Silence is pretty powerful. Remember when you did something terrible and your parents’ disapproval manifested as silence? Have you ever told a joke that was met with silence? Have you ever been in such a noiseless space that it felt oppressive?
Silence has an important place in music too, and for the purpose of this discussion lets consider both complete silence and relative silence when compared with the rest of the music. There are two tracks that I think implement this pretty well. The first is “Walter White” by Above & Beyond. Yes, that Walter White. The three guys that make up Above & Beyond are unashamed Breaking Bad nerds. Anyway, in this homage to Heisenberg (video below) there is a severe pause at 2:25.
If you didn’t see the progress bar and were listening to this track live you would think that it had ended. At Above and Beyond’s recent show in Las Vegas, the non-fans who were there just because it was something to do in Las Vegas were quickly revealed. Not that its bad to see a trance show if you aren’t a fan, and I really hope that they left as fans! Many confused faces searched the room for some explanation, while the fans savored the silence. The live effect was especially pronounced since Above & Beyond likes to drag the silence out even more, I’m talking 10-15 seconds, until the audience becomes frantic and desperate for the drop.
When the track does finally resume it is pretty liberating. Ah, but not for long. The tension builds again until 3:15 when the prior elements of the song are fused and coexist seamlessly for the remainder of the song. Below is short clip that I filmed of the audience after the drop.
There is a second type of silence, which isn’t actually silent. Instead it such a sharp and stark drop off that, relative to the rest of the song, feels like a pause or a gap in the music. I really like this effect and it can be utilized more frequently than a long pause. Honestly, a long pause needs to be used sparingly. You would frustrate your audience by implementing it in every song or multiple times during a song.
I like to compare this type of silence to what it feels like when you are accelerating quickly and suddenly take your foot off the pedal without braking. You feel the deceleration but it isn’t jarring like if you would have slammed on the brake. You let your momentum carry you just as the momentum of the song carries you through the small gaps. Below is a great example. It is aptly named “Tension”, and it is by Ilan Bluestone and Jerome Isma-Ae.
There you have it. Silence… one of my favorite elements in a song.