Quiet Discomfort

On Silence as Aural Discrimination

  • Daniele Balit (Autor/in)


In 1970 the artist Markus Raetz imagined a device for capturing and listening to silence, through headphones connected to a soundproofed space. A few years later, in 1978, an “audio epiphany” inspired Amar Bose, during a flight from Zurich to Boston, for the invention of noise-cancelling headphones capable of providing a “heaven of tranquillity” to world travellers. In 2016, the artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan, reconstructed a process of “disappearance of voice” and of a decrease in the level of the aural environment of the Syrian prison Saydnaya, measuring it by a 19-decibel drop in sound. Building upon these three episodes, this article treats the way in which silence participates in the construction of social space. Post-Cagean artistic practice, in particular that of Michael Asher and Max Neuhaus, has identified in the threshold between audible and inaudible a tool for investigation and critical analysis of the conditions of perception of the institutional display, In the age in which aural technology reproduces discriminatory models of control of the environmental space and of “cancellation of unwanted perceptions”, this project will assume a specifically political connotation with the “forensic listening” of Abu Hamdan.