A Quaker upbringing with Sunday morning meetings for worship from the age of five has left me no stranger to silence, and as a theatre and opera director I’m keenly aware of its power. Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” has over one hundred requests for [silence] and the discovery of all the different qualities of those moments is a necessary part of a journey to the centre of that great play. There are surely as many kinds of silence as there are of noise.
The silence of the Arctic is new to me.
Our shore landings and walks are full of noise. They begin with the sound of the Zodiacks’ motor fading away; then there is the sound of ripping Velcro as life jackets are removed and thrown in a pile on the beach. Our walks have been full of conversation. When words fail – as they often do in this extraordinary place – we walk without talking but there is always the sound of digital camera shutters and on top of that the sound of abrasive waterproof trousers, hats and jackets. We make a cacophony in this very quiet, cold heaven.
Yesterday afternoon we arrived in the beautifully named Liefdefjord – Lovefjord – where a great calm and tranquillity was welcome after days of battling with the wind. We’ve lost the sea battle (we tried the same four hour sale four times) and we’ve come to lick our wounds.
Walking out along a great spit of land along the edge of the frozen fjord we came upon a trapper’s hut looking across the bay to the floating mountains of the Monaco glacier. I was suddenly aware of the tremendous silence around us – if we were to allow it – and suggested we stand silent for a few minutes. Like similar attempts in rehearsal it took a few failed attempts to work, but then it did. Our human sound faded and we waited for the sounds of melting ice, bird cries, the plop of an inquisitive seal as he dived back into the waters, but they did not come. There was nothing, instead there was a rush and the clichéd roar – blood in our ears shouting for attention. So strange and a little terrifying. I thought of the Arctic madness of those left alone for the long dark six month winter. This must be of it. It was too loud. I forgave us our sonic intrusions. Later a gentle wind stirred the water and the world breathed again. Hildegard von Bingen would have called it – a feather on the breath of God. We need some sound. Silence is made of it.BACK TO TOP