What’s the first rule of Quiet Club?

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How does silence make you feel? When did you last experience total silence? Would you pay for silence?

Silence is hard to come by. And it is the easiest thing in the world to destroy.

Silence is not for everyone. “Silence is at once the most harmless and the most awful thing in all nature,” wrote Herman Melville.

For some, silence is a longed-for luxury (when noise abounds) and an ocean of freedom in which to luxuriate (when silence falls). For others, it is to be avoided at all costs, a void to be filled (or preferably not allowed to open up in the first place) as the unwelcome prospect of being alone with one’s thoughts nears.

I absolutely love silence.

Silence is one of the rarest commodities in our modern world (and, to me at least, one of the most wonderful). But could or should we ever pay for silence?

Silence is beautiful
My friend Raksha Khilosia told me t’other week via Twitter of a coffee shop she visited on her recent trip to Vietnam. This coffee shop was “managed by hearing and speech-impaired staff and was created to be a place for tea/coffee in silence.” Says Raksha of this silent coffee shop:

“They had a sign up saying ‘Silence is beautiful’ and you really felt that while sitting there!”

Our chat was sparked by a recent Telegraph article on the trend towards coffee shops taking over from pubs as community social hubs (even as, ironically, our coffee consumption remains static. Can the same be said of our consumption of the stronger stuff?). A commentator quoted in the article says the rise of the coffee shop reflects the "growth of female independence, female spending power.”

Raksha thinks the coffee shop experience is ripe for diversification. She “would like to see coffee shops categorised. Different coffee shops for working, for socialising, for sitting quietly, for corporate use, etc.”

Quiet Club
A coffee shop for sitting quietly? Now this I can get behind!

I was put in mind of Brian Eno’s concept of Quiet Clubs.

Eno pioneered the concept and creation of ambient music. This is music as atmosphere, that doesn’t mind if you don’t focus on it. Music that can, to all intents and purposes, become silent without actually being silent.

Some of Eno’s experiments in ambience were created with specific social situations or public spaces in mind. The sublime Music for Airports is the most famous example. Music for Airports is composed with a range of potential functions in mind – ranging from the ability to be interrupted by tannoy announcements, through pacifying the nervous traveller, to encouraging the listener (should they even notice it’s playing) to spiritual thoughts appropriate to what could always prove to be their final journey.

Another such ambient experiment was the so-called Quiet Club. This was a small number of video installations in the 1980s for exploring “a type of ambience that might be produced in a particular social space – perhaps poised between a club, a gallery, a church, a square and a park and sharing aspects of all of these.”

He saw a need for Quiet Clubs in the modern city:

“So many people have said to me that they wish cities always had a permanent location like these exhibitions. It would replace so many aspects of the city that you don’t find any more – like quiet parks, gentlemen’s clubs, even quiet libraries. I want something a little more than a cafe/art gallery that will wrap up all these elements under one roof.”

I want this too.

Silence is beautiful. I’d love to see someone explore the Quiet Club as a possible next step in the evolution of the humble coffee shop. (Or maybe such a place already exists, or there is a UK equivalent of Raksha’s quiet/silent coffee shop in Vietnam? If you know of such a place, please let me know!).

What’s the first rule of Quiet Club?

You don’t talk at Quiet Club.

Two blissful works of ambience and peace:

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