From ‘Ai Weiwei Speaks: With Hans Ulrich Obrist’

‘Hans Ulrich Obrist: […] I want to ask you what kind of music you listen to?

Ai Weiwei: It’s a shame that this last question is the question I find most difficult to answer. Because I was never turned on by any music in my life. I am the one having the least to do with music. Of course, I am able to enjoy music, to be touched. But I never intentionally ask for any music. So for me, the best music should be silent, is mute.

HUO: […] You already answered the question of what’s your favourite sound- silence- so what’s your least favourite sound?

AWW: The least favourite one is the silent music being interrupted.’

Silent music.

I have been thinking a lot about silence these past days. About its quality, its context. I dreamt about silence last night. It was dark and enveloping and comforting, maternally wrapping a thick, warm, woolen blanket around me. A sense of the world delicately holding its breath after a thick covering of snowfall in the night; silence amplified.

As I sit and write this in silence, I think about what silence means to me, because I still hear sounds: the ticking of the clock; my breathing; my fingers rhythmically tapping the keys of my laptop; the fridge humming; the purr of the computer as it receives these words, like a friendly cat; birds calling to each other outside. I realise that silence, in the context of writing, means these things to me: the absence of music; the absence of my daughter calling to me or hurtling up and down the stairs; in fact the absence of my daughter altogether, whether she is at school or with her father; and the absence of any external dialogue, enabling me to listen to my internal dialogue: my mobile phone is on silent, and all social media is turned off while I write this. In this context, the sounds I hear are for the most part sounds I choose to hear: listening. So for me, silence seems to mean absence; silence also seems to mean empowerment, as I give myself the space to allow these words to tumble from my hands onto the screen, in an attempt to try and make sense of why it is that I feel I need to write, why I have to write, why writing makes me feel truly alive. I am allowing myself to listen to my words.

I have been thinking about the different silences I live as a musician. The silence I feel as I approach my piano and sit with it before raising my hands to play it. The pregnant silence at the end of a gig, those precious moments as the music dies out and the audience and musicians hold this silence, a spell, and listen to it, before the end is implicitly acknowledged, either verbally or physically by the performers; and the audience raise their hands to clap and the spell of silence is broken. How silence is implied within music itself; how listening space is given to each other as musicians through playing together, by NOT always playing. Which is echoed in the famous quote by Miles: silence is more important than sound. We are all raising our hands out of silence, towards sound.

I feel we all share silence, we all know silence, we all have a huge capacity for silence, whether implicit or explicit, internal or external. It feels like a truth.