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In Pursuit Of Silence Makes Noise About Emulating The Inconvenient Truth

When the musician John Cage was researching the essence of silence in the 1940s, he wanted to find the quietest place on earth to experience a place without noise.

This place was an anechoic chamber, buried deep below Boston’s Harvard University, but when Cage came out of the chamber he complained to the engineer that there must have been a leak in the soundproofed space. He reported hearing two consistent noises; one high-pitched and the other low.

The engineer replied that there was nothing wrong with the chamber. The high sound he could hear was his nervous system in operation and the low sound was the ‘noise’ of his blood circulating. As discomfiting as that may sound, humans cannot experience pure silence.

This intense circumstance led Cage to ‘compose’ has famous 4’ 33” silent piece, where the only sound in those 273 seconds is the background noise of the place or auditorium where he is conducting the piece.

The notion of silence as the most optimal of human sensations is one that has existed for centuries. Religious adherents and academics treat it as the best environment to get closer to God and knowledge respectively. Unfortunately, the march of technology has created a noisy world, confusing us and taking us away from the meditative consolation of a quiet life.

A new film, In Pursuit Of Silence, which premiered at the SXSW festival in Austin last month is trying to do for silence what The Inconvenient Truth did for climate change when it was released a decade ago.

The film was crowdfunded and one of its backers is a UK commercial company Quiet Mark that works in association with the Noise Abatement Society, a charity that was formed in 1959 by John Connell. He described noise as the ‘forgotten pollutant’ and campaigned ceaselessly until in n 1960 the Noise Abatement Act was added to UK law and noise became a statutory nuisance.

His granddaughter, Poppy Szkiler has carried on the family tradition and believes that this film is as important as The Inconvenient Truth when it comes to bringing down global noise levels as we, literally, can’t hear ourselves think.

“In Pursuit of Silence is an encounter with silence through the medium of film. It is a meditative and immersive experience, representing a movement that is gathering pace, not only in the scientific and health worlds, but also for retailers, airlines and quiet-leader companies such as BMW, Virgin Atlantic, Miele, Dyson and John Lewis.

“These organisations have discerned consumers want quieter technology to combat the buildup of noise in our homes and cities. We hope the film will act as a wake-up call to encourage industry to prioritize investment in the acoustic design and sound quality of technology, expose the reality of noise in our society and the essential benefits of a quieter world,” she says.

Initial reviews of the film after the SXSW premiere in Austin have been favourable and in the coming months the film will be shown at UK film festivals before its upcoming global distribution date.

The World Health Organisation recognises the danger of noise pollution. According to the WHO ‘noise pollution is a major environmental and public health burden, second only to air pollution’ and In Pursuit of Silence brings up many example of the harm it is doing to humans.

Education is the most prescient instance and is one of the most shocking and disturbing aspects of the film. It posits Public School 85 in New York, which is adjacent to a train track where a train goes by every two minutes.

According to Rebecca Bratsides, Director, Cuny Center For Urban Environmental Reform, the recommended sound limit for children to learn properly should never be over 35 decibels. At Public School 85, regular decibel levels are more than 85 and high in the 90s when windows have to be opened at a school without air-conditioning and sweltering in the summer.

Students at this school lose approximately 15% of all instruction time because of the train noise levels; a scandalously waste of our children’s potential.

The Inconvenient Truth changed the world ten years ago, a world that is finally beginning to deal with the inconvenient truths it demonstrated. In a world, where we can’t think and where our children can’t think, such In Pursuit Of Silence deserves to wield a similar influence. Noise pollution needs to be addressed now, and this film needs to be seen as well as heard.

Let's carry on the conversation over at Twitter - @montymunford

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