Silence Speaks Volumes

Photo courtesy of nlewis039 on Creative Commons

An article I wrote for the San Francisco Classical Voice. Scheduling complications killed the article shortly before the event.

Musicians have been forever teetering along the compendium of silence and sound. ‘Quiet,’ insofar as it relates to contemporary classical music, dances on the divide between intellectualism and brute sensation (an ‘either or’ and never the twain shall meet). In silence, or perhaps the austere, classical music blooms. In silence, abstract is internalized. In silence, the ear finds its holy land.

And yet this isn’t quite the case. Even in our separate solitudes, in the spaces we carve for silence and reflection, we’re greeted with loud and aggressive forces competing for our attention. Noise without sound. In music: the precipice of Cage’s creative catharsis 4’33’’.

It is also the niche Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) hopes to explore in Smart Night Out, a scattered reintroduction to our senses in the form of a contemporary arts happening.

YBCA turns the hallowed space of art exhibition on its head. With an assortment of art performances aimed in the deconstruction of art consumption itself, YBCA creates a space voided of the typical, mechanized modes we use to absorb art. And in this disquieting, uncomfortable silence between experience and memory is something quite unique.

“We were inspired by the current exhibit we have up right now by a Chinese artist named Song Dong,” said Nick Colin, Community Engagement Associate at YBCA on Dad and Mom, Don’t Worry About Us, We Are All Well. “We were thinking about how to bring energy and audience to this show and how to relate an event that’s a social event with an aesthetic that’s related to [Song Dong]—one of quiet, one of peace, one of meditation, one of solitude. And so that got us thinking in terms of Smart Night Out, and how to create an environment that was at once social, but also meditative.”

So came a series of activities and workshops in congress with the ‘quiet’ concept.

“It started with Joanna, actually,” Colin recounted of Smart Night choreographer Joanna Haigood. “She became really fascinated and bewitched by the Song Dong exhibit [and] was interested in creating an interactive piece that [used the] Song Dong exhibit as a jumping off point.”

For her portion of the exhibit, Haigood has created a series of meditative movement exercises she calls ‘poetic haunts.’ Gathering inspiration from exhibits both past and present, Haigood invites individuals to haunt YBCA both in creative spirit and as reflecting its former tenants. Movements are related to participants on picture cards rather than through verbal command.

“It will be an interactive, engaging experience, but it will also be quiet and be a group experience,” Colin explained. “It embodies ‘being alone together,’ which is another goal [of ours].”

In this capacity too, Smart Night Out explores ideas of communication and structure. Haigood invites audience members to conform to the rules of choreography, but invites creativity and communal creation.

Silent Disco, another Smart Night activity, builds upon the idea of isolated engagement. Individuals are invited to groove to the sounds of Hard French and Kid Kameleon, as transmitted through rented headphones.

“My first impression was that this was an anti-social, weird, depressing manifestation of our obsession with technology in every form,” Colin said curtly. “We [are] so inward, so insular, so cut-off that we have to wear headphones all the time, even at clubs. But what I’ve learned is that discos are actually even more social, engaging, and collaborative than your typical dance party.”

“It’s no secret that we’re super connected technologically, spiritually, physically in our contemporary lives,” Colin continued. “It’s something we all understand and recognize, but something that we all universally have trouble dealing with and subverting—the invasiveness of relentless connectivity in our lives. So I think the solution doesn’t have to be high-tech, the solution doesn’t have to be overwrought or necessarily high-concept. It’s about scaling back and it’s about not responding immediately to. It’s about being quiet. It’s about taking time to reflect as opposed to refine.”

Silence is an invaluable element to the creation, appreciation, and performance of music; so anytime artists, of any genre, pick it up and mold it into awkward and interesting shapes it’s worth noticing.

“I think it’s valuable for any person involved in the arts, and especially music, to come to events like these at culture centers to see first-hand how cultural centers in the 21st century are engaging audiences,” Colin said. “And I think it’s a valuable lesson to see how arts centers, museums, and cultural centers are responding to audiences’ changing needs and changing expectations especially as an arts-creator.”

“It’s important to be cognizant of trends and trajectories that culture centers are creating and following,” Colin continued. “That theme, that concept that these artist and workshop leaders are grasping at, not necessarily in a musical context, but in a theoretical context, I think, will be enriching and fodder for musical exploration.”

Smart Night Out debuts at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission St, San Francisco) on May 28, 7-11:30pm. Admission is free with RSVP. Visit for more information.


One thought on “Silence Speaks Volumes

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