I’ve always been a better thinker than a speaker. In this I’m not alone. Most of us can keep a conversation flowing, sure…but it’s when we retreat back into ourselves and the place where our thoughts incubate and grow into perfect little concepts, so often destroyed by the stampeding chaos of the world to which they’re destined….that we are truly brought to life. The best ideas come from a still place, a warm and perfectly empty space…like the darkest black in which only mushrooms grow. I love that place, yet seem to frequent it less and less. I was a child of a particularly quiet disposition. I watched aloofly as the day whirled around and around me. Never uttered a word unless I felt it somehow necessary. Some concern arose from time to time over my perceived recessiveness, all of course for nought as I was probably the most sated and contented child ever given life. Simply never felt the need to litter this pristine world with meaningless noise.
I don’t quite remember selling out. Somehow, though, I was lured from my hiding place into the tangled racket of daily hubbub and unwittingly evolved into a player. I learned to like the infectious commotion that sweeps us up each day and tumbles us recklessly about until we’re exhausted in every perceivable way. It’s not bad. Not really. It’s an easy place to forget yourself….but therein lies the problem.
We have developed a compulsion to plug every identifiable void with noise, with clutter, with shapes and colours, with and numbers and letters, with anything and everything. So complex a task it is that it leaves us little time to think about that forgotten “quiet place”, or even miss it, because we’re just too “busy”,or perhaps too “numb”. Worse still, as we pump the volume up year on year and saturate our world leaving almost no place remote enough to remain beyond the reach of our vanity, those elusive spaces tragically slip away like melting icebergs and I wonder if some day the shadowy forgiveness of silence will be something of a unicorn.
So I’m killing time and wistfully skipping through the boundless landfill we’ve characteristically sprawled across cyberspace, and I come across a slightly dated yet hauntingly timeless interview with Mark Hollis.
Who’s that? The understated genius behind Talk Talk, one of the rare gems to emerge from the romantic kitsch that was the once 80’s New Wave music scene.
Here is a man who has made his mark on this world with such reserved aplomb that it almost goes overlooked, and wouldn’t have it any other way. His minimalistic indifference immunes him to the flippant distraction of popular culture and allows him to filter his influences with such clarity that his creative process remains almost completely untouched, and the result is something uniquely exceptional. In listening to him speak, I realise that what sets him apart is less his ridiculous talent than the simplistic integrity of his character.
It truly gives me pause.
He says this.
“Before you play two notes, learn to play one note….it’s simple as that really….and don’t play one note unless you have a reason.”
As I listen on, I realise that in our pursuit of a certain manufactured sophistication we have abandoned the childish simplicity of placing block upon block and freely opening ourselves to playful bottom up discovery.
He talks humbly of sitting in front of an open fire and simply staring at it, and how he loves watching the form and movement of water. He gently suggests that when we listen to music, we should listen alone and extremely quietly.
I have a sudden urge to deconstruct everything in my life.
“I can’t imagine not playing music but I don’t feel the need to compose or create it. I’m really quite happy just to play one note and hit it at different volumes and see how long it resonates before it stops.”
Immersed in his words I’m taken back to the tranquil place I so rarely go, and man, it’s so damned good to return if even for a few short moments.
He then finishes.
“I like silence. I get on great with silence. I don’t have a problem with it….but if you’re going to break into it, try have a reason for doing it.”
You have to love this guy!
He shares these thoughts in 1998 just after the release of his solo debut album, tastefully titled Mark Hollis. Allmusic calls it, “Quite possibly the most quiet and intimate record ever made.”
Then, true to his word and his artistic integrity, he bows out from the music industry altogether and raises his two sons in the breathtaking isolation of the English countryside.
And for that, Mark Hollis, a deafening ovation!