The event happened twenty years ago, but David Le Breton still remembers perfectly the day when everything changed: this afternoon spent in his Strasbourg apartment, in a studious atmosphere but somewhat disturbed by different noises. Some come from above, provoked by roommates listening to techno at full volume. Others, below, where a kid left alone for the day spits Johnny Halliday’s great classics through the speakers of the hi-fi system.
From this experience, which gives him the impression of being expelled from his interiority, David Le Breton will end up writing a book, Silence, where he questions the need for silence in our societies. He makes a statement: “The noise continues to be more and more harmful. The car park is bigger and bigger, the squares of the big cities welcome different street musicians, the bars make the music resonate well beyond their walls … All this makes one have the impression of to be in a permanent hubbub. This is why it is essential to rehabilitate the silence within our daily lives. ”
The noise of the cities
The French anthropologist is far from being the only one to nurture this ambition. In recent years, except in the street, silence is everywhere. Associations (Acoucité, La Semaine du Son, Bruitparif, etc.) campaign for the reduction of motorized two-wheelers in the city, others offer retreats in the mountains in search of tranquility, while authors invade bookstores with a slew of of works devoted to silence, its beneficial effects, its regenerative nature and the peaceful moments it promises.
This is the case, for example, of Michel Le Van Quyen, author of Brain and silence and specialist in the field. For him, it is a certainty, silence is “A natural antidepressant”, a regeneration of the brain which makes it possible to recreate a balance, to cut oneself from the hubbub of the cities and therefore to promote well-being. He specifies: “There are at least two forms of silence. External silence, which we are looking for in reaction to noise pollution, and internal silence, which serves as an antidote able to regulate emotions and brain overactivity. ”
The problem is, these quiet moments seem to be harder and harder to find. Already in 2010, 54% of French people declared that transport noise was the main source of nuisance, while, according to an Ifop survey carried out in 2016, 9 out of 10 French people believed that noise had become a social issue. Today, it is a report from the Ministry of Ecological Transition which states that, “In agglomerations of more than 100,000 inhabitants, 22 million inhabitants are exposed to road noise, ie 42% (by day) and 27% (by night) of the population of these territories”.
Population exposed to daytime noise in agglomerations with more than 100,000 inhabitants. | MTE / DGPR, SDES processing, 2019
In Paris, the existence of an association such as Ras le scoot is enough to attest to this generalized ras-le-bol: “Two wheels, you hear them constantly, and this contributes to overall stress, considers Franck-Olivier Torro, his spokesperson. We are therefore campaigning for a reduction in speed to 30 km / h in all the streets of Paris, so that the two wheels are more controlled, especially compared to these noisy exhaust pipes that they can easily get, so that deliveries are made by bicycle or so that parking becomes chargeable for two wheels. Especially since, since the first confinement, we have understood that life in the city was more pleasant when it takes place in peace. “
If Franck-Olivier Torro is well aware that Paris will not be able to reconnect with the tranquility felt last April, a period during which car traffic fell by 75%, six decibels less and noise emissions reduced by up to 68% , he remains convinced that reducing transport noise is easy to implement. Above all, he is convinced that Paris must lead by example: “If we can do it in the capital, it’s because everyone can. It will encourage other cities to follow suit. ”
“It should be noted that the ear has no eyelids, continues Michel Le Van Quyen. It’s a sense that is always active, even at night, as if it wanted to be some kind of alarm system for the brain. Hence the fact that a blow of the horn can generate stress. We have also observed that unpredictable or strident noises generate an increase in cortisones and hormones, which leads to various problems: stress, anxiety, increased blood pressure, a feeling of ‘oppression, sleep disorders, even cardiovascular problems. “
On his momentum, Michel Le Van Quyen affirms: “Noise is a form of pollution, just like that found in the atmosphere, causing the disappearance of 10,000 people per year in Europe. The problem is that it is a slow death, we often realize it too late. Above all, we will never encourage someone to cut themselves off from the bustle of cities. Socially, it is not well to withdraw from society. ”
Cut yourself off from society
In recent years, however, a trend has emerged: those of “Zen courses”, which promise to reintegrate silence into everyday life, advocating a return to the essential, closer to nature. Jeanne Dujardin is a follower of these spiritual retreats. After discovering silence through various internships, including one of ten days in India, this Frenchwoman decided to create Silence, two and a half years ago: a company encouraging participants to discover the benefits of these “Suspended moments”, kind of spaces and human experiences where sophrology, osteopathy, yoga, massage and stress management are combined.
Silence therefore enters into a larger movement, into this global awareness of the need to take care of one’s body, one’s mind. So much so that certain works councils today take charge of activities of the “well-being stay” type. Jeanne Dujardin speaks of her project as a “Real success”, well aware of “Growing need among people to know well-being techniques. After all, silence is a resource, like the air we breathe or the water we drink. We have it at our disposal. ”
However, two issues arise: is silence accessible to all and in all circumstances? When Jeanne Dujardin, whose three-day stays cost an average of 620 euros, claims to touch different social classes and different age categories, David Le Breton qualifies, specifying that we still need the means to pay for this kind of internship , “If only to stop working for a week. Indirectly, this tends to further reinforce the social divide. Because, no, silence is not accessible to everyone. Studies show that children living in towers, in close proximity to neighbors, are more likely to suffer from a lack of concentration due to noise. This affects their level of education and their possibilities for the future. “
Second problem: can’t the absence of sound become a problem for those who are afraid at the idea of being alone with themselves? “It’s true that there is a denouement side in the discovery of silence, confirms Jeanne Dujardin. It clarifies a vision of life, and it needs to be understood. ”
Sound of silence
In music, these last ten years, a new generation of artists accustomed to subtraction, to these melodies reduced to a minimum, seems to have ended up touching the hearts of the general public. They are called Max Richter, Peter Broderick, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nils Frahm, even James Blake, and all of them develop suggestive music, attracted by contemplation. Among them, there is also Ólafur Arnalds, whose last album (aptly titled Some Kind Of Peace) has just appeared, still obsessed by these laconic moments, the withdrawal into oneself and the refusal to mingle in the daily life of those who have the fury to live.
“Silence in music is more important than you think. 50% of the creation is played between two notes, in this moment when a space is created and allows to hear the next note differently. It is silence that allows this breathing, and promotes immersion. We understand then that it is not necessary to overload the melodies, it is enough to find the right note, one capable of generating emotions, mental landscapes. “
If they cannot be compared to the steps specific to meditative music, the melodies of Ólafur Arnalds and the aforementioned artists, with whom the Icelandic recognizes an obvious lineage, seem to be fully aware of the urgency of the surrounding world and promote appeasement, lull. “I also practice quiet moments, and I think that living in a country as calm as Iceland makes it possible to compose these kinds of melodies. It contributes to a desire to live in more calming societies, at a less intense pace, as the year 2020 has shown us with the Covid-19 crisis ”, explains Ólafur Arnalds.
This is the whole problem, now that this second confinement seems to be behind us: is it really possible to perpetuate this delight in the silence, to continue to hear birdsong or the noise of trees in the city? Obviously not, but Michel Le Van Quyen nonetheless nourishes the hope of seeing the emergence in metropolises “Places dedicated to silence that are not linked to a religion. The body and the mind need to rest. It is not necessarily very long, we know that a few minutes of silence is enough to slow down breathing and heart rate. ”
And David Le Breton concludes: “Note that noise hinders collective life and the desire to be together. From a linguistic point of view, this is what prevents communication. ”