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Only the Silence
Only the Silence
by Ross Robertson
04-16-2017
Only the Silence

Music is the cup that holds the wine of silence.

I drove back from Dallas to Austin yesterday, enjoying the musical accompaniment from my shuffled playlist. It's hard to predict what my mood will favor, but when driving alone on the open road for several hours, I tend toward the loud and propulsive.

Skipping over many fine ambient and acoustic pieces, I was able to sustain a decent head-banging groove. This climaxed about an hour from home with an extended number that left my ears bleeding and me feeling very satisfied (for the curious, "Three Days" by Jane's Addiction).

So I turned off the bluetooth sound system on my car, and settled back into a contented and almost post-coital silence.

Yet my ears were still tuned for listening, so it was impossible not to notice the road noises at 75mph on I-35 southbound between Jarrell and Georgetown -- tires on pavement not unlike a rosined bow on slate, trucks and cars passing each other by turns, bass and reed sounding engines, and everywhere the breath between notes and the breath of expressed notes and passages.

While I'm not really a student of John Cage, I think he might have approved. I found myself musing that perhaps much of his focus on silence wasn't really about silence, but about shifting our focus. Perhaps his point was -- and in any case, mine is -- there is no such thing as silence.

Sound is that cup, but empty.

(I don't mean to be insensitive in any way to those who are truly deaf to sound. Yet an inexperience of something doesn't negate its reality. Going further, an artist like Evelyn Glennie, the deaf percussionist, is able to discover sound and reinvent listening in ways that challenge our preconceptions.)

Naturally, my thoughts turned to aikido. Those who follow my work in aikido know that I place a great emphasis on emptiness, which other writers occasionally call "The Void."

Emptiness is much like silence. We understand each to mean an absence of something. As my experience yesterday highlighted though, an absence of something isn't an absence of everything. A vow of silence is understood to be a refrain from speaking but not from all sound and noise. If I ask you to bring me an empty glass, you'll know what to do, and it's functionally convenient for both of us to ignore the fact that the glass is actually full of air and light.

Emptiness is to space what silence is to acoustics (and, I suppose, what darkness is to light). Probably much of our survival has depended on our ability to filter irrelevant sensations and perceptions in favor of attending to threat and opportunity. This is as it should be. So there is some threshold of quiet that we inaccurately but conveniently regard as silent.

Our evolution has done a pretty good job (so far) for our survival. What interests me now is our culmination to a point where we can layer intelligence and wisdom on top of instinct. We can learn to attend to things more deeply, have an expanded awareness that enhances our attention to threats and opportunities.

Much of what is irrelevant becomes full of meaning when considered deeply.

Sherlock Holmes had a (fictional) genius for observing what others overlooked. We can develop our own genius according to our circumstances and inclinations, and become detectives of our own lives, solving problems and resolving mysteries.

Noise is that cup, but broken.

The emptiness which I so often point toward on the mat is principally the place where uke is not, where obstruction and resistance are not. But the emptiness of which I speak is so much more. It's a rich field of opportunity and potential. It is the place of freedom and mobility.

Though largely unstructured, it is not devoid of character. The space between uke and tori is meaningful. The space around the players, where potential for occupancy by limbs or trunk is high, is especially noteworthy. The boundary where the body cannot be in the next moment forms a membrane, around the surface of which we may slide.

For me the solid body of a person and the space surrounding us takes on color, as with traffic signals. If I move toward red I know the likelihood of collision is increased. Yellow may allow forward progress, but with expectation of much yielding. Green is the place of sustenance.

This capacity for learning to see space is central to my methods. You can color or shade it with your own overlay -- or not -- but just be sure you can see it.

Driving down the road, listening to the intercourse between sound and silence, we pass between substance via spaciousness.

Is this not the aiki no michi?

2016.08.02
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

www.stillpointaikido.com
www.rariora.org/writing/articles
@phospheros

"Wine of Silence" quotes by Robert Fripp. His diary <https://www.dgmlive.com/diaries.htm?entry=22886> contains a commentary relevant to this discussion:
Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.

This is inaccurate, although now widely adopted. The actual quote, which flew by in response to a question from Herve Picard, Spring 1980 in Paris: Music is the cup that holds the wine of Silence. This speaks for the action of the noumenal, the unconditioned. The reversed form addresses the phenomenal, what is conditioned. Music emerges from Silence, which 'sounds' between the notes, and holds the notes in place.
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