Silence

Planning a visit to Paris this year?

Elizabeth von Pier, The LA Times, tells us about 10 places to find a little peace and quiet in Paris.

Thinking about a visit to London, instead? No worries, check out A Peace of London to “[d]iscover quiet places in London with peaceful nooks and historic corners that yearn to be explored.” The proprietress, Charlotte, scours the city to find places where you can “[e]at, write and relax in the city’s most unusual spots.” Just this week, Charlotte reveals the quietest time to visit the Tower of London (and for free).

You can also look for Siobhan Wall’s quiet guides to London, Paris, Amsterdam, and New York at your bookseller of choice, or visit Quiet Edinburgh’s website for suggestions about quiet places to eat, drink, and shop in Edinburgh.

If you know of any other blogs, websites, guides, or recent articles about quiet spots in your favorite cities, please share them in the comments.

 

“In Pursuit of Silence” opens in NYC and LA

In Pursuit of Silence opens in New York City on June 23rd, and in Los Angeles on June 30th. So, what’s the film about?  The producers explain:

In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound and the impact of noise on our lives. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s ground-breaking composition 4’33”, In Pursuit of Silence takes us on an immersive cinematic journey around the globe– from a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, to the streets of the loudest city on the planet, Mumbai during the wild festival season – and inspires us to experience silence and celebrate the wonders of our world.

The film made the rounds of the film festival circuit last year–the upcoming New York City opening is its theatrical premier.  If you’re not near New York City or Los Angeles, click this link for a current listing of screenings or sign up for the mailing list to be notified of upcoming events in your area.

Here’s a preview:

 

The disappearing soundscape

Photo credit: David Berry licensed under CC BY 2.0

Livia Albeck-Ripka, Vice, writes about Bernie Krause, soundscape ecologist, and his lilfe’s work in “This is what extinction sounds like.” Albeck-Ripka tells use about how Krause came to spend a lifetime recording the sounds of our natural world:

He might have guessed where his career was heading, having scored Apocalypse Now and been an early adopter of the plastic sound of 80s synth. Back then, Krause thought of the natural world as mere ambience. Earlier, he had been a violinist, a guitarist, and part of the folk band the Weavers. But in 1968, commissioned by Warner Bros. to make an album that included some samples from nature, he ventured just north of San Francisco into the Muir Woods one October afternoon and had an epiphany.

“The moment I switched on the recorder and heard the incredible impact of the outdoor space,” Krause told me recently, “I made the decision then and there to find a way to do that for the remainder of my life.”

But now, Albeck-Ropka writes, “he has become an expert in the sound of extinction.”

Although our planet is under a lot of stress, it’s not entirely grim–there are signs that the natural world finds a way to continue on. Click the link above to read the entire article.

Link via @QuietMark.

Is quiet a luxury?

The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.

Albert Einstein

Rachel Lapidos, wellandgood.com, looks at the growth of silent spa resorts or retreats in her piece, “Is silence the next wellness luxury?.” Lapidos writes that “some in the wellness field consider total quiet a newfound luxury.” Why? Lapidos quotes Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness Institute, who says the reason is “because it’s so rare now,” adding that “people pay for silence, because that’s how bad [modern life] is—[silence] is so precious.”

Precious, indeed, with Lapidos writing that quiet is “something they’re even shelling out thousands of dollars to get, whether it’s through silent spa resorts or retreats.” So is it just a fad based on more on effective marketing than sound science? McGroarty states that “[s]tudies have shown that when the brain is silent, your hippocampus—the center for organizing thoughts—actively creates neurons, [and] [y]our cortisol also drops, as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. There’s a mental and a physical impact.” “Compare this to when you’re staring at your phone or computer screen and your cortisol shoots up with every (disconcerting) news flash,” adds Lapidos.

But what about those who don’t have the time or money to run off to silent retreat? Lapidos writes that “studies have shown that a mere five minutes of silence a day can have a positive impact on the brain.”  So put down your smart phone, find the quietest space in your home, and enjoy the newest luxury that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

 

How Much Silence Is Too Much?

Photo credit: Brian Oslinker

Daniel McDermon found out when he went to see a work by the artist Doug Wheeler entitled “PSAD Synthetic Desert III.”  What is this installation? It’s “a dead-silent room at the top of the Guggenheim Museum.” How did Wheeler creat a “dead-silent room?” According to McDermon, the inside of the room contains “enough noise-canceling material to make it probably the quietest place you’ll ever go, unless you’re an astronaut or a sound engineer.”

We think this sounds delightful, but McDermon states that too much hush can be unsettling.  He writes that Wheeler told his colleague that “[i]n a supersilent anechoic chamber, the most that most people can endure is about 40 minutes before they start going batty.”  But no worries about losing your composure in Wheeler’s installation, as McDermon writes that “Synthetic Desert” is not “going batty” quiet. Wheeler estimates that his piece may reach as low as 10 decibels, whereas an anechoic chamber can reach “noise levels below the threshold of human hearing.”

McDermon vivdly describes his visit to Synthetic Desert, and it is fascinating. Do click the link above to read his review.

If you are interested in experiencing it yourself, PSAD Synthetic Desert III will be available through August 2nd at the Guggenheim Museum. A timed ticket is required.

Feeling a bit stressed? Maybe this will help.

It’s true: The sound of nature helps us relax.  Researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) have “found that playing ‘natural sounds’ affected the bodily systems that control the flight-or-fright and rest-digest autonomic nervous systems, with associated effects in the resting activity of the brain.” Science Daily reports that “[w]hile naturalistic sounds and ‘green’ environments have frequently been linked with promoting relaxation and wellbeing, until now there has been no scientific consensus as to how these effects come about.”

The researchers “conducted an experiment where participants listened to sounds recorded from natural and artificial environments,” during which their brain activity was measured and autonomic nervous system activity was monitored. The research team found that activity in the “default mode network of the brain (a collection of areas which are active when we are resting) was different depending on the sounds playing in the background.” Long and short, when listening to natural sounds “the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention,” whereas artificial sounds caused the brain connectivity to reflect “an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.”  Interestingly, the change in brain activity depended on the participant’s stress level–those showing the greatest stress before the experiment “showed the greatest bodily relaxation when listening to natural sounds,” but those who were already relaxed showed “a slight increase in stress” when “listening to natural compared with artificial sounds.”

While helpful for treating people with anxiety, the study results will have a much greater reach. Science Daily notes that “the study of environmental exposure effects is of growing interest in physical and mental health settings, and greatly influences issues of public health and town planning.” Could a restful natural spot will be coming to your town?

Link via UK Noise Association.

Let’s hope this UK project comes to the U.S.:

Silence is golden in woodland for quiet reflection. Emily Flanagan, The Northern Echo, writes about Thorp Perrow Arboretum, a historic country estate, that is “the first garden in the north of England to take part in the Silent Space project, which invites public gardens to reserve an area where visitors can wander, or reflect silently away from phones and the distractions of modern life.” Flanagan tells us that Silent Space was the brainchild of garden writer Liz Ware, who felt that “[o]ur lives are very hectic and we rarely allow ourselves time to be quiet.”  Silent Spaces was established as a not-for-profit project in 2016, and a “handful of gardens that open to the public agreed to take part and to reserve an area where people could be silent.”

Click this link to learn more, including the rules governing silent spaces:

Once inside a Silent Space, we stop talking, turn off our phones and cameras, and switch off from social media. There are no other rules.

 

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Walden, the video game?

Photo credit: Sarah Nichols

David Sykes, the vice-chair of The Quiet Coalition, muses about Walden, the video game, and how trying times compel us to seek stillness and tranquility.  So how exactly does Walden the video game differ from Grand Theft Auto? Like this:

Instead of offering the thrills of stealing, violence and copious cursing, the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

And if you don’t leave enough “time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: ‘Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.’”

Kudos and best of luck to lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and her team.