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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.

A day of silence to end silence

By Adam Fifield

Silence is a hard thing to come by on the U campus.

Even at the Marriott Library, students find it hard to study because background noise such as constant typing at the computer lab, people flipping through books and students scrawling notes on paper are amplified more and more the quieter the surrounding area is.

What comes to mind is the cliché “silence is deafening,” which would be a paradox except for the fact that true silence doesn’t exist — we just get annoyed when the noises we’re used to are stripped away and we’re faced with the little underlying sound currents that weren’t noticeable before but are now screaming at you, full blast.

Take, for example, the old joke about the man from New York City who makes a tape recording of street noise to take with him when he visits the country, which he plays in order to fall asleep. Constant and relentless noise is normal to this man and much more comfortable than the crickets and overall lack of police sirens associated with rural life.

The closest anyone has ever gotten to complete silence is within an anechoic chamber: a room where echo has been reduced to a minimum and any sound holds little chance of bouncing back to its source. However, try visiting one of these chambers, and you might find yourself faced with anything but silence.

The composer and poet John Cage noticed two sound frequencies during a 1940s visit to an anechoic chamber at Harvard. Scientists there explained to him that one was his nervous system in function and the other was his blood circulating.

His experience in the anechoic chamber inspired Cage to write his musical masterpiece, “4:22,” which basically consisted of four minutes and 22 seconds of “silence,” during which the musicians themselves make no noise, and the audience is faced with the music of their own shuffling, shifting, breathing and coughing within the concert hall.

“In every performance I’ve attended, the silence has been broken by the audience and become ironically noisy,” wrote Douglas Kahn, a professor at University of California, Davis, in his book “Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts.”

“Silence is all of the sound we don’t intend?therefore silence may very well include loud sounds?the sound of jet planes, of sirens, etc.” said Cage when pressed to explain himself.

On a much broader scale, silence can include whole populations of people.

Utah newspapers, for example, basically ignored the Feb. 12 shooting and death of 15-year-old Lawrence King at a California school because of his sexual orientation: The Salt Lake Tribune provided zero coverage, and The Deseret Morning News dedicated a small blurb to the tragedy (The Daily Utah Chronicle was also unaware of, or found nothing significant about, the event).

The news coverage surrounding King’s death pales in comparison to other school shootings, suggesting that this hate crime was only part of “the sound we don’t intend,” as Cage put it.

If silence can include both a jet plane and a school shooting, then surely silence can create an echo. Students at the U are planning on doing just that for the culminating event of Ally Week — a “Day of Silence” on April 4, whose intent will be, according to flyers posted around campus, “to echo the silence LGBT and ally students face every day.”

The event corresponds with the nation-wide Day of Silence on April 25, sponsored by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, to remember King’s death. GLSEN has held this event every year for over a decade in order to promote safety in schools and claims that over 5,000 schools participated last year.

The explicit purpose for the Day of Silence, according to the event’s official website,, is “as a means of achieving an ‘ask,'” and that breaking the silence, “which is caused by harassment, prejudice and discrimination?is the first step toward fighting these injustices.”

GLSEN organizers encourage students to pass out a card during their day of silence, which reads in part, “Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?”

Cage found importance in the ability to “ask” and its relationship with silence. Rather than imposing sound on the world with his compositions, he said, “In their place I put the asking of questions.”

An effective work of art or musical composition, for Cage, would be one that turns a mirror on the viewer or echoes back the sounds made by the listener.

If turning a page in a library is more noticeable in a quiet library than a busy street corner, tomorrow’s symbolic act of nonviolent protest might have a chance of being noticed on the campus of an institute of higher learning.

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