Monday, October 10, 2011

In pursuit of silence: Listening for meaning in a world of noise

By George Prochnik

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I jog in the morning between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. before the expressway (just less than a mile from our housing development) expresses its presence by the low and fairly constant cacophony of truck and automobile noise and between the times when trains, passing through our small village (about 3 or 4 miles from our house) signal their warning at each intersection.  In general, it is a time of near silence when few, if any, other cars are on the roads and no other joggers break my concentration.

I am often asked why I jog at such an early hour, and the comfort of the silence (and dark) easily justify the choice.  It is a time away from the various assaults on my senses of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, talkaholics, cars with boom boxes, traffic, trains, planes, and the continually annoying din of the media.

Why is my experience relevant to this book review?  Because I — or my experience — could have been just one more adventure the author, Prochnik, made in his “pursuit of silence.”  In his book, Prochnik suggests “that silence can exert a positive influence on our individual lives and our relationship to the world” (p. 14).  I support that conclusion with more than 30 years of jogging experience as evidence.

His experiences included a visit to the New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, the Barton Creek Square mall in Austin, Texas, Paley Park on East Fifty-third Street, just across Fifth Avenue from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Explosive Sound and Video, thirty miles from Cape Canaveral, just off Martin Luther King Boulevard, near the border between Seffner and Mango, in central Florida, Noise-Con 2008 in Dearborn, Michigan, Br el & Kjaier’s (B&K’s) global headquarter’s on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Portland’s Japanese Garden in Oregon, and the Sorenson Language and Communication Center at Gallaudet University, to name just a few sites on his “pursuit.”

The writing in the book is extraordinary: elegant, engaging, and humorous.  Also, Prochnik not only tells great stories along with his personal insights and adventures, but he cites numerous studies as he examines the scientific, sociological, and spiritual aspects of sound in addition to the political history of sound management.

In her five-star review of this book at , Dr. Debra Jan Bibel, who bills herself as “World Music Explorer, writes: “This book is important and should serve as warning. As Prochnik points out, it is an old story; only now the problem is becoming more acute as people have become desensitized to noise.”

Benjamin Swet concluded his five-star review of the book at Amazon, saying, “Entertaining and authoritative, with forays into science, philosophy, and the inner ear, this hopeful look at the contemporary American scene made me think in new ways about the possibilities for silence even in the loud rush of everyday life.”

This is one of those “must-read” books.  It is amazing.

This book can be found at In pursuit of silence: Listening for meaning in a world of noise

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