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The beauty of unspoken moments / by Shane Butler

I've always been a big fan of Dan Graham's writing and evocative video-piece "Rock My Religion" in which he compares the society of Shakers to the likes of Patti Smith, Monsieur Morrison, the collective entity of "the audience," and the overall ritual of Rock.

I myself only once visited a Shaker community when I was more of a baby; about halfway to my current age. I did though, have quite a long relationship with another "aker"; I went to a Quaker boarding school for all of my high-school years.

I wasn't raised a Quaker, but it was a good option to go to this school seeing that the local school system where I grew up was a bit bonkers. At this school, every week we would sit in what is known as "meeting for worship," the traditional Quaker service. In meeting for worship, our community would gather in a large, semi-ancient meetinghouse and sit in rows of chairs that all faced in towards the center of the building; and towards each other. It was kind of like a "positive Panopticon," or so you could say.

Meeting for worship for a teenager like myself was a wonderful opportunity to pull pranks and see how many folks I may be able to fill with the vibrations of humor while we held in our laughter like pressure tanks at full volume. It was a time full of the screeching sound one makes at the back of their mouth throughout most of elementary school; holding in the juice of our jokes and quenching our thirst through laughter. Nevertheless, meeting for worship also introduced me greatly to relating to others in silence.

Nowadays I find myself playing in a Rock & Roll band and consistently noticing similarities between a space like meeting for worship and the role of "the show" as we like to call it in our music world. There is an unspoken camaraderie that comes about within an audience when we sit in silence together; observing acts in harmony. This camaraderie resonates within those who are talking during the set, the haters, the scenesters, and amidst the silent pillars of human who choose to just take the role of "observer."

It is precisely within these unspoken moments in which so much is said; so much is exchanged. The act of being together, appreciating, or just experiencing a moment along with a large group enables a kind of communication words cannot sub for. I think about it in relation to saying goodbye to someone you may never see again; there is always so much more that can be said, yet the words you exchange for the last time never hold the weight compared to the experience of just "being" with the person. The gestures of personality found in silence are both what reinforces language and its absence. Language always hovers above and within silence without ever leaving it; sound and silence walk forever hand in hand towards each other.

Being part of local music communities, I have often experienced this special kind of friendship that comes about from sitting in silence with other members of a community. For me, my first real consistent feeling of this in music originated in 2007 when discovering The Whitehaus, a house show space in Jamaica Plain, MA.

At the time, The Whitehaus would host weekly Hootenanies in which anyone was invited to come play a song, read a poem, or just kind of look at the audience in a way that could be interpreted as "performing." For me, what continues to resonate deeply about those "meetings" were the interstices in which we were all just sitting in a living room together; silently. We created an equal playing field for both those who wished to speak and those who wished to be quiet. There was culture being made, some of it was total incoherent nonsense, yet it all served it's purpose. What we formed together was just this unbelievable state of what I can only refer to as a type of "unconditional love" for each other, filtered through the gestures of our personalities.

When I see kids I went to that high-school with nowadays, and when I see members of these music communities; whether they were close friends or not, there seems to be a mutual understanding of "being." We don't need to be similar, we don't need to have the same ideas, or like the same Beyonce records; we can even critique the hell out of each other, but at the end of the day we are both just creatures of silence moving through a world of sound. I think something about staring at each other in silence; watching each other for long periods of time without saying much, helped to create that feeling.

I notice it at shows, in art-galleries, on the subway, at dinners with semi-dysfunctional families, and while peeing next to another man at a urinal. There is just something so apparent in these unspoken moments that clears the playing field. I am happy to continue to be part of music and art communities that foster this type of interaction, even if not always on the surface; it's a real blessing.

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