To Hear or Not to Hear?

A common theme throughout the first two weeks of this class has been apocalypse in stillness, nothingness, and space. William Wordsworth communicates this theme from his early episode in The Prelude of “solitude or blank desertion” (Book 1, lines 421-2) after experiencing the fear of Nature firsthand to his later recalling of carrying the silence of Nature far into his heart. mjaka10 captured the references to sublimity well in the post titled “The Sublime Silence of Nature,” but perhaps this idea of silence can be taken further.

Wordsworth carries his infatuations with silence beyond the realm of simple hearing and into the realm of human existence. He borders on Buddhist philosophy at times, consistently dwelling on rebirth, being (and its antithesis), and pre-manifestations of human feelings like love (see Book 4, lines 221-4). It seems at times like Wordsworth cannot decide if he would rather exist in the world and experience the glories of Nature or cease to exist and connect with the sublime even more intimately. He delights in blurring the line between sound and silence, existence and non-existence.

Kaija Saariaho, a living Finnish composer, brilliantly captures this blurring of sound and silence in Prés, a piece for solo cello and digital delay. In the piece, Saariaho seems to focus more on the decay of sound rather than the production of sound. In other words, the most interesting part of the piece is not always how the cello plays the notes, but how the digital delay creatively contributes to the gradual disappearing of sound. Have a listen:

The power of the composition comes somewhat from how it confuses the listener, frustrating one’s expectations of a beginning and end to sound. Thus, the piece sounds incredibly cyclical, with no beginning and no end. While Wordsworth cannot be connected directly to thoughts of reincarnation or cyclical existence, his words certainly resonate with Saariaho’s “infinite” sound.

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~ by lostinthekeys on September 6, 2012.

One Response to “To Hear or Not to Hear?”

  1. This is a very creative and insightful post. The idea of silence and stillness does create a feeling of existential in-betweenness in Wordsworth’s poetry and, very powerfully, in the Kaija piece you have aptly choosen to prove your point. Can you locate a specific point in Wordsworth’s poetry where you see this feeling at work? Take the time to unpack those lines in Book IV. I really like your idea the cyclical nature of this sound, with no clear sense of beginning or ending; I suggest that you return to this idea next week when we will study in depth Wordsworth’s vision of a destructive but regenerative apocalypse. I also encourage you to continue exploring the connection with eastern philosophies–especially Buddhism!

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