Calmness is perhaps one of the most underrated values in pop music. Look for “the loudest band in the world” and you’ll be faced with a history of vigorous rock mastodons proudly dedicated to blowing the eardrums, from Manowar (who hit a sound pressure level of 139dB during a sound check in 2008 ) at Who, Motörhead and, uh, Hanson.
Replace “silent” with “loud,” however, and the choices are slim. There’s Dust, the self-proclaimed “world’s quietest big band,” the trio of Norwegian jazz musician Tord Gustavsen, once described as “the world’s quietest band”, and an interview with Leonard Cohen’s music director. , Roscoe Beck, in which he asserts that Cohen’s group presents itself as “the quietest group in the world”. Then the trail itself becomes calm.
In a way, this focus on volume makes sense: turning up a song’s volume makes it pop (something the music industry has exploited since the jukebox era) and increases physical response. There is, according to Music Radar, an organ in the inner ear called a sacculus that responds to low-frequency vibrations above 90dB and is linked to a region of the brain associated with pleasure, so increasing the volume makes biologically sense.
Additionally, silence doesn’t always pair well with the way we listen to music today. Quiet music demands audio quality and careful attention, rather than crappy headphones and computer speakers that struggle to be heard in the endless hum of the background.
Yet focusing on volume ignores the infinitely more subtle appeal of silence. Air, the enduring French group whose compilation Twentyears comes out on June 10, is a past master in the art. As any teacher knows, silence can be more effective than shouting at getting people’s attention and Air used that sweet persuasion on Moon Safari, an album that draws the listener in with the peaceful sound of rain and drums. muted. (Belle and Sebastian pull a similar turn on their first four albums). Even when Air turns up the volume a little – as on Sexy Boy – Jean-Benoît Dunckel’s voice remains one of the sweetest noises in pop, a whistling half-whisper out of sync with rock’n’roll tradition.
Moon Safari is full of intimate and light music, which the listener must be careful of or risk missing out on. Given its warmth and tranquility, it’s no coincidence that the album was a favorite among clubbers after a night out, a time when the desire for friendship, camaraderie and warmth replaces the urge to ‘steel to dance.
Silence can also work well during live concerts. Kamasi Washington’s recent appearance in Primavera Sound saw the saxophonist’s band lower volume levels until they were barely audible at one point, silencing the bustling auditorium in what turned out to be an emotional highlight for the whole. In doing so, the Washington group also demonstrated another important – though often forgotten – principle of silence: it is much more difficult to play softly than loud. Being loud, after all, is easy with the right equipment. While there are undoubtedly many bands that do brilliantly experimental things with volume (My Bloody Valentine for one), they are overwhelmed by a legion of bands cranking up the volume to 11 for no particular purpose.
Calmness, on the other hand, can inspire new ways of listening and making music. Ambient, another genre that benefited from the post-clubbing explosion, was at least partly inspired by the influence of low volume. Brian Eno’s Discreet Music, one of the most important albums in the genre’s development, was inspired by Eno’s experience in the hospital, when, bedridden by a car accident, he staged a 18th century harp music album at too low a level. volume and could not increase it.
“It introduced what was for me a new way of hearing music – as part of the ambience of the environment, just as the color of the light and the sound of the rain were part of that ambience,” wrote Eno later.
So forget the “volume war”. Manowar may be happy with their 139dB, but they’re way overwhelmed by the fireworks, which hit 145-150dB when they explode, and the Blue Whale’s Call, which goes all the way up to 188dB. Now that’s something to shout about.