7 days of silence: my week inspired by John Cage

Take one iPod and Spotify addict, give him the text of a lecture by John Cage, take away his music for a week, and see what happens. It was a recent, quite unscientific experiment and the guinea pig was me.

The first few days were harsh. Putting on the stereo was one of those things that helped get me out of bed in the morning. I resorted to singing in the shower, whistling on the way to the office. Back home at night, the silence stretched out like dead time. Life seemed a blank. TV was no substitute.

By day five I had begun dreaming about music and in my dream I was making preparations to listen to Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘it will be very nice,’ but my fix of melody never came to pass. I woke up, to more, depressing silence.

That weekend there was a party and I was expecting wine, women and song: in reverse order. But the longed for music was a disappointment. Watching guests dance, I missed the sound of washing machines, traffic or dogs barking. Okay, that may have been the drink thinking.

But the next day I got a bus and sat at the back, over the engine, and for the first time really got into some background noise. Each burst of acceleration seemed like a dense, reverb-filled chord. I think it helped that engine noise is loud, more attuned to my rock sensibilties.

The real acid test was switching on the football last night to watch a World Cup game. It was Spain versus Honduras and the two goals were not bad, but you know what? The much maligned drone of the African vuvuzelas does sound, in fact, fantastic. Then again, so do the Beach Boys.

An exhibition of paintings by John Cage, Every Day is a Good Day, is on show at BALTIC, Gateshead until 5 September 2010.

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