Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This Terror of Silence is Golden

A few weeks ago I watched a soft-focus puffpiece on Tetsuya Wakuda, what a great guy he is. I am depressed that we live in an age of celebrity chefs and their acritical adulation and emulation by a whole culture of anxious, insecure aggressive suburbanites with eating disorders evincing symptoms of narcissism, but nonethless, Wakuda said something that is admirable. He does not have background music in his restaurants – because that is disrespectful, to music and to food. I wholeheartedly agree.

My DJ friend described his 'triangle' theory of love and hate.

Triangle of Love (in theory): venue owner hires DJ -> who plays music the punters love ->who spend heaps of money at said venue

Triangle of Hate (in practice): venue owner hires DJ (so far so good) -> who plays music the punters hate or don't get or can't hear properly, at which point ->they bust up with their iPods, demanding to hear their favourite music, then complain about the shitty music and stroppy DJs at said venue, on the internet.

A few weeks ago I was at a restaurant. Weirdly for 2012, the DJ was playing house. He was playing Herbert, actually. Dr Rockit. There were no acoustic tiles, there were hard surfaces, and the room was full of boozed, red-faced, well-fed middle-aged Australians with big watches and jowls and huge, huge glasses of red wine. Of course they were all talking so loudly. What's music for? Is it for this? We couldn't hear each other round the table; we couldn't hear the music clearly; we couldn't hear anything. The food wasn't good enough to distract us from this. Is this what we want? What was I supposed to be paying attention to in this space? Or was everyone supposed to be paying attention to me? It reminded me of the following quote from DF Wallace, from The Pale King, a novel where (this is not really a spoiler) said author concludes that he who is not terrified of boredom is capable of almost anything:

“To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it's because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that's where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ or ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of  us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly ... but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everybody knows it's about something else, way down” (85).

Not least of all silence.


  1. Well written and thought-stimulating piece. In my mind this extends beyond music to other forms of stimulus, including (but not limited to) sitcom/reality tv, social media, and daily recreational drug use.

    Our pre-occupation with occupation. I'm sure there's an evolutionary explanation; a reason that those who remain occupied have a reproductive advantage.

    The spiritual explanation, hinting at a gnawing incompleteness deep within ourselves, is a grim one.

    Also, good on you for using a nice graph. People are too afraid of them, imo.

  2. How many comments used to be left to thoughts about techno and the music with which this s(h)ite is supposed to be dedicated to?


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