Listening yesterday evening to a BBC radio 4 programme about the late English composer John Tavener I was struck by something he said in a recorded interview about the relationship between music and ikons, sound and images.
This quality of stillness is something that I think is essential to any music that aspires to the sacred and I think the analogy with the Ikon is a very striking one because the Ikon changes you. By looking at the Ikon one is changed, by looking at the Ikon one is reduced to ones knees - and this is the quality that all sacred art has - this quality of silence. I want the music to be a kind of sounding Ikon
Tavener's religious and musical influences were clearly wide ranging from his Prebyterian roots to his interest in modern music, like Stravinsky, and medieval Western religious music, Eastern orthodox chants and liturgy and Indian musical traditions.
The American composer John Cage, famous for his iconic minimalist piece 4'33", also talked about silence in his book of lectures and writing entitled 'Silence' ( Wesleyan University Press 1961) and here in a youtube recorded interview uploaded in 2007.
When I hear what we call music it seems to me that someone is talking and talking about his feelings or about his ideas of relationships, but when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic here on Sixth Avenue for instance, I don't have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that the sound is acting and I love the activity of sound. What it does is gets louder and quieter, it gets higher and lower, and it gets longer and shorter, it does all these things, which I am completely satisfied with that I don't need the sound to 'talk' to me. We don't see much difference between time and space. We don't know where one begins and the other stops - so that most of the arts we think of as being in time and most of the arts we think of as being in space.
Marcel Duchamp, for instance, began thinking of time, I mean thinking of music, as being not a time art but a space art and he made a piece called 'sculpture musicale' which means different sounds coming from different places and lasting, producing a scupture whch is sonorous and which remains. People expect listening to be more than listening and so sometimes they speak of inner listening or the meaning of sound.
When I talk about music it finally comes to people's minds that I am talking about sound that doesn't mean anything, that is not inner but is just outer, and they say, these people that understand that finally say, - 'you mean its just sounds' thinking that for something to just be a sound is to be useless, whereas I love sounds, just as they are and I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are. I don't want them to be psychological, I don't want them to pretend to be a bucket or the president or that its in love with another sound, (laughing) I just want it to be a sound and I am not so stupid either.
There was a German philosopher, he is very well known, Immanuel Kant and he said there are two things that don't have to mean anything, one is music and the other is laughter (laughing)..... don't have to mean anything that is in order to give us very deep pleasure (addressing the cat) and you know that don't you... (laughing)
The sound experience which I prefer to all others is the experience of silence and the silence almost everywhere in the world now is traffic; if you listen to Beethoven or to Mozart you see that there always the same but if you listen to traffic you see that its always different.
The following description of the last moments of the Greek Poet C. P. Cavafy, resonate for me, with what Elliot calls in 'The Four Quartets', 'the point of intersection of the timeless with time' which Luang Por Ajahn Sumedho has referred to in his Dhamma talks in relation to the 'deathless', 'unconditioned', 'unborn' or 'uncreated'.
He continued to live in Alexandria until his death, from cancer of the larynx, in 1933. It is recorded that he received the Holy Communion of the Orthodox Church shortly before dying, and that his last motion was to draw a circle on a blank sheet of paper and then place a period in the middle of the circle.
C. P. Cavafy. Collected Poems, Edited by George Savidis.
Greek (possibly Corinthian) Kylix from 400BC
Spontaneous beach pebble art made in Crete a few years ago