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Searching for Silence at the NYPL

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Quiet, please! While waiting for an event with George Prochnik, the crowd at the New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos Forum was assailed by a barrage of sound—car horns, church bells, tape hiss—all examples of the noisy world the author says has overwhelmed us. Prochnik advocates a kind of sonic environmentalism, the creating and preserving silent places. He spoke about his new book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, with the NYPL’s Paul Holdengraber.

Following Prochnik’s talk, the audience was offered an experience in tactile sound. People could stand, sit, or lay on a structure built by artist Wendy Jacob in order to feel the low-frequency vibrations that are used by animals such as spiny shrimp and elephants to communicate.


Stream and download Prochnik and Holdengraber's talk above for free.

Bon Mots

On the Absence of Silence: "One of the most profound discoveries for me…was how many people there are in the world today for whom there literally is no moment of silence." —George Prochnik

On Boom Car Sound: "You felt like you were inside Frankenstein’s head…and in two and a half seconds, I just buckled forward and thought, 'I’m dying—my organs are collapsing.'” —George Prochnik

On How Mantis Shrimp Talk: Wouldn’t it be cool if we communicated by vibrating each other’s bodies? —Scientist Sheila Patek

Listen to scientist Sheila Patek talk about how shrimp and lobsters use "tactile sound."

Listen to Caitlin O’Connell Rodwell speak about how elephants communicate through vibrations.