What is the power of silence?

Dr Naomi Woo

Silence is one of the most important elements when writing music and silent compositions like John Cage’s 4’33” can transform our perspective of what music is and help us to develop a more nuanced understanding of the world.

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The inaudible breath taken just before a sentence is spoken. The pregnant pause as an orchestra is about to cut through a packed audience poised for high drama and the auditorium, totally still, but fizzing with electricity before erupting into a deafening applause. Silence allows us to enjoy sound, it is one of the most important elements when writing music and in the moment, is unquantifiably beautiful. 

Eastern philosophies have always embraced the importance of silence and throughout history, this has worked its way into Japanese and Chinese music. Profoundly influenced by Eastern practise, composer and music theorist, John Cage’s magnum opus 4’33”, set the tone for avant garde music in the western world and proved that silence is not the opposite of sound.

In this Garden Talk and using Cage’s silent piece as a reference, conductor, pianist, and musicologist, Dr Naomi Woo explores how silence can transform our perspective of what music is and how compositions such as these can help us to develop a more nuanced understanding of the world around us.

Talk outline

Duration

50 minutes

Collection

Music, Mind & Body

About the Fellow

Dr Naomi Woo

Dr Naomi Woo holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Gates Cambridge Scholar. She has also studied mathematics, philosophy and music at Yale College, the Yale School of Music and Université de Montréal.

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Music, Mind & Body Collection

Why does music have such an enormous impact on our minds and bodies? From its effect on our memories, to the science behind our favourite earworms and most heartfelt break-up songs, this series examines how music moves and changes us in unexpected ways.

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