Sunday, June 17, 2012

More about silence

I have just started to translate the section on sounds and tones in Elisabeth Rochat’s book 101 Key Concepts of Chinese Medicine.  This, taken together with the subject of my other blog today, The Simpler the Better, has set me thinking more deeply about sound and its hidden companion, silence.  

The words for sound and tone in French, “son” and “ton”, are so similar to each other, and much more so than in English, that I found that I was quite often using them interchangeably.  We know that each element imprints a particular sound upon our voice, but what Elisabeth Rochat has helped me understand is that the tone of a voice expresses something deeper and more individual than the sound itself, for it conveys the way in which the sound is being made, and the particular emotional intensity it reveals.  If I return to my analogy of music, as I did in my last blog, it is as though sounds are what are made if I were to strike different piano keys, but tones are what a pianist can draw from these same keys when interpreting Mozart’s music.

I was also reminded of one my favourite quotations: “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinies m’effrayent (the eternal silence of those infinite spaces terrifies me)”, which the 16th C French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote after contemplating the night sky overhead.  To human ears, the universe beyond us does indeed seem as silent as Pascal felt it to be, but modern instruments have replaced Pascal’s silence with extraordinary outpourings of sounds streaming towards us from the most distant edges of space.  Perhaps Pascal would have found this eternal noise just as terrifying as the silence he heard.

The thought that the whole universe is resonating to some frequency of sound adds a further layer to what I do.  For if each of us can be seen to have our own tiny frequency of vibration, its tones must ring true if we are in harmony within ourselves and ring false if we are not.  The acupuncturist’s needle can then be seen to act like a tuning fork, adjusting the frequencies at which the elements vibrate within us.  Our skill lies in learning to judge when it is time to put our needles aside once we feel that these vibrations ring to a true tone. 

And then indeed we should say, “And the rest is silence.”

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