The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City asks a wonderful question that it will try to answer in a series of Wednesday night sessions in June and July:  “What Sound Does a Bell Make When It Is Not Ringing?”

Silent Echoes creates an environment in which to hear the sounds of five Buddhist temple bells in Kyoto, Japan when they are not ringing. For Fontana sculpture is a way to make physical some state of the human condition. He created this sound sculpture in 2008 using vibration sensors and acoustic microphones to capture the bells’ reverberations as they responded to ambient sounds in the environment. Click here for a sound clip.

“In Silent Echoes, I have used modern measurement technology to reveal a hidden world of perpetual acoustic energy within an apparently dormant bell,” said Fontana. “These bells are portals to the acoustic energy around them and they have never been silent. John Cage many times said that ‘music is continuous and listening is intermittent.’”

This immersive meditative experience will take place in the Rubin Museum’s theater, renowned for its excellent acoustics. The room will be candle-lit and set with chairs and meditation cushions. Visitors may enter the theater when they wish and stay for as long as they like during the soundscape.

Silent Echoes reminds me of — The Lesson of the Singing Bowl, and The Lesson of the First Number — I think it is a wonderfully immersive experience to contemplate the meaning of sound in the absence of hearing.

When I was younger, I was told you could actually hear the vibrations of the earth if you could find a completely quiet setting outside.  One day, I traipsed up a large hill along the Nebraska flatlands, and I sat down on the land.  After a few moments, I could actually feel — and hear! — a low hum in my quiet contemplation.  It was eerie.

That sound is supposed to be the aftereffect of the the reverberations of when the world was created in a Big Bang: The earth is a giant bell that hasn’t stopped ringing.  That hum is always there, but we have learned to tune it out because if you listen to it for too long, it begins to vibrate you in really radical ways.

Some might believe the sound I heard on that hillside was actually the sound of myself ringing:

“…when a bell rings it is only the sound of the bell listening to the sound of the bell. Or to put it another way it is the sound of yourself ringing. This is the moment of enlightenment.”

(The Three Pillars of Zen by Phillip Kapleau)

If you’re interested in learning more about Silent Echoes, you can immerse yourself in study at the Rubin on the following dates:

Wednesday, 15 June
Wednesday, 29 June
Wednesday, 6 July
Wednesday, 3 August
Wednesday, 17 August
Wednesday, 24 August
Wednesday, 31 August

Admission $10 ($9 Rubin Members)

Admission any time from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Experience lasts until 8:30 p.m.