Identifying New Parameters Informing the Relationship Between Silence and Sound in diverse musical performance practices and perception

Pamela Burnard, Nick Sorensen, Satinder Gill, Tal-Chen Rabinowitch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While it was Cage who foregrounded the significance of silence as an act in his ground-breaking composition 4'33", it was Miles Davis who made the performative value of the silent space or absence of sound even more explicit when he drew attention to the notes one does not play. This article examines the significance and role of silence in music. However, a number of questions remain about how musicians use, perform and understand silence in relation to sound and how silence potentially plays a role in the listener's perception of the player's authorial or expressive voice. The aims of the study reported in the article were threefold: (i) to identify how silence is manifest in performance practice; (ii) to identify whether silence in a musical excerpt can affect the listener's perception; and (iii) to further our understanding of the role of silence as a parameter of performance creativity. We explored the ways in which two musicians perform silence in relation to sound, Miles Davis in Round Midnight and Glenn Gould in the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations. We made qualitative analyses of transcriptions of their recordings and conducted an online survey of listeners' perceptions of the difference between two recordings of the same piece played by the same performers. Converging evidence from an interdisciplinary literature review and the empirical studies identifying new parameters informing the relationship between silence and sound in diverse musical performance practices and perceptions will be discussed along with implications for new conceptualisations about how silence acts relationally to sound in performance practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-17
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Music Science, Technology and Art
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


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