Being offline is an opportunity for a much needed space of quietude and stillness. And it seems that we carry silence within ourselves in personal ways (silence as a listening experience, that is).
Silence is usually associated with lack of sound. We have known for decades that this notion is not quite real. As John Cage recalled in his story, he heard two sounds on a sound-proof chamber: his own nervous system and his own blood circulation, he was explained after he got out. That epiphany from 1952 was groundbreaking for all music that followed and its ripples are still felt. We are always hearing sounds, silence is impossible.
I've been interested in silence for a long time, especially after i got more involved with ways of thinking about sound which are more typical of jazz musicians. I was fascinated with how musicians like Miles Davis would use silence inherently in their musical discourse and how silence around sounds determines their impact and meaning.
So, from a sound-maker's perspective, silence is a sound you don't make, or sound-making inactivity. In other words, it's a relative lack of sound, as every other sounds will continue ocurring. As one decides to be silent, the result is opening up the space to the infinity of sounds happening in that very moment. Sei Miguel, a trumpet player and a master composer, calls that remaining soundscape «a quality of silence», even if it's full of sounds.
For a listener, though, silence has a different nuance. Being true that silence is impossible, it can be discussed whether silence is something that occurs in counsciousness. Therefore, when one is asleep – or dead – one is not hearing sounds, or at least one is not aware of any sounds. Is that silence? As in the thought experiment «If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?» – it surely makes a vibrating wave, but a sound is only a sound when it's heard, so... no, i'd say. And the same must be true for silence; if you are not aware that you are not experiencing the hearing of sound, is that silence? I would say no, because you should be aware of silence for it to be real in your experience.
Leaving that aside behind, silence is then perceived as a quality of quietness. How quiet does it need to get for silence to occur? An empty church? The distant hum of a city? One's bedroom at night? It seems it's up to each of us. For silence to be «silence», it needs to meet each person's own qualifying standards for it. A listening experience that matches one's conception of silence.
The consequence of that is that silence is after all the flipside of noise, for slightly different reasons. Noise is nothing but a sound somebody doesn't want. It's a subjectively dysfunctional attribute of sound, therefore it has no real substance as a thing. Noise doesn't exist. It's interesting that silence in turn, being a hearing experience of sound that matches a subjective idea, doesn't exist either.