This article makes no noise at all.
I had no idea what to title this going into it. "Silence is Golden", "The Right to Remain Silent", "Silent But Deadly". In the end, no title could do this subject matter but the lack thereof. I'm writing about the absence of any noise or sound. Specifically, I am writing about how this absence relates to feelings of unease, despair, loneliness, fear, and a shattering grasp on reality.
I recently took on a couple weeks worth of night shifts at my job, covering for our security guy. Basically, I spend half of the night walking around the premises with a flashlight, the other half watching Spy Kids, Austin Powers, or any kind of late-90's brain bleach I can find on Netflix, which I can use to dull my imagination into enough of a passive state that I can do my rounds without fear of an eldritch monster emerging out of a bush and flaying my skin from my little pathetic bones.
Maybe it's not as dramatic as that, but maybe it is.
Working a night job like that deprives you of enough daytime social interaction and enough normalcy that your puny brain - already barely coherent before you took on the shifts - can almost create a Schrödinger's Cat scenario. Wherein the insignificant security man scampering around with his little flashlight is completely unharmed and is able to finish his rounds and retreat back to his Netflix nest, but is simultaneously eviscerated by whatever demons his fragile subconscious manifests.
I was, for all dramatized intents and purposes, being made a prisoner to my own imagination. If I left it alone, just shut it all off, I could point my light at all these arbitrary corners of the premises, do a few laps, and be done with it for a while. But really, can any of us leave it alone? When truly put up to a challenge by our mind's eye, is it possible for us to take any road that isn't the most dramatic and hostile?
The answer for me, anyway, is no. But what was it that really affected me? Made me feel like someone was groping around inside my skull, as I would walk the long, dark rounds? It wasn't just the isolation, seemingly from all of functioning humanity, which I would experience during those walks. It wasn't the lack of any kind of means of self-defense. It wasn't the responsibility, or the night, or the cold. It was some phenomenon that served to compliment all of the above. Something much more overwhelming.
The silence. You probably already knew that.
When you imagine your greatest fears; death, abandonment, suffocation, enclosed spaces, loneliness. The dreadful, overwhelming constant is silence. There is nothing to be heard. An entire sensation, perhaps the most powerful of the five, rendered asunder. It's harsh, man.
When you don't hear anything, it almost feels like you can't perceive truth in reality. Those trees can't actually be swaying; I can't hear the howling wind. Its leaves aren't falling if I do not hear them scrape on the ground, hear them crunch under my feet. Was that a figure moving in my peripheral? It couldn't have been, or else I'd have heard footsteps. A chill, a presence against the back of my neck? But I didn't hear the breathing-
The human mind normalizes the association and relationship of sound with the other senses that when the constant in this situation is removed entirely, the unspoken mental laws we believe in fall apart. Like in society, when one firm, unbreakable rule is defied, the rest of them are made invalid just as easily. In this case, the civic union rising up against a system of government is your very own ability of perception.
Of course, because you're reading this so eloquently put-together article, you know that I survived my night shifts with my ceramic sanity still intact. I'm not crazy - at least, I don't think so.
A quick side thought worth considering is that, the thing about mental illness is that you can't always differentiate the two; reality and... whatever the other thing is. Bear with me - if the time ever come to pass when your own mind was not able to perceive what is a true sensation and what is not - you wouldn't know it. And that would be all. End of story. That's it.
I'm sure you already know some truly delusional people in your everyday life. The people raving about wear facemasks in line at the grocery store, the phonies fraudulently virtue-signalling on social media, those of us who function oh-so effortlessly in the civilized crust of society. You've known someone and thought to yourself: "they are just kidding themselves! what are they, crazy?"
Well... are they? Are you? Could you comprehend delusion in your own mind if your thought it was there? Are you sure?
The fear of mental illness is a topic I will absolutely have to explore a different day. Today, it's the art of silence.
I recently played through, for the first time, Silent Hill 2. And I want to talk about it. I want to talk about it a lot. I have so many articles to write, so much to process in the fog of my own thoughts. One of those is the aforementioned fear of mental illness. I want to write about the fractured grasp on reality, about the use of poorly implemented mechanics as a positive. I want to CONTINUE writing about the unsettling effectiveness of the unexplained. And rest assured, I will eventually. Thank God I chose to wait until after covering those night shifts before playing this game, though.
I described what silence represents to me in a fearful and imaginative context above to help describe it in a way that is truly personal and real to me. The lack of any noise is the disorientation of the passive cognition that we put so much trust into. It is so much more than that.
When I first began playing Silent Hill 2, the somber and melodic tones playing over the soundtrack as I walked down the ghostly forest path towards the entrance to that town were haunting. The composer for the game, Akira Yamaoka, has been given more praise than I could ever hope to properly give him, for his work in creating a soundtrack unlike anything that has ever been done the same before or after. And as I walked into the cold and empty avenues of the town of Silent Hill, I had the same haunting chords floating above me, passing through my head like a vessel, carrying me deeper.
Some walking, some nightmarish creatures, and some collecting clues later, and I found my way out of the misty storefronts and street corners, and into the shelter of an dark and abandoned apartment building. The creaking floorboards, endless black hallways and occasional glimpses at movement in the corners of my eyes were, surprisingly, not something I found particularly comforting and inviting. But as I climbed the lobby staircase and began my room-to-room inspections of the apartments, trying desperately not to faint, I have to tell you that something painful had been piercing through my body, shocking my system into shutdown.
There was no soundtrack anymore.
The floaty and mystical notes were no longer guiding me along my tour of this hellscape of a town. They had dropped me off at the lobby of this building like a wittle baby boy on his first day of Kindergarten. And I was alone, glaringly and obviously and intrusively alone! And the only sounds, the only noises available to me, were noises I did not want to be hearing in this complex.
What the game designers effectively did in removing music from this section, is what I can only describe as an attack. The purging of sound acted as a deprivation of the human element. I had any connection to what was regular and expected, what acted as a connecting and binding force, taken from me. Music is something human and emotional and expressive. Even during my first steps in a town I knew would not remain safe and normal for long, I had music looming over me, serving as a rock, as something to anchor me with one foot still in my reality. And when it was taken away from me, I was left with nothing but echoes of threats
They call it "psychological horror" for a reason.
One more game I'd like to bring up, if briefly, is, well, not very similar to Silent Hill 2. It's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the original PlayStation. One of the first, if not the first, video game I can remember playing. Got it for Christmas one early year, probably before I was five. Like any kid in my age group, I thought Harry Potter was fuckin' rad, and I thought video games were fuckin' rad. Both still are. Fuckin' rad, I mean.
Like with some other concepts mentioned earlier, I have a lot to say about this game that I hope to cover one day down the line in its own piece. Anyway, since my mom was fuckin' rad, she got me what was, honestly, a really weird video game.
Maybe weird might not be the best word, but I can't think of a better one. If you've been keeping up on your Put It on My Bill reading material, you know my recent thoughts on the more uncomfortable elements of Super Mario 64. Now, Harry Potter for PS1 had a lot of the same reasons for being a strange, unnatural and disheartening childhood experience. Uncanny graphics, uncomfortably rendered and unpopulated environments, disturbing enemies. Now, consider this about Harry Potter for PS1: there was no in-gameplay soundtrack.
Little five-year-old Bill would fend off shrouded figures and possessed statues, unconfidently leap over dark, bottomless pits and cry out in pain when injured. He would find himself in the company of fast-moving, uncannily animated ghosts that did not acknowledge his existence as they passed him by, he would hear the distant sounds of whatever creatures or villains awaited him in the next room. And all of this, being stripped of and withheld his connection to community and normality found in a simple soundtrack.
Lots of sound effects - the reverberating sound of dripping liquid in the dark and dank underground parts of the castle. The bubbling and flowing and crackling of a lava river. The far-off grunts and stomps of an unfathomable danger lurking in the very same chamber you find yourself navigating. Just no music.
Bill! Is that really silence, then? Sound effects aren't really silence! If it has no music but still has sound effects then it's not really silence!
You play the fucking game meant for kids and see how centered and relaxed you feel, dick.
Silence, when used in art, is weaponized loneliness. It is a combative element of extreme discomfort that hinges on your own fears stemming from a dependency on the illusion that you are not alone. Rest assured, however, you are alone.
Times are so fast today. I doubt things have ever been truly silent during the daytime since before the invention of cars. If you really think, if you really consider how much of a comfort and a luxury noise is for you, you might begin to understand. You, reading this, unless you are reading at 4am with everything else turned off, can hear something. Cars driving, fans blowing, machines going. Existence, existing. It's our truest and most honest and simple form of reality. What's real and normal to us, any kind of feelings of comfort, are never silent. Because when things are quiet, real quiet, and lonely... you might not like what noises you hear.