Magic and Music: The Sound of Silence

“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to say, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to create a silence, we cannot.” – John Cage

Hi! Lord Kronos here – maestro of all things musical. For me, the quote above is an interesting concept. The idea that there is no such thing as silence. John Cage was an experimental composer of the 20th Century, and although many question his compositions, I’ve always found him to be an interesting individual.

Tacet means don't play.
Tacet means don’t play.

However, I choose this quote not because I want to discuss John Cage, but I wish to discuss silence – particularly in the horror video game genre. Whether or not silence can be created isn’t necessarily the point of this discussion, but he leads me to want to try an experiment, and that is simply try to create silence; turn off whatever music is playing and attempt to create silence. Try it for four minutes and thirty-three seconds (this is a reference to a John Cage piece called 4’33” – in which the musician is instructed not to play their instrument). While you are doing this, however, listen. What is it that you hear?

Now what is it that you feel? Do you feel uneasy or content? When I attempt this, I feel uneasy and its really kind of creepy. I find myself wanting to create sound to fill the emptiness, and this is what the sound developers of some of the modern horror games have discovered. I first noticed this while doing observations for a collegiate paper I wrote on music and the gaming experience. I was observing some friends playing Left 4 Dead when I notice that generally, the soundtrack consisted of very little music. It was interesting to see how it indeed made me feel uneasy.  In many ways, it helped me get into the mindset of my character. The soundtrack then became a way to cue the player into what would happen next. Music came into play when fighting larger zombies or the horde.

She's cyring - she just wants a hug...until she tears your face off.
She’s cyring – she just wants a hug…until she tears your face off.

I checked out other games and noticed something similar. While watching a friend play a Resident Evil game, I noticed this trend was repeated and saw similar results when watching game play videos for Fatal Frame on YouTube. For me, it is interesting to think that not only can music be used to create an emotional response to the gaming experience, but silence can be used just as effectively.

To come around full circle, I haven’t tried my experiment while playing one of these games, but it might be worth a shot to see if the sound designers are trying to give us more cues into what is going to happen. I wonder if there will be an “empty space or empty time” the next time I play Left 4 Dead. I think I will give it a try this week. For now, happy gaming and keep the volume up!

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