Julien Bayle – Violent Grains of Silence

Posted: 1 December 2018 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Elli Records – EL07 – 13th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Silence has long intrigued us. Variations of the philosophical question, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ have been a subject of contemplation since the 18th Century. As much as this ponderance is concerned with perception rather than the existence of silence, it does also hint at the idea that sounds are only what we hear. Does silence actually exist? In an evermore noisy world, the possibility of silence seems to have diminished beyond the vanishing point. And the more impossible its attainment becomes, the more we seek and desire it. And yet, at the same time, some people fear silence, even if only subconsciously.

In my own experience, even a moment of peace is conspicuous by its mere existence. My attempts to escape the noise of the world invariably prove futile; the babble of the office, the endless throng and thrum of traffic and people on the journeys there and back; a wife and child and general domestic noise on either side of those. Taking refuge in my office, I spend my evenings listening to music, the whirr of my laptop’s fan and the click of the hard drive a constant even when the music stops, while dogs bark outside and neighbours clatter around in their kitchens on either side. The lived experience is one of no escape, and no respite, and one which confirms the myth of silence.

Much meditation and mindfulness is concerned with seeking silence, if only internally, and musical experiments with silence have been manifold, although perhaps most famously by John Cage. It was on visiting an anechoic chamber – a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes, and also externally sound-proofed – at Harvard University and Cage’s realisation of the impossibility of silence that prompted the composition of ‘4’33”’.

It was a similar room – this time at the Mechanical & Acoustic Research Lab LMA-CNRD in France – which not only inspired Julien Bayle to explore silence, but provided the source material for the album, captured during two hours of silence in the room. The results – as the title hints – are anything but silent.

As the text which accompanies the release explains, ‘Tiny random variations of physical electronic noises coming from the recording system itself, as uncontrolled spectres haunting the wires, have been captured and amplified, cut into tiny slices and grains, and used, both as basic sound sources feeding the Bayle’s machinery, and as modulation sources influencing pre-existing sound textures and continua performed live by the artist.’ Evoking Cage, it suggests ‘Violent Grains of Silence is the interpretation of the impossibility of silence by Julien Bayle’.

From what appears as nothing on the surface, Bayle has not only created something, but something immense. Violent Grains of Silence is not a hushed, tranquil work, but one of volume and great sonic turbulence. Violent is indeed an appropriate descriptor. Violent Grains comprises a series pieces through which whispering, grumbling, crackling, groaning, droning sounds swirl and eddy. There are crackling blasts of explosive static, grinding, electric, metal-edged abrasions – ‘Distr’ is a particularly blistering burst of coruscating noise. ‘Unpr’ buzzes and fizzes and thunders, a heavy barrage of low-end sounds creating the effect of an arrhythmic percussion.

Amplification counts for a lot, but it’s only possibly to amplify something which already exists. And so it is that Bayle has created a work which is rich in texture and tone, dynamic and at times disturbing.

This is truly the sound of silence. And the silence is at times deafening.

AA

Julien Bayle - Violent Grains

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