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The Sound of Silence Paradox: How to deal with the Non-Sounding in the Study of Electroacoustic Music

Tatjana Böhme-Mehner

Dr. Tatjana Böhme-Mehner, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle Wittenberg/ Hochschule für Musik « Carl Maria von Weber » Dresden (Germany)


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Silence is one of the most ambivalent phenomena in music in general, and this is especially so in acousmatic music because the relatedness to a source gets lost along with its visual representation. This produces problems for everybody getting in touch with that kind of silence – composer, listener and researcher. In a phenomenological manner this paper presents the different kinds of silence appearing in acousmatic music, and asks for possible interpretations of such silence in communication situations. Can silence as such be transmitted as more than the counterpoise to sound? On the one hand, no, of course it cannot, because the case represents an ideal type: the silence of the reception has little to do with the silence of the recording. On the other hand, of course, it can. This paper offers a dialectic discussion on the phenomenon of silence, proposing some possible approaches to non-sounding in the study of electroacoustic music by adopting ideas taken – first of all – from communication and media sciences. A lot has been written by musicologists on silence, on its role and function, especially in the interpretation of traditional music. But can this been adapted to electroacoustic music? What, in particular, about acousmatic music? There is not much which broadcasters are more frightened of than silence. The silent loudspeaker always appears as a kind of paradox. The function of a loudspeaker is to reproduce sound, not to be quiet. Nevertheless, silence appears in the arts, and this paper asks how a researcher should deal with it. Silence in an acousmatic situation appears as a sforzando, as mentioned in the description of the general conference topic. This paper presents possible approaches to the scientific understanding of the silent, from a communication-oriented perspective.

EMS11 Proceedings