Irish film maker Pat Collins, largely known for his documentary work, has successfully merged genres here. The star, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride plays a sound recordist of the same name and it just so happens that Bhride is a sound recordist in real life. Seemingly not a natural actor, the scenes have this extended reality to them, which transcend the boundaries of fictional cinema and leave you asking questions of how the film-makers managed to capture such subtlety.
Collins has rounded up a team of location sound recordists, including the prolific Chris Watson, that together with some clever mixing by Ken Galvin engulf your ears with a sea of sounds that seem so familiar to us in our waking life. Familiar, yet these are the sounds that our brains normally block out. Silence gives the viewer the opportunity to focus and meditate on these ‘weeds’ of the audible world with some fascinating results.I once attended a talk and presentation by Watson, who claimed to capture the “signature sound of the earth,” which he argued was the ocean as it covers the largest surface area of the globe. Utilising a 5.1 sound system, he asked us to close our eyes and listen. As we did, the ocean roared and undulated around us, expressing the might of this great mass of water. Being transported from The Heeley Institute in Sheffield to somewhere in the middle of the ocean was one of the most inspiring experiences I had at a public event in the last few years.
We follow Bhride’s journey, starting from the hustle and bustle of Berlin to the contrasting majestic beauty of Donegal, all the while with a microphone in hand, listening to the ambiance of his surroundings. Watson and others bring their audio capturing skills to full effect, from sounds such as the overpowering rumble of a Berlin train, stifling pigeon calls or a passing bumblebee to the beautiful sound of harmonic tones that emanate from a crack in a window, all because of the wild Irish wind.Our protagonist is attempting to record silence, or at least a sound that is away from human contamination. I know from personal experience that this is a feat that is extremely difficult to achieve. I once had to record the sound of bird song for a film that took me further and further away from pesky humans and their noisy activities, until I was out in the middle of the countryside. Feeling I was finally at the right spot, an aeroplane from overhead came and polluted my ear drums. So it’s no surprise then, when on the quest for ‘silence,’ Bhride gets further and further away from cities and villages.
When dissecting the notion of silence, one ends up on a mind-expanding journey. I guess this is the reason that John Cage endlessly repeated his story of visiting an anechoic chamber so many times. If you ever have the opportunity of going into a sophisticated soundproof room, what is presented to you is not in fact silence, but the sound of your own nervous system and blood flow. One of the lessons learnt from this is that that you can never get away from yourself.
Bhride’s quest brings him to the abandoned home of his childhood. On his way he meets all sorts of characters that regale their own stories that seem to mirror his life and background. Through these stories we learn, or rather guess at, Bhride’sownstory. The fascinating thing about Silence is that most of the characters are having real conversations that refer to their own life, and only a couple of professional actors are used in the whole film.
Silence utilises the tools of documentary, fiction, audio and visuals and creates a playful poetic meditation that will leave you in… silence.