Let’s hear it for silence

 

 

THE FIFTH COLUMN

You have to travel far to get away from the noise people make. Have to really uproot yourself. “Go live on a farm if you don’t like the noise,” I was told, but even on a farm are barking dogs and diesel generators. So where is one to go in this world? What is there to do? Float in the ocean on a plank? Commit a heinous crime and be sentenced to solitary confinement?

Some people like noise. “Make some noise!” MCs often shout to get a crowd going. “Let’s hear it for so and so” — the “it” invariably being noise.

I believe that people on large motorcycles buy the machines purely for the noise they make. I’ve heard people say they can’t stand silence. I’ve heard others talk loudly in libraries. I’ve heard cars vibrate.

I’ve also heard that noise is a part of the rhythm of life, and this seems to ring true. On Sunday mornings the collective effort of the people who buy large motorcycles “flattening” the uphill expressway close to my house is deafening. Before sunrise on weekdays I hear the empty Golden Arrow buses fight their way up the same road.

The word “noise” comes from the Latin word “nausea”, the Romans apparently very wisely seeing no difference between wanting to die and hearing three people speak at the same time.

Like the word, people have changed, and the modern human seems to somehow have developed a stomach for noise. Sledgehammer operators can sledge away for days on end; millions walk the streets of cities without so much as a dry heave.

Some of us appear to be stuck in the past with a noise-sensitivity that harks back to ancient times. The condition, I’m sure my ilk will agree, is not so much a case of supersonic hearing across the board, but rather the selective ability to hear some things much clearer. The sound of an electric fence shorting, for instance, is like that of a cracking whip; a dripping tap echoes throughout the house in many phases: the drop breaks the surface of the water, the water above the drop closes.

I have a fantasy in which a salesperson knocks on my door. I open the door and they open their briefcase presenting me with silence for an hour, a day, a month. The silence is said to be absolute — dead silence — but comes at a very high price.

I’ve realised over time that the salesperson may just as well have been selling noise-cancelling headphones and so went out to buy one: an entry-level device with limited cancelling ability. For that reason, the silence is not total (“deep bass” filters through), but at least I can hear myself think. The music I listen to is a 15-minute track of white noise mimicking the sound of ocean waves breaking on the shore. I have it on repeat, the only break in the waves a softening towards the end mimicking, on its turn, falling asleep. I listen to the white noise at top volume. It’s bliss. Second only, I’m sure, to floating on a plank in the middle of the Pacific.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.


The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Hans Mackenzie Main
Hans Mackenzie Main
Writer/Columnist at Mail & Guardian
Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members
Advertising

Press Releases

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

Openview, now powered by two million homes

The future of free-to-air satellite TV is celebrating having two million viewers by giving away two homes worth R2-million

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday