John Zorn
John Cage
J-S Bach


The Gift of Silence [donner les bruits]

I'm wondering if silence itself is perhaps the mystery at the heart of music? And is silence the most perfect music of all? (Sting, in his speech on the occasion of his acceptance of an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music on 15 May, 1994.)

[1] What is music? This question investigates the borderline between music and what can no longer be considered music. It is the question of the frame of music since the frame is what distinguishes it as music, what 'produces' music. Without it, music is not music. It can be asked whether the frame is central or marginal, essential or supplemental. The frame itself is not music. Once the frame encloses the music and makes music music, it is external to the music. But as a frame of music, it also belongs to the music. Can we say that the frame is (n)either simply inside (n)or outside music?
What is music? What is the frame of music? In order to answer these questions, music needs to be pushed to its boundaries. This then raises the question of what takes place on the borderline between music and non-music; it is a question of the most intimate and, at the same time, the other of music. It can be said that music is bordered by two distinct entities. On one hand, there are sounds that we no longer consider music: noise. On the other hand, there is the absence of sound: silence. (But exactly how different is this 'other' hand? An important question that will be elaborated upon extensively.) 'Music is inscribed between noise and silence', says Jacques Attali (Attali, p.19). Therefore, in order to gain insight into the musical phenomenon, we need to direct ourselves to those areas where music and noise, music and silence and even silence and noise intersect. (Another conceivable border will not be addressed here: the border between music and (spoken) language and the vague areas where these two meet: in Sprechgesang, ritual chants, proclamations, rap, in projects such as Dieter Schnebel's Glossolalie 61 where the border between music and spoken language is explicitly questioned.)

[2] Music. Privileged over noise and silence. Opposed to noise and silence. Noise and silence seem to be on its outside, excluded in and by music. Through the deconstruction of (hierarchically ordered) binary oppositions, Derrida demonstrates that one pole of such oppositions cannot exist without the other. Indeed, one part is always already part of (the definition of) the other as well. As applied to music, noise and silence have always already been part of music, noise and silence have always already been part of each other. It is this notion that I will develop further and investigate in this section of the site. In My thesis, I express my desire to indicate deconstruction in music by music(ians); can music 'read itself' in a deconstructive way? This implies that I am not solely interested in a verbal, theoretical and discursive deconstruction of the boundaries of music, noise, and silence. Primarily, my attention will focus on musicians and composers who, in and through their music, have explored the diffuse spaces between music, noise and silence, those who have questioned the frame of music out of the musical (as opposed to the textual, another opposition that could be deconstructed), those who have rejected the traditional hierarchical relations of music - noise and music - silence. That is not to say that a musical deconstruction simply seeks to present the illusion of some pure and simple absence of a frame, or that it would re-frame music with some perfect, apt and truthful new frame. A deconstructive strategy will consist of examining whether it is at all possible to create a frame that would indeed lay down an unequivocal definition. Deconstruction exposes us to the inescapable situation of uncertainty and indeterminateness that we face when we want to distinguish music from noise, music from silence, noise from silence.

[3] The works of the American composer, John Cage, have increased our understanding of the problems involved in defining music, noise and silence. Therefore, his oeuvre will be prominently featured in this section.
As a way of introducing the outlined problems, I will give attention to the ways in which various thinkers of music have expressed themselves in relation to defining music. For the purpose of evaluating the deconstruction of the borders of music, noise and silence, I have outlined a number of definitions of music that can be found on the page entitled What is music?