When I was a teenager and started to go out with my mates, we’d often go to house parties at people’s places when their parents were away.
Typical naughty teenagers.
We’d each get hold of a four-pack of beer, find a stupid hat to wear, and rock up to the party fashionably late.
For a while, there was a song we’d take wherever we went—someone had it as a cassette single, so 90s. Whenever we arrived at a party we’d put it on to make a bit of an entrance.
The song is called “Cannonball” by The Breeders and is a super simple two-chord grungy punk track with amazing energy.
We’d pile into the main room of the party and stop whatever was playing on the stereo, which was usually one of those midi hi-fi systems with two tape decks, and put our tape on to announce our arrival.
The song starts with a big, sliding bass line on its own and we’d all spread out and strike poses around the lounge, wearing our cowboy hats or whatever the craze was that week. Then the song kicks in and we’d mosh around the lounge bumping into people, knocking things over, and taking the energy of the party up to the next level.
And then, about two minutes into the song, there’s a break before the second chorus.
It’s only a couple of seconds, but two full seconds of silence in the middle of all the noise and head banging was like finding an oasis in the desert.
It’s a funny thing to say, but the silence is one of my favourite bits of the song. You know it’s about to kick back in, but it’s not there yet. It’s pure anticipation, pure potential. And then the chorus drops. Drinks would fly everywhere and there would be mayhem again and then we’d get on with the rest of the night, making sure to retrieve the tape for its next outing.
Silence is like a blank canvas for music.
You can see this in plenty of other songs; it’s a popular device in many musical styles. A prime example is when DJs use the fader to add dramatic pauses into songs—extra bits of silence get the crowd hyped.
It’s the on-and-off nature of this that provides contrast and makes people appreciate the music more. It’s the silence that gives power to what comes after it, and what preceded it.
I’ve found this when making music too. I play bass and am often tempted to play all the way through a song, but it’s much more powerful to drop instruments in and out. If I leave the bass out for a few bars or even a whole verse, it’s so much more noticeable when it comes back in.
I like to think of it as a musical version of absence makes the heart grow fonder.
How meditation is a gateway to silence.
This on-off mechanic is something we can build into our lives with a regular meditation practice.
We engage in dynamic activity and then we rest. We turn our senses on to the delights of the outside world and then we close our eyes and turn our awareness inward.
We move forward, we stop to refuel, we move forward again.
It’s the breaks that give us the energy and vigour to keep going and the clarity of thought to make sure we’re moving in the right direction.
It’s the silence that gives shape and meaning to the noise and chaos of everyday life.