Modern cities are typically designed with functionality and aesthetics in mind but few architects ever consider the city’s acoustic ecology. Living in a society where loud is proud and everything is turned up to eleven, our senses are routinely assaulted by clatter on a daily basis; from the harsh noises that emanate from our alarms and apps to the ceaseless hum of conversation, traffic-noise and media outlets that have so come to define urban living. So desensitised to this commotion are we that rarely do we stop to reflect on the impact of living ‘plugged-in’ lives; needlessly adding an additional layer of personalised noise to the already cacophonous cityscapes we inhabit.
Although medical experts now contend that such increases in daily noise can lead to elevated stress-levels and even heighten the risk of heart attack, in a world where silence is often defined as the mere absence of sound it is hard for many to imagine the pursuit o something so ineffable. Enter filmmaker Patrick Shen who asserts that embracing silence is not just a kind of spiritual luxury but in fact a necessity for growth and rejuvenation – essential for all human wellbeing.
Based on George Prochnik’s best-selling novel of the same name, In the Pursuit of Silence offers a philosophical rumination on the modern day values of silence. Traversing the globe, Shen intercuts stunning imagery of the stillness and grandeur of the natural world with an exploration of various historical and cultural treatments of silence over the ages. In doing so, he surveys subjects ranging from John Cage’s avant-garde composition 4’33 (which involves musicians sitting in silence for four minutes and thirty three seconds) and Anechoic Chambers (the most sound-proof spaces in the world) to the application of silence in Zen Buddhism and tea ceremonies. The film also introduces us to swathe of beguiling characters: a sound technician working at Denali National Park and a hitchhiker who after taking a vow of silence, travels without uttering a word, are highlights – each coming to embody the real world benefits that an engagement in silence can have on our lives.
Visually resplendent, this contemplative study of the nature of silence presents a truly transformative cinematic experience, inviting us to closely examine the psychic opposition between sound and silence, unplug our devices and leave the theatre to encounter the world renewed.