In Pursuit of Silence (2015) Movie Script

HELEN LEES: I was lucky to
live in a house
when I was growing up
as a child
that was located
in quite a silent location.
There was also a good view
out of my bedroom window.
And I guess, as a young child,
I fell in love with it.
But I didn't know
what that meant at all.
I didn't even know what it was,
to be honest.
So, how do you talk coherently
about silence?
You could talk about silence...
Does it exist
in a decibel sense?
A noise sense,
or a lack of noise sense?
And the literature is clear that
silence doesn't exist
in that sense.
The etymological roots
of the word for silence
are somewhat contested.
There are two words
in particular
that people go back to.
There's the Gothic
term ana-silan,
and then desinere.
One of them has to do with
the wind dying down
and the other has to do with
a kind of stopping of motion.
They're both to do with an
interruption, not just of sound,
but the roots of silence
are also to do with
the interruption of our own...
The imposition of our own egos
on the world.
MAGGIE ROSS: Almost all of
the early theologians
talk about the ultimate
worship of God is silence.
And that God dwells in
the silence of eternity.
The history of monastic life
is as old as the history
of the human race.
I think the whole history
of shamans
is a history of
a kind of proto-monasticism
where someone in the tribe
has clearly, evidently,
a facility with silence
and a facility
with understanding the unspoken
processes of the world.
Retreating from
the cacophony of the world
is stepping towards
everything that's essential.
It's about stepping
towards the world
and really about learning
how to love the world again.
SUSAN CAIN: Historically,
solitude has always had
an exalted place in our culture
and it's really only recently
that it has fallen from grace
and now needs to be restored
to its rightful place.
You look at all
the religious traditions,
Buddha, Jesus and
Mohammed, Moses,
these were all seekers
who would go off into the woods,
think their thoughts,
have their revelations,
and then come back
and share those revelations
with the wider world.
We lose a lot
when we don't allow people...
Not just allow,
but encourage people
to go off by themselves.
You know, whether literally into
the woods, or metaphorically,
to just go
and chart your own journey
and do it by yourself.
There are certain paths
in this life
that you've got to walk alone
and that's the only way
to do them.
Through Zen, you need to feel
the silence with your body,
experience it every day,
and then it becomes part of you.
That is what practicing Zen
is about.
That is the life with Zen.
You honestly
and genuinely
live everyday life
through silence.
It's not like you are just
being silent and do nothing.
Would you tell
our panel, please,
what your name is
and where you're from?
My name is John Cage.
I'm from Stony Point, New York.
He is probably the
most controversial figure
in the musical world today
and when you hear
his performance,
if you'll forgive me,
you will understand why.
The instruments
that he will use
include a water pitcher,
an iron pipe,
a goose call, a bathtub,
five radios all hooked up
and a grand piano.
Between 1950 and 1952,
when Cage created his
most important piece of music,
Cage had
a series of revelations.
And the revelations informed
the rest of his life
and they informed
the rest of his music, too.
He'd been interested in
silence for a long time
and he had been appreciating
noise for a long time.
So, he had this dualism
about silence versus noise.
So, he was looking for silence
as an alternative to noise.
When he ventured into
an anechoic chamber in Boston,
he was looking for
the quietest place on Earth,
because Ramakrishna had said,
"Find the silence
and you will find God."
JOHN CAGE: And I heard,
in that room, two sounds.
One was high and one was low.
And I thought there was
something wrong with the room.
I went outside
and found the engineer in charge
and he said the high one was
your nervous system in operation
and the low one
was your blood circulating.
KAY LARSON: He realizes
that silence is an abstraction,
it's a human concept,
and what's actually happening
is that
Cage and his own body
and his own being
are completely
interconnected with all beings
and all bodies of beings,
and that everyone
shares the same ground.
Then it became clear that...
That the function of art
is not to communicate one's
personal ideas or feelings,
but rather to imitate nature
in her manner of operation.
LARSON: Cage's most important
piece of music is,
as many people know,
actually not music at all.
It's four and a half minutes
of silence.
When Cage
first performed that piece
with David Tudor as his pianist,
he performed it
in Woodstock, New York,
at a little barn called
Maverick Concert House,
and the audience went berserk.
This is 1952. August 29, 1952.
DAVID TUDOR: They were incensed.
They were in an uproar
over the performance.
And afterwards, John opened
the floor to questions.
One of the artists got up
and said,
"Good people of Woodstock,
"I think we should
run these people out of town."
That was the reaction. (LAUGHS)
PICO IYER: Silence is where
we hear something deeper
than our chatter.
And silence is where we speak
something deeper than our words.
All of us know that the most
essential things in life
are exactly what
we can't express.
Our relation to faith,
our relation to love,
our relation to death,
our relation to divinity.
I think silence is the resting
place of everything essential.
ROSS: For the first,
I don't know how many,
hundred thousand years
of human life,
when we were out
on the savanna,
learning about the forest,
silence was essential
to our survival.
So, silence is
our natural milieu,
and the farther we get
away from silence,
the more we lose our humanity.
PUNDIT ON TV: I want you
to answer the questions!
I want you
to answer the questions!
- Was there...
- WOMAN: Do I believe...
- I'm giving you an opportunity.
- This is how to ask it.
This is how you need...
I'm giving you an opportunity.
I'm doing the interview, Dana.
- But you weren't there...
- I don't need to...
PROCHNIK: American individualism
now has become
more and more associated with
our right and our
almost social obligation
to impose our will on the world,
to get out our thoughts,
to not hesitate, to not be shy.
In race after race,
bottom line...
- In race after race...
- Third card trick...
In race after race,
- When it comes to women.
- Winning over women...
There is such an intense,
overwhelming drive
to contribute our
little ricocheting response
to this soul-crushing din
of the moment.
- ...over me. You're not...
- One of the specific plans...
- You're not gonna filibuster.
- I'm not going to let you do it.
- Ed, Ed, Ed!
Let me answer your question
you asked me earlier.
- I'll go back to this question.
Throughout Japanese history,
there has been an appreciation
of softer, quieter
registers of being.
One of the most
signal instances of this
is really in relationship
to the tea ceremony.
One of the most
important masters, Sen Rikyu,
lived at a time
of incredible martial activity
among different samurai groups.
And part of his interest
in developing the tea ceremony,
in the ways that he did,
was to cultivate
an appreciation for silence
and silence's relationship
to a more
pacific environment
in general.
When guests entered
the tea room,
they would remove
their katana swords.
All of the participants
leave behind
their social status,
and other such concerns
when they enter the tea room.
The participants concentrate
on the moment,
finding awareness
of how each of them
is contributing to this
singular, living experience.
That is what's being experienced
amidst the silence
of the tea ceremony.
As a result,
there are no selfish desires
or thoughts of personal gain,
only the peaceful world
inside the tea room.
LEES: Silence allows everybody
to have
equal platform and equal voice
because if nobody is talking,
nobody is dominating.
Silence is a sound,
and I think it's a sound
with many qualities.
I think if we start to cultivate
an appreciation of silence
as the precious thing it is,
and enjoy it
for a few minutes a day,
then it gives us a proper
relationship with sound,
with noise, with our own sound.
It allows us to be
much more balanced
in the way that we
relate to the world,
much more conscious.
PROCHNIK: When we throw
around the term of silence,
we may, in the first instance,
imagine that we're seeking
some kind of absolute quiet,
but very, very few people
look for that.
What we're looking,
I came to believe,
is really more for a kind
of balance in our environment.
It's the particular balance
of sound and quiet
that maximizes our perceptual
awareness of where we are.
Sounds a little bit like
one of those toys you see,
and you shake it,
and it's like a little...
Kind of like that sort of a...
Kind of one of those...
Well, probably should
leave him be, I suppose.
The first superintendent
of this park, Harry Karstens,
he was very aware
of the solitude
and quietude of this place.
And he had an interesting
quote in 1924,
when he said,
"There is much to learn
by those who understand
"the language of
the great silent places."
Oftentimes, I make measurements
that can be as low as 13,
14 decibels in the wintertime.
And in the summertime, might be
in the 20-25 decibel range.
As the background
level decreases,
your listening area increases.
In a really still environment,
you've got this situation
where you're
very large, acoustically.
You can detect these very
minute sounds from far away
and it gives you
this incredible sense of space,
this openness.
So, you know,
we exist in the world,
and to be able to
explore that world
with an unbroken attention,
I think that's one of the things
that both silence,
and an intact soundscape,
protects that
sort of exploration.
I guess I got hooked on birds
when I was about eight.
I heard the sound of a bird
bathing in a woods pool
behind my house in Virginia,
and I did sort of a jungle crawl
under all this catbrier
and I came out onto
this little blue-winged Warbler
bathing in a forest pool,
and it was the most
beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
I really like
being in quiet places
because I use my ears
for everything.
Primitive man,
if you didn't pay attention
to every little thing
around you,
you were going to be
in trouble really fast,
or you weren't going to
find anything to eat.
And I think, for me,
it's a question of
keeping in touch
with those primal instincts
and just always being ready
for whatever comes your way.
I call what I do
the art of disappearing.
It's a situational awareness,
it's a richness of being,
it's a tapping into
this great show
that's going on
all around you.
There's that herring.
These very quiet environments
offer tremendous
opportunities for listening,
but they're also the most
fragile resources we have.
Certainly, the physical beings
we are,
we're built to function
in these places
and to hear
those distant sounds.
If we really lose touch
with our senses,
with our capacity
for deep listening,
I think we'll lose
a large piece of who we are,
certainly of the animals
we once were.
It's just like our muscles,
and if it happens over time,
across generations,
it may not be easily reversed.
To lose our connection with
the world through our senses,
I think would be
a terrible loss,
and everyone knows this.
I mean, the prospect
of being blinded or deafened
I think would be
terrifying to most people.
But in fact,
it may be happening
in a much more
subtle way already.
We humans lived in nature
for seven million years.
Following the
industrial revolution
modernization began
which led to urbanization.
Big cities like
Shibuya started to appear,
and at the same time, started to
create overwhelming noise.
Evolution even causes
our genes to change.
But this change doesn't occur
in just hundreds of years.
It's believed to take 10,000 to
30,000 years for this to happen.
In other words,
we're still carrying the genes
which allow us
to adapt to nature
while we are living in
this artificial modern world.
I believe
that humans originally,
from a genetic point of view
prefer silence.
We prefer this,
the silence of nature.
Historically the forest
has been understood
simply as a "nice and
relaxing place to go"
based on our experience.
However, it's more than that.
It's preventive medicine.
The forest's healing effect
comes with the ability
to prevent illness.
It's not that it will
cure the illness,
but it will reduce stress and
strengthen the immune system,
preventing people
from getting sick.
What is central to this
whole situation we live in
is silence.
And that the sounds
that we notice
are merely bubbles on the
surface of silence that burst.
Silence doesn't really exist.
Silence is sounds.
If I stop talking, for instance,
now we hear
the sounds of Sixth Avenue.
Sound is affecting
our brain waves,
our heart rate, our breathing,
our hormone secretions.
All of our physical rhythms
are being affected by sound
outside us all the time.
A sudden noise, for example...
So, anybody watching that
probably had a little shot of
cortisol, fight/flight hormone.
And that happens to us
a lot in cities.
On the other hand,
if you imagine surf,
that would calm you down,
in fact even send you to sleep.
Many people will
go to sleep to surf.
So, physiologically
sound affects us,
that's the first way.
Second is psychologically.
It changes our mood,
our feelings.
Music does that.
So do other things,
like birdsong.
The third way that sound
affects us is cognitively.
So, you can't understand two
people talking at the same time.
We've got a huge
storage space in our brain,
but the auditory input channel
is quite limited
in its bandwidth.
Roughly 1.6 human conversations.
Of course, we have no ear-lids.
- Therefore if we're in an office
and we hear somebody talking
and they're taking up
one of our 1.6,
it doesn't leave us
with much bandwidth
to listen to our internal voice
where we're trying to
write something
or calculate something.
And the final way sound
affects us is behaviorally.
We'll move away
from unpleasant sound.
We'll move, if we can,
towards pleasant sound.
Here in London, they have about
140 Tube stations
with classical music
playing in them now
because the research has shown
that classical music
reduces vandalism.
If you put pounding music on
and you're driving,
then suddenly
you'll drive faster.
That kind of behavioral change
happens to us all the time.
a physical phenomenon, right?
And when the sound hits the ear,
the ear physiologically
picks up the sound
brings it to the brain
and the sound is identified.
When does it become noise?
That's a different part
of the brain.
That's the part of the brain
that says,
you know,
this particular sound
is intruding on
what I'm trying to do.
This is unwanted,
unpleasant sound.
REPORTER: It is official,
Arrowhead Stadium is again
the loudest outdoor stadium
in the world.
Fans reached 142.2 decibels,
beating the
Seattle Seahawks fans
who previously had that record.
To put this amount of noise
in perspective for you,
it is more than a jet engine
and far more than the human
pain tolerance of the ear,
which is why the Chiefs
passed out about 36,000 earplugs
but that's only enough
for half of all these people
that were inside tonight.
PROCHNIK: I came to feel that
one way of articulating
the presence of noise
is to think about sound
that gets inside of you,
and for the time it's there,
dominates all of your
perceptual apparatus.
It might be bad,
it might be good,
you might be
in the mood for it or not,
but it's consuming you,
it's taking over your heartbeat
or at least taking over
your attention.
Almost everybody knows
that education is
very, very, very important.
But with the train passing by
every, like, two minutes,
you can't hear some things
that could be
very, very important
to know when you grow older.
TEACHER: That's right.
Okay, so she said...
the internal maximum that the
city recommends is 35 decibels.
It's routinely over 85,
with the windows closed!
When the windows are open,
it's routinely in the 90s,
and this school doesn't have
any air conditioning,
so in August and September
and May and June,
those windows
have to be open
or it's unbearable
in the classrooms.
PROCHNIK: When people make
decisions in noise,
and this has been shown
again and again,
their decisions are reactive.
PAUL BARACH: Noise is a
huge issue because it constantly
envelops everything we do.
It surrounds us.
There's technical
elements, devices,
pumps, alarms,
physical environment,
in combination with humans
that make mistakes.
We see very clearly anxiety,
delays in decision making,
errors in receiving information,
errors in
transmitting information,
errors in calculations
of medication dosages,
and a whole series
of other downstream problems
because of confusion caused by
the overall external noise.
loudest city in the world
according to an
official statement
of the
Central Pollution Control Board.
We have a whole range
of festivals in India.
We call them traditional,
but traditionally
we didn't have loudspeakers.
I could say it
in terms of decibel levels,
but I think I should just say
that if you were to stand
right next to a jet engine
for a long period of time,
that's what your house
would be like
for at least three months
during the festival season.
And people can't bear it.
People in hospital,
there have been
instances of people
who have died
due to heart attacks.
The Supreme Court of India
first took notice of noise
when a 10-year-old girl
was raped during a festival
and her screams couldn't be
heard because of the noise.
PROCHNIK: If you look
at what's happening today,
I think we're in
a kind of frenzied echo chamber.
Visually, it's busier.
Acoustically it's busier
and louder.
CARA BUCKLEY: You just want
to go buy a sweater
and you're bombarded
with loud music.
There are decibel ratings in
New York restaurants of 90 now.
You're screaming at somebody
from a foot away to be heard.
Technically, in those
New York restaurants,
all the waiters
should be going around
with hearing protectors on.
BUCKLEY: Obviously,
when you move to New York,
you're moving to a loud city.
It's the biggest, most vibrant
city in the country.
It's famously loud,
it famously never sleeps.
But what has seemed to happen
over the years,
what has changed is noise has
become more ubiquitous,
and we seem to be
almost desensitized to it.
Do you want me to ask
the neighbors? Is that sound...
MAN: Yeah, is that the thumping?
LEES: Why should we
always be stimulated,
or more and more stimulated,
so it'll reach a fever pitch...
Then what happens?
Where do you go next?
PROCHNIK: There is a tinier
and tinier space
for reflective thought.
WOMAN: The planes start
at 6:03 in the morning.
They usually stop
at midnight,
but sometimes they go
to 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
I did not sign up
for this kind of noise.
Nobody did.
They are making these
precision lanes in the sky.
Right now that lane
is over my house.
Five years from now
it's going to be over your house
because those lanes
are going to be multiplied
by 10 fold, 20 fold, 50 fold.
Recent research
is building on the foundation
of really now
almost 50 years of research
that suggested that
there are more serious
health effects related to noise.
Hypertension of
high blood pressure,
and even more recently
there is a very
convincing effect
of particularly transport noise,
road traffic noise, on the risk
of cardiovascular disease,
of heart attacks,
myocardial infarction,
and even death from noise.
Noise kills. And that's right,
this is what we have shown,
that noise causes heart disease.
People don't die
from one day to another
because they visit a noisy area.
If the noise stress
becomes chronic,
if it's persistent
over many years,
all of a sudden
you may have a heart attack,
due to the chronic stress.
You don't get used to it.
You cope with it.
TREASURE: Something in
your brain is having to go,
"I'm not listening to that.
I'm still not listening to that.
"I'm definitely not
listening to that."
And it takes effort.
Somewhere there's mental effort
going on to screen it out.
That's 102 decibels going out.
I guess the question
that is on everyone's mind
is why I'm doing this.
I could say that it's, you know,
merely a response
to something like a culture
that's more concerned about
material things and leisure
and less with reflection
and introspection.
I could say that
it has something to do
with some inner turmoil
of my own,
that it's me
trying to figure out my life.
Honestly, nothing quite
seems to do it for me.
I'm not really sure
why I feel I need to do it.
I have this feeling
that it has a lot of potential
to be something
really meaningful for me,
and hopefully for other people.
LEES: Silence returns us
to what is real.
This is how I see it.
IYER: Silence is a journey
into the wilderness
and into the dark.
You can't be sure what you're
going to encounter there,
and I think many people
are rightly wary of silence
because we use noise
as a distraction and an evasion.
Silence is a journey right into
the heart of your being.
LEES: If you allow
silence to circulate,
particularly among people,
what you're going to discover
is that your mind
becomes aware
of what the truth is.
And sometimes truth
is not that sugar-coated.
Sometimes you have to
face the truth
that things are not going the
way that you might want
and that you're losing
or you're failing,
or they are.
You might feel out of control
because when silence circulates,
it makes you aware that you're
not that in control
of anything, really.
So it puts people
against a wall and says,
"This is you and you're human
and you're existing right now
"and this is your reality.
Do you like it?"
And often people say "No."
PROCHNIK: I guess that
I would argue in defense
of pursuing
the experience regardless.
That we have such a deficit
of that kind of encounter
in our lives right now.
We have so little that is
opening out onto
something larger.
We tend to have substituted
human experience with
technological experience.
ROSS: We think all this noise
and artifice is human,
but it's not.
It takes us away
from what is human.
There's nothing wrong with it,
but we tend to live
via our ingenuity
instead of
being our own truth.
So much in the ways
that we exist,
particularly our forms
of digital connectivity,
take us out of ourselves
all the time, all the time.
And that's a different
kind of desert,
and ultimately to me,
it's a much more
frightening desert.
Because that's a desert
in which our individual self
is just obliterated
in a circuit of constant
very, very surface-level
communication with others.
IYER: The information revolution
came without a manual,
and I think we are all
noticing that machines
can give us
pretty much everything
except a sense of how to make
discerning use of machines,
and that at some level,
we have to go offline
to collect ourselves
to begin to know how to navigate
the ever more complicated
and accelerating online world.
In the 21st century,
I think the need for silence is
more urgent than it's ever been.
There tends to be a big
technological discussion
about computers
and whether they're good
or they're bad,
and I think that's
sort of a silly discussion.
But there should be a discussion
about how much time
you spend in the real world
and how much time you withdraw.
And I think that's going to be
a very significant predictor
of the earlier onset of dementia
and other declines in aging
than has ever happened before.
As we say...
Modern people don't feel moved
or impressed just by living.
In order to do so,
we need to keep the silence
and examine ourselves.
PROCHNIK: We have less silence,
and by that I mean
that the fabric of noise
is more constant and pervasive.
This shift to
a constant envelopment
within a band of noise
that's too much,
I think is what's
really driving us crazy.
TREASURE We just build these
cities willy-nilly. Tire noise,
diesel sound, that kind of stuff
is all around us all the time.
Architecture to a large degree
is about the
visual impact of things.
So, it's about the
visual impact of the faade.
It's about the visual impact
of the big public spaces.
It's really not about
the user's experience.
It's really not
about perceptual comfort.
It's really not about
the user preference.
You know, in the UK
architects train for five years
and they spend one day
on sound in five years.
It's no wonder
they're entirely ocular.
You ask an architect
what he's working on,
he'll show you a picture.
People speak
at somewhere between
55 and 65 decibels usually,
and often the heating and
cooling system in the building
is louder than that.
This is absolutely
not an argument
for everywhere being quiet
or everywhere being the same
or that there's some sort of
panacea magic soundscape
or that we want to
manipulate citizens
into a Nineteen Eighty-four
zombie state
or anything like that.
If we all start taking on
designing with sound
we will have a huge profusion
of amazing sound to enjoy.
Just like we have a huge
profusion of furniture to enjoy.
And just in the same way,
I think we'll have a million
different soundscapes
that you'll be able to buy
or download or stream.
is the new award program
from the UK's
Noise Abatement Society
that awards the quietest,
low-noise technology
across over 35 categories
of product design,
and also solutions
to unwanted noise.
Everything from home appliances,
airplanes, cars,
to the way we build houses
with the materials.
I think ultimately consumers
want more peace and quiet.
And we've reached a point where
we have got so many
extraordinary layers
of technology around us
helping us,
like a technology golden age,
but the noise of those
machines have become
almost too much for us
to really cope with,
or we don't really know
what we're coping with.
LEES: A lot of items
are made these days
without an awareness
of their volume.
You put them all together,
it's a cacophony,
it's not a symphony.
We made this car the smallest
mobile anechoic chamber.
We put a lot of effort
in modifying the materials
which are used in the car
to get a very quiet and relaxing
atmosphere in the car.
MAN: It's not only the design
outside the appliances,
it's not only
the user interface,
it's the whole package,
and sound is very important
these days
for the whole package.
It's not only
the decibels we measure,
but it's also the quality
of the sound we measure.
WOMAN: We are hoping
that we can reduce
our noise impact,
through our aircraft,
for the people
in our neighborhoods
by 75% by 2020.
Silence is available to everyone
and it is never too late
to seek silence.
It isn't true that it's
a rich man's plaything.
If you really want to learn
the worth of silence,
then you will use your ingenuity
to find a place and a time
for that silence.
CAGE: All of us have changed
in the time since 4'33" was
first made in the early '50s.
We have less...
We have less confidence.
Now in time,
as it goes into the future,
we wonder, for instance,
how long the future will be.
We don't take for granted
that it will be forever.
We wonder whether we've...
You might say, we wonder
whether we have
ruined the silence.
LARSON: 4'33 has been performed
all over the world
in all kinds of circumstances.
Some of them very casual,
some of them,
like Carnegie Hall, very formal.
But people
now respect this piece.
People sit very quietly for it.
It's as though without knowing
anything about Cage's history
and why he came
to this realization,
it's as though people
get a piece
of that realization themselves.
"Oh, yeah, four minutes and
33 seconds of meditation
"in which everyone
is silent together."
It's the most
extraordinary thing,
to be in a place
where it's being performed.
What you feel
is the entire audience
just listening to absolutely
everything that happens.
You just sense
this breathing organism
of people and this place,
sharing this moment.
Well, that's one of the most
extraordinary performances
I've ever experienced
here in the Barbican Hall.
4'33" by John Cage.
ROSS: If we could all learn
the work of silence,
we'd take an awful lot
of pressure off of our planet.
There wouldn't be this constant
seeking, seeking, seeking
for something else
to fill up that empty space,
when what will fill up
the empty space
is actually going
into the empty space.
We do need to adjust
to our environment.
We also need to learn
to be able to be silent
and to draw on
the Wellspring of silence
when the environment
isn't conducive to silence.
IYER: In a world of movement,
stillness has become
a great luxury,
and in a world of distraction,
it's attention that
we're hungering for.
And in a world of noise,
silence calls us
like a beautiful piece of music
on the far side
of the mountains.
It's not some kind of exoticism,
esoteric practices
in a coded language.
It's as simple as
shifting your attention
from the things that
cause noise in your life
to the vast
interior spaciousness
which is our natural silence.
It's this process of ungrasping,
it's the process
of opening your hand,
it's the process of
unclenching a fist.