Silence on Loan. 2022. Performance broadcast live on Instagram
On the last Monday of January 2022, the annual performance of Silence on Loan, took place at Winchester School of Art Library. It was performed alone in the early morning before the library opened to the public and without an audience present. During the silence I wore industrial Ear Protectors, so even I could not hear the silence as it occurred.
The annual performance was announced in advance on social media and this blog, which included an invitation for people to not attend or listen. The performed silence was however, broadcast live (and mute) via Instagram, so that those who wished, might watch and not listen, together. The Instagram recording of the broadcast was unceremoniously deleted (by accident) immediately after the performance.
In order for those not listening to inform others of their lack of attention, a limited edition, I Am Not Listening, pin-badge, was available to purchase and wear on the day. The 1” pin sold out, adorning the lapels of people not listening, as far apart as New York and Keyhaven, Australia, Berlin and Wolverhampton.
This year, Silence on Loan was unheard by what could have been its largest audience to date. A big thank you to all those millions of people around the world, who were not listening.
Last year the annual performance of Silence on Loan, was postponed by the ‘silent epidemic’ of COVID. In January, I had hoped to perform a socially distanced version, completely alone in the Winchester School of Art Library, where the publication is held – a lonely withdrawn silence, performed but unheard. But lockdown restrictions meant that visiting the library was not permitted and the annual performance had to be rescheduled, eventually taking place in August 2021 – coincidently in the same week as the publication of my essay Withdrawn from use: silence, listening and undoing, in the journal Organised Sound 26/2 (Cambridge University Press).
This year silence has been recalibrated, returning the annual performance to January so as to synchronise with the original month of publication and the inclusion of Silence on Loan into the Artists’ Books Special Collection at WSA in 2019. But this year’s performance is different to the previous three. In remembrance, perhaps, of the socially distanced, isolated performance which never occurred, the 2022 performance will take place behind the closed magnetic gates of WSA library 2.
On Monday 31st January, around 8:30 am, before the library opens and without visitors or audience, the unpaginated spiral slither of Silence on Loan, will be taken from the shelf and placed on the turntable platter. The unheard audio cassette that has documented every silent anniversary will be rewound. Last year’s silence will be simultaneously erased and recorded over with this. I will keep vigil as silence rotates, my ears defended from it: silence occurring with no one there to hear.
There is strictly no admittance to this performed anniversary of Silence of Loan. But you are invited to not listen with me. You may not listen wherever you are, at home, at work, alone or in company. You may also watch but not listen via a live muted Instagram broadcast at @sebastiane_hegarty
Shh. Shush. Hush. Schtum. Silence is often something imposed, an instruction to refrain, to not participate, something we leave behind when we hold our tongue and keep mum. It seems appropriate that many of the silencing verbs, which are primarily directed toward a silencing of speech, are onomatopoeic in origin; pre-verbal imitations of sounds that hold voice back from language. Even the physical action of the verbs’ pronunciation requires a narrowing of the mouth, a gesture which in the mumble of closed lips and shushed tittle-tattle of tongue against teeth, mimes the physical restraint of utterance. But the refrain of silence need not be a negative imposition, it might be a positive choice, an elective, collective and possibly selective withdrawal from presence.
The above paragraph is from, Withdrawn from use: Silence, listening and undoing, a new article published in the latest issue of the journal Organised Sound26/2 (Cambridge University Press). Edited by the composer, musician and academic, Tullis Rennie the issue explores Socially Engaged Sound Practices. In his editorial Tullis introduces a collection of articles which are:
‘[…] decidedly diverse: in interpretations of ‘sociality’; and in addressing distinct areas and eras of sound practices – the contemporary, canonical and hereto less-heard. Considering this issue as a single entity, the authors thus become united in their aim to diversify the conversation, in decentralising theoretical approaches to the subject matter and in the positive inclusion of a wider variety of voices, experiences, sounding bodies and attitudes to listening.’
I am delighted to be amongst such a diverse and fascinating collection of articles and authors, which includes Catherine Clover, whose article, Oh! Ah ah pree trra trra, extends sociality beyond the human to ‘speculative and expansive interspecies encounters’, Sam Mackay who examines ‘The sonic politics of “Clap for Carers” […] as participative sonic arts practice’ and Chris J. H. Cook whose article, Trevurr: A dialogic composition on dementia, auraldiversity and companion listening, ‘documents important aspects of participatory practice with neurodiverse collaborators, told through the lens of a co-created sound work.’
Withdrawn from use: Silence, listening and undoing
In his book Giving Way, Steven Connor provides a list of unappreciated qualities. This list starts with a capitalised, ‘SILENCE’. Shyness, reserve, withdrawal and holding back accompany silence in a long sentence of qualities, which ‘tend to be marked with disapproval, sympathy or revulsion’, and some of which are, as Connor notes, ‘characterized as a mental disorder, in the form of social anxiety or social phobia’ (Connor 2019: 1).
Silence is often seen as a lack of agency, an anti-social and suspect unwillingness to participate. But as a sound artist working with field-recording, I am aware that silence, withdrawal and holding back can also be a form or method of participation and social practice. Since 2004, my sound work has included a series of physical and imagined silent releases. The article draws on these works and the writing of, amongst others, Steven Connor, Seán Street,Hamja Ahsan, Gaston Bachelard and Dylan Thomas, to explore silence as a potential, shared and communal space; an immediate composition that invites both listener and non-listener into its congress. Listening in on the conversation of telephone pauses and the closed paragraphs of library shelves, silence can be heard undoing purposeful agency, shyly engaging us in the anti-social practice of inaction, so that we might not participate, together.
I am grateful to the editor of Organised Sound, Prof Leigh Landy, Tullis Rennie, Jan Baiton and the peer reviewers for their critical guidance and support. Thank you as always Julia Hall for your insight and patient ear.
Around 4pm on Wednesday 25th August at Winchester School of Art Library 2, a slim slither of vinyl will be exhumed from between the hardbacks on the library shelf and placed on the platter of a portable turntable. Silence on Loan is an artist book published in the form of a 10″ vinyl dubplate, cut with a silent groove. [re]Turning at 33 revolutions per minute, silence will ‘play’ for just over 9 minutes and the performance will then be over.
This year the ‘performance’ will be prefaced by a short reading from a new essay discussing silence and listening as participation. The full essay, titled, ‘Withdrawn from use: Silence, listening and undoing, will be published in the forthcoming issue of Organised Sound (26/02).
As has become my habit, the performance will begin by rewinding the cassette recording of last years ‘event’, so that it might be taped over and erased (unplayed and unheard) by this year’s recording. Once silence is done, the tape player is stopped, the cassette put in its case and silence quietly returned to its position on the shelf at 741.64HEG.
Postponed due to Covid, the annual performance of Silence on Loan is free to attend, and this year will also be available live and socially distanced via Instagram: @sebastiane_hegarty
Thanks to Catherine Polly and all at WSA Library for their help and support.
On Friday the 31st January 2020, I arrived at Winchester School of Art Library to find a table ‘reserved for activity’. It had been one year and one day since Silence on Loan was added to the Artists’ Book Collectionat the WSA Library. Held without the protection of cover or sleeve the book (a single-sided 10” dubplate cut with a silent groove) is shelved at 741.64 HEG. Wedged between the hardbacks, this mute slither of vinyl is easily overlooked, but once a year it is taken from the shelf and placed on the platter of a portable turntable. [Re]turning at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute the dubplate slowly pronounces the dust and harm that has come to its surface: the silence that has been lost. Once played the silence is put back on the shelf, where it is left un-sounding for another year.
As a performance, this annual audition is rather disappointing; nothing much happens for slightly more than nine-minutes. Those who are here to hear (and those library visitors who’s listening the silence loans) listen to silence being broken and unheard. Perhaps the tables are turned, and it is the listeners who perform the silence rather than the record player’s stylus. For many of those who came, this is a return to silence, having been here last year when Silence on Loan was performed at the moment of its inclusion into library stock. Just as the dust collects in the groove, so silence returns and gathers in the ear of those who come to listen and remember listening again.
Everyone who is, and now was, there to hear, receives a souvenir in the form of a Silence on Loan 2020 pin-badge, whilst a paper wristband and UV hand-stamp, temporarily confirm admission and attendance.
I had been inclined to record each performance, so that I might document and measure the changes that time brings to the silence. But such calculating permanence would surely imprison that which does not sound, that which is fragile, fugitive and evasive. Silence, is more concerned with the potential for sound than its absence, most [in]audible when we imagine what we don’t hear. The analogue frailty of a physical recording can be used to augment this un-sounding potentiality. The performance on the 31st was documented using an old portable audio cassette recorder. Such obsolete media is characterised by a distinct lack of [hi] fidelity, recording its own imperfections and imposing its own magnetic patina upon the sound it records. This failure to create a faithful document is enhanced by the recording not being monitored – the tape can be seen slowly winding from left to right, but no lights or needles visibly meter the units of volume.
The quantity of tape used measures the duration of silence recorded, transcribing [no] sound into a spatial length, but the cassette is never played, and the silence remains unheard. Paused at this distance, the silence waits next year’s anniversary, when it will be re-wound and next year’s silence recorded over this. An [un] sounding and unfaithful record, this audio document, simultaneously returns and erases the silence of another year.
The next performance of Silence on Loan will be in January 2021
As the publisher of the artists book Silence on Loan, I have been asked to supply the five Legal Deposit copies of the publication to The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries in Edinburgh. The original Legal Deposit copy has already been deposited with the British Library and these five additional copies are for the remaining Deposit Libraries: The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford (BLO), The National Library of Scotland (NLS), Cambridge University Library (CUL), Trinity College Library, Dublin(TCD), and the National Library of Wales (NLW).
Each hand-stamped copy is identified with the initials of a specified library and accompanied by a typed letter providing details of the publication. As with all prints of Silence on Loan, the Legal Deposit copies are published without the protection of a sleeve or cover. The deposits were sent recorded delivery and signed for by The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries.
Together with the original copy of Silence on Loan in the Artists’ Book Collection at Winchester School of Art Library (University of Southampton), these Legal Deposits create a form of silent archive, quietly gathering dust and harm in the ‘closed stacks’ of the libraries’ catalogue.
Searching for the publication via SOLO ( Search Oxford Libraries Online), I discover Silence on Loan is stored ‘off site’ with a status of ‘closed stack’: part of a collective silence, held, forgotten and perhaps never heard, but always being written.
And our ears
Are formed of the sea as we listen 
On Saturday the 4th May 2019 a final silence was lost to the sea off the coast of Holy Island, Anglesey. One of four such disappearances, this concluding silence sank beneath the waves of the Irish Sea on a bright spring day, in [plain] sight of the South Stack Lighthouse. The Metadata of a photograph taken at the time of disappearance, positions the silence at an altitude of 72.07 m with the global coordinates of: Latitude: 53,18.1428N / Longitude: 4,41.3708W.
The quartet of missing silence consists (or consisted) of four single-sided records; each cut with a silent groove and lost to the seas surrounding the UK over a period of four years (the Irish Sea, North Sea, English Channel and Celtic Sea). Each record is labelled with a request for return, care of the British Library Sound Archive. A small advert placed in the Lost and Found section of The Times newspaper announces the site of the silence lost. Published on the day of disappearance, this advert functions as both a premonition and record of loss. The announcement, together with a photograph of the sea into which the record disappeared, and an empty, preservation grey, archival sleeve, are the only ‘proof’ of the records existence and its silence being lost.
In his book Sound, Michel Chion considers the ear as ‘a link between different worlds (real and imaginary) and different registers (physical and mental).’ Just as the silence lost directs our listening toward an imaginary absence of sound, so too the circumstantial (physical) evidence of loss requires that we imagine and believe silence once existed and has now disappeared. The emptiness of the archival sleeve quietly anticipates return, a return that may enable silence to sound [again]. And in this silence lost, we listen without listening for, we place our ear against the shell of sounds that have not yet been caused to vibrate. [Waves…]
As the publisher of the artists’ book Silence on Loan (ISBN: 978-1-5272-3880-0), I am required under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, to deposit a copy of the publication with the British Library. This copy must be ‘of the same quality as the best copies which, at the time of delivery, have been produced for publication in the United Kingdom.’ [Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003]
The Act applies to printed publications and excludes sound recordings. As an artists’ book in the form of a 10” vinyl record (or dubplate), the publication of Silence on Loan, poses some questions about what constitutes a printed publication. Cut with a silent groove, Silence on Loan is not a sound recording, but rather, a record of a moment when nothing was recorded. The absence of sound etched into the vinyl, ‘sets a mark upon on a surface’ and may therefore be called a print (but not a reproduction) of silence. Stored without the protection of cover or sleeve, this silent print is imprinted (again) with the plosions and fricatives of harm and damage that materiality asserts.
As a book, Silence on Loan is always being rewritten.
In my recent exhibition Various Silences, at Winchester School of Art Library, Silence on Loan was exhibited with a ‘copy’ made for Legal Deposit. Submitting the publication for legal deposit, poses questions concerning the reproduction of an original, which is still being written. Perhaps what is needed is not a copy or reproduction, but a doppelgänger: an apparition of silence. The inscription of one surface upon another, generates a silent palimpsest, a haunted silence. Visually the mechanics of rubber stamps mimic likeness whilst establishing difference: the subtle [dis]placement and frailties of ink creating unique traces with each duplication.
A letter written to accompany the legal deposit copy [apparition] of Silence on Loan, was typed on a (Brother) typewriter and duplicated in triplicate using two sheets of carbon paper. The materiality of this correspondence is reinforced by providing only physical address (no mobile number, no email address.) At the post office, silence was weighed, measured and sent (recorded delivery) to the Deposit Office of the British Library in Boston, Yorkshire.
A receipt for this deposit is pending.
I recently visited the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern and saw for the first time the exquisite and fully unfurled Automobile tire print (1953). Choreographed by Rauschenberg, the print was of course performed by the foot of John Cage and the accelerator of a Model T Ford. The twenty-two foot scroll of tire ‘records nearly three revolutions of Cage’s wheel.’ Haunting the dense black tire of line I noticed another tread; a discreet embossed ghost of the un-inked front wheel. In the same room, quietly cornered by the tire is Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). Together these works question not only authorship and authenticity but also the limits of the visible: the material or immaterial record of action.
These questions resonate with a number of my recent phonographic objects and actions; the microphone-less field-recordings of a silent tide, for which two silent 10” vinyl records are placed in the North Sea, one as the tide comes in and one as it goes out, and the release of silence lost, in which four silent records are [circumstantially] lost to the seas surrounding the UK.
[silent] tire printing
A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about an auction she was helping to organise to raise money for the musician and artist Greg Gilbert, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer on his daughter Bay’s 1st birthday. I wanted to contribute, and so for Greg and in a sonic homage to Rauschenberg’s Automobile tire print, I placed a 7” silent record under the wheel of my 1964 MGB, drove over it, reversed and repeated that action three times (corresponding to the revolutions of Cage’s wheel). I then inked up the front tire, placed the paper record cover underneath it and repeated the action again, rocking the car gently forward and backward three times.
The turntable revolution of the 7″ record mimes that of the tire. The absence of sound printed into its grooves, now offering a silence interrupted by the material inscription of harm written upon the record’s surface.
[silent] tire print is an edition of one and will be part of the auction for Greg, which begins at 6pm on Thursday 9th March at Re:So in Southampton (viewing from the 7th March). You can also donate here to fund treatment for Greg not available on the NHS.
In 2013 I took two silent records to the coast of the North Sea. I placed each record at the shoreline of the sea: one at Holme-next-the-Sea, as the tide was coming in and one at Cley, where the tide was going out. After seven minutes I retrieved each record from the waves and returned it to its sleeve.
The records have been played, or rather, performed three times. With each performance, the record of the tide changes, the coast of silica clinging to the surface shifts and silence is dislodged by the wave of the stylus. Occasionally the needle gets stuck, and the original 7 minutes of unrecorded silence locks, resumes and endures. The silence inscribed on the surface of the record is rewritten with every utterance and audition: this is not a memory of the tides, but a remembering of them.
In the summer of 2016 I performed a third variation of the tides, using the revolve of two turntables to mingle the silence of the tide coming in with the silence of the tide going out. I am delighted that this variation has been included in the latest edition of the Canadian audio online publication, textsound. Curated by Michael Nardone, “Sonic Materialities”, ‘assembles works that blur the distinction between performance, poetry, and the sonic arts. Dialogues, field recordings, talks, electromagnetic arrangements, installations, lyric works, remixes. Nardone writes: “Sonic Materialities” explores the fugitive modes of embodiment, inscription, and exchange in phono poetic practice.’