the older i get, the more infuriated i seem to get with the excessive external noise around me. the incessant beep, beep, beeeep of someone tapping out a text message, one-sided phone conversations, roadworks and construction noise, loudspeaker announcements on a loop, christmas music in department stores in october. the list goes on and on.
in pursuit of silence, which has its london premiere at picturehouse central today, is a meditative film that explores our relationship with silence, sound, and the impact of noise on our lives. taking us an immersive cinematic journey around the globe– from a traditional tea ceremony in kyoto, to the streets of mumbai, the loudest city on the planet, during festival season – the film strives to inspire us all to seek out a few moments of restorative silence in our daily lives.
we’re so used to background noise that even a few minutes of silence can feel unnatural, so its slightly unnerving – even given the film’s title and obvious themes – that in pursuit of silence begins with four minutes and 33 seconds of near-silence, in honour of john cage’s seminal silent composition 4’33’’. as the silence progresses, a 30-second static shot of a tree in a field gives way to a petrol station late at night and then hundreds of workers in the city standing still to observe the two-minute silence of remembrance day. as soon as the bell tolls the silence is broken and daily life, with all its deafening brashness, resumes.
the world health organisation states that noise pollution is the second biggest environmental issue after air pollution and, when you think about it, there is rarely a moment of pure unadulterated peace to be had if you live anywhere near an urban centre. most main streets in the uk frequently exceed 70 decibels during the daytime, above the level defined as excessive and therefore potentially harmful. if, like me, you frequently travel on the victoria tube line, you’ll be experiencing ear-splitting peaks of 118dB – louder than a pneumatic drill! – and an average noise level between 88 and 89dB as the train hurtles through the tunnels. to put that in perspective, a normal human conversation takes place at just 50-60dB.
in the film, yale graduate greg hindy is shown walking across the united states having taken a vow of silence, to get away from the distractions of noise embedded in electronics and entertainment. while i don’t think i could ever undertake anything quite so extreme, the idea of a regular digital-detox hugely appeals. taking off to a remote location, forgoing all electronic devices and going ‘off-grid’ in the pursuit of peace and solitude; two things that are increasingly hard to come by in today’s frenetic world.
beyond general annoyance, sound affects our bodies physiologically, psychologically, cognitively and behaviourally. sudden noises cause the body to produce a small shot of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone, and too much white noise can cause irritation, anxiety and aggression and severely hamper concentration levels. i certainly recognise these symptoms all too well!
noise pollution isn’t just limited to city life though. according to the latest noise attitudes survey by the department for environment, food and rural affairs (defra), 48% of people in the uk felt their home life was spoilt to some extend by noise, with washing machines, dishwashers and cooker extractor fans being some of the worst offenders.
enter quiet mark; the international mark of approval award programme from the uk noise abatement society encouraging brands to reduce the noise within the design of everyday machines and appliances. they believe that by choosing the volume and quality of the sound that surrounds you, you can bring a more peaceful environment into the home and workplace. the quiet mark is a symbol of excellence for acoustic design and can help you to identify the quietest products in a particular product category, including the magimix blendermix food processor, aeg fully integrated dishwasher and the miele scout rx1 robot vacuum cleaner. dyson have even spent over £50 million developing a ‘supersonic’ hairdryer, which comes in at six times smaller and three times lighter than traditional models, as well as being significantly quieter. perfect for not waking the rest of the household when you have to get up at the crack of dawn for work!
when you think of all the ways in which ‘quiet time’ – it doesn’t even have to be pure silence – can benefit us, it seems crucial to build in a few minutes each day to spend ‘recharging’ without noise or stimulus to distract you. this doesn’t have to be prescriptively ‘meditative’ but any amount of time spent sitting quietly will likely allow you to think and reflect more deeply, tapping into emotions and ideas that lie just beneath the subconscious.
i was recently gifted the most wonderful little book, quiet london by siobhan wall, which lists over 100 quiet corners of the city, from peaceful gardens and green spaces to places to rest, relax and recuperate. i’m slowly working my way through discovering my favourites, which i’m sure i’ll round up in a post sometime soon..
how do you find external noise affects you in your daily life? how do you incorporate moments of silence into your day?
in pursuit of silence is released in selected uk cinemas from 21 october 2016; you can find listing details here.