Allan Poe in Al Aaraaf, coming close to the truth, at least as far as ordinary experience is concerned.

The speculation of an infinite, silent universe terrified the philosopher Pascal:

Le silence éternal de ces espaces infinis m'effraie.

In recent centuries, especially in the Western world, silence has taken on a negative quality. Silence equals a vacuum, the rejection of sound, or a lack of COMMUNICATION. Humans have come to fear silence as symbolizing the absence of life.


The structure of the time flow in mass media broadcasting, for instance, is carefully designed to avoid silence, or what is called 'dead air'. Since time has been packaged and sold, silence means lost revenue. Techniques of cueing pre-recorded material allow these elements to be juxtaposed with no discernible pause between them. COMPRESSION of the DYNAMIC RANGE allows fewer quieter sounds to contrast with louder ones. In the terms radio and television have defined, silence would destroy the illusion of continuity and change that they are trying to create, i.e. that time is passing meaningfully in a dynamic, pleasing manner.

But silence has also been regarded as a positive or felicitous state at various times in history, for instance in the Taoist or Sufi religions. Even in the Christian religion, Sunday was once a day of rest and tranquility, and Quakers and some monastic groups use silence in their meetings and daily life. The loss of the positive attitude toward silence has had consequences for the contemporary SOUNDSCAPE, upsetting the balance between sound and non-sound, creating a LO-FI overpopulation of sounds, and resulting in the current problems of NOISE POLLUTION. For the design of the soundscape, the recovery of a positive attitude toward silence will be a necessary priority.