Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Slowly Turning Luddite

6:30 am is a curious time. A city (Jerusalem) awakens with a faint rumble, bunched noise of distant planes and cars, electronic house sounds and nervous systems hums. I once imagined a city where electric sounds are forbidden, in both private and public spaces. Cars would not be allowed. No computers, machines…nothing. “Luddite-ville” we would call it. Oh I suppose someone has done it. Frankly, I am sick of my kitchen refrigerator’s raspy sound; it grunts when it wants with absolutely no boundaries of human decency. And the builders! The Talpiot-Arnona neighborhood has become advertising for progress, much as in the early Soviet era, where news items portrayed patriotic builders as pioneers. At least in Israel men and women worked in the fields!

So I now face an impossible task. How can I create the silence I need to be sane and to create? The Japanese call this pregnant silence “Ma”, which is of course suggestive but perhaps misleading. As we know, living in our mother’s womb was not a silent affair; we heard waves, gurgles, conversations and if we were lucky, Beethoven. There may be, however, another solution. We know that if one takes two identical instrumental sounds (such as two trumpets, as described in the Bible), sounds uttering exactly the same note and timbre, with their waves’ peaks and valleys occurring in direct opposite formation (called phasing), what occurs, clinically speaking, is complete and utter silence. Ma. Kol De-mama… That this has been done only in an acoustic laboratory is academic, but it certainly make an interesting observation. Unfortunately we don’t live in laboratories; but the research shows us that total silence IS possible.

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We do live in a jumbled morass of electric wires, fake lights and machines; the fridge grinds, routers mum, digital clocks faintly scream ). Even our own nervous systems sing high-pitched la la’s. Most of us are oblivious to this invasion. We are constantly subjected to the impossibility of true sanctuary. We are blind and deaf to this gross pollution of our acoustic space.

The prognosis for the future is grim. As in the film “Bicentennial Man” (with Robin Williams), we can look forward to wires (and their partners) becoming ONE with us, especially if we choose to live extra years and replace our organs. But then again, imagine the danger of getting electrocuted in multiple locations! All plans and investments would be flushed “down the tube”.

So personally, I opt for lush green wavelengths, like that first moment I stepped into baseball heaven, Fenway Park in Boston. It was at age 7 that I saw what I thought was G-d. That large swath of green grass, green was everywhere. I heard thousands of people making a sound like the ocean: breathing, quietly churning, calming. I saw all kinds of people. Most were smiling. I was in heaven!

Today, I realize that in my heart I am slowly becoming a Luddite. I look for a wireless place. I look for peace of mind, but unfortunately this has eluded me. Perhaps if we could become TWO people in one (one wired for warfare, the other “nuded” for peace of mind) we could ultimately live in peace. Quantum physics tells us that this may be possible: two for the price of one! What split personalities we would have! But wait, all this sounds too scary and complicated and when all is said and done, I am a simple man. I look outside my window. An exquisite garden anoints my balcony, flocks of birds and their graceful flight soothe me and the endless unpredictable motions of the trees continue to fascinate me. For this I feel blessed, truly blessed.

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and hermit. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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