Music is very important in my life – I listen to it a lot. I grew up without a tv, and hardly watch any now, which is probably one reason I’ve always listened to a lot of music.
For a long time, I have liked music that is known as Ambient music – a variety of stuff, from the Orb to Clannad, to chilled out country rock, to surf music. I like it as a genre, because it manages to encompass many different genres. You might call it the church ofengland of musical genres, if you felt like it. Ironically of course, broad tastes are catholic tastes.
Brian Eno apparently coined the term ‘ambient’ in the early 1970s, saying that ambient music is: “designed to induce calm and space to think”. Some people sayEno is the father of Ambient, but I would say it was around long before him, it just didnt have a name.
A rguably one of the most important figures in the development of Ambient music was John Cage. And it is Cage’s famous/infamous ‘4.33’ that leads me to my point.
I heard Eno talk recently about how we are all hyper stimulated. We’re subjected to a continuous barrage of digital and video imagery, constant noise, advertising flashes up all around us, and the most ubiquitous gadgets are all to do with the delivery of sound and image.
The Christian tradition places a huge value on silence. Many of us, I am sure, have been on retreats where we have been simply asked to stay silent for a long period of time. And found that experience generally hard, refreshing and exhilharating simultaneously. (Don’t try to look after kids at the same time – its a nightmare!)
Within the confines of an alternative worship environment silence can be very moving too. We used silence in some meetings we had in January, everybody sat, knelt, lay, walked around, silently in a darkened room – we used images too, and interspersed periods of silence with selected pieces of music. I’m sure that this has been done immeasurably better elsewhere many times, but it was the first time for me.
On reflection the times when the room was just very quiet for a long period were perhaps the most invigorating.
I love ambient music, but I love silence too.
Some people judge the quality of music by its complexity of form, or layers of harmony, in many cases it is the simplicity which makes music so wonderful. Like the power of ‘I’m so bored with the USA’ or ‘Pretty Vacant’, or the simple repetition of a Late Late Service meditation track.
One of the greatest albums of all time, is Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue – its a beautiful album. I recall listening to another of his album ‘Sketches Of Spain’ and being really disappointed because it just didnt have the same wonderful simplicty that Kind Of Blue did. I got over it.
So lets continue to embrace simplicity, it has long been a Christian virtue after all.
And while we’re at it, lets increase our embrace of silence.
It really does induce calm, and provide space to think.