Where does music come from?
February 12, 2013
The source of music is silence
“The source of music is silence” – Is this really true or just a poetic statement? I will argue my case through using the language of science.
Music is composed of sound, and sound is nothing but waves. Two sound waves of the same frequency and amplitude with opposite phase cancel each other out and together create silence. This may sound really weird, but science confirms it and calls it “destructive interference”. Below you can see how two identical waves can either amplify or cancel each other out, depending on their phase. Taking this a quantum leap forward, if all possible sound waves were to exist together, they would all cancel each other out and create… silence.
In other words, silence is infinitely dynamic, since it contains all possible sounds. If you listen to the silence, then you have access to all these sounds and can create any piece of music. The natural question that follows is: How do you listen to silence? I would argue that it’s not enough to simply be in a silent room, but that you have to also silence your mind while remaining aware. Being asleep, the mind is silent but there isn’t any awareness. However, in the morning right before fully waking up (especially without an alarm after a good night’s sleep) there can be a brief period where the mind doesn’t hold any thoughts but awareness is still there. This can also happen just before falling asleep, when the last thoughts are gone but awareness is still there.
Meditation, silence and music
I experience this state of consciousness through Transcendental Meditation, a technique I’ve practiced for almost twenty years (since I was six years old). It takes twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening. I’ve found this technique to be the major source of inspiration for my music and songwriting.
When I perform, the silence just before the performance is what creates the connection between me and the audience, and from there the music is born. When I write music, I spend months and sometimes years taking in experiences of the world and soaking up impressions that in a short moment of inspirations gets compiled into a song. To respect and recognize this silent phase of songwriting, is to realize that spending two hours every week writing songs is only the tip of an iceberg for a dedicated musician. Being a musician is a calling that permeates my whole life.
Silence of infinite possibilities
Silence is not just the source of music, but is also an intimate part of any song. Without silence in between notes and words, music would just be noise. Imagine a good song you like with no pauses in between words or notes, and it all suddenly seems very jumbled together and not as enjoyable. A skilled musician can use the silence between words to accentuate what will come next and build up anticipation within the audience, making them wonder and long for what they are about to hear.
To further explain what happens between two sounds I’m going to use a model from Maharishi Vedic Science, called the Fourfold Structure of the Gap. (You can read more on page 9 in Dr. William Sand’s Ph.D. dissertation.)
The first sound fades away into nothingness of all sounds existing simultaneously in a state of silence, and from this state the next sound starts to manifest. What makes this perspective even more interesting is that what goes into the gap – the first sound – is the exact cause of what comes next.
I have had this experience several times when I write music. A song starts in silence with infinite possibilities of what it could become. Then, I have a subtle impulse that makes me sing that first word, strum that first chord or play that first note, and from there the rest of the song flows effortlessly, like a stream bursting out from its spring. There is no doubt about what chord I shall play next, or which word shall follow the previous. They are all connected, and each one is unfolding from what came before.
— Patrik Siljestam
The essay was first published in Patrik Siljestam’s blog, “Sound from the Heart”