“A palimpsest of silence”: Sebastiane Hegarty’s Silence on Loan

This month, visual and sound artist Sebastiane Hegarty reflects on his sound performance ‘Silence on Loan’, which took place in WSA Library earlier this year.


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Image 1: Recording ‘Silence on Loan’ in WSA Library. Photograph by Sebastiane Hegarty.


At 11am on Wednesday the 30th January, a silent vinyl record was slipped into the Artists’ Book Collection at Winchester School of Art Library. The latest edition in an on-going series of silent releases, Silence on Loan is a single-sided 10” vinyl disc or dubplate. As part of the music mastering process a dubplate is a one-off test pressing made to check quality and gauge audience response. Originally pressed in soft acetone rather than vinyl, this advanced and provisional copy was an impermanent record, its fidelity limited to 1000 plays. The dub in dubplate refers to the dubbing or doubling of an original sound; ‘when you dub [you double], you replicate.’ (Toop, 2018, p115) But Silence on Loan has no original signal. Cut with a silent groove, it is not a copy or replication of silence, but rather a record of a moment when nothing was recorded.

Silence on Loan will be held in the library without the protection of cover or sleeve, allowing the harm and dust that comes to its surface, to write an audible trace, a phono-graph, of its presence in the collection. Bearing mute witness, the record doubles silence, listening in on the quiet of the library ambiance, whilst simultaneously loaning its own injured and accumulating hush to the shelved voices of closed books.


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Image 2: ‘Silence on Loan’ “loaning its own injured and accumulating hush to the shelved voices of closed books.” Photograph by Sebastiane Hegarty.


The addition of the record to the Artists’ Book Collection was announced in an appropriately uneventful ceremony. On a vacant table in library 2, a portable record player was plugged into a small practice amp and there amongst the library stacks I dropped a needle into the [silent] groove. The audience was small, including those who had come to listen and other library users, whose audience and listening the silence borrowed. Playing at 33⅓ rpm the record performed over 299 silent revolutions, before coming to rest in the looping shush of the run off groove. As I lifted the needle from its rut, a hesitant and awkward ripple of applause brought the silence to a close.

After the performance there was a small discussion, primarily addressing the relationship between this [un]recorded silent record and the notated silence of John Cage’s 4’ 33” (1952) Cage notoriously disliked records, proudly stating in an interview with the philosopher Daniel Charles, ‘I would like to make it clear that I do not have any records in my home’ (cited in Grubbs, p68). For Cage, ‘a record was not faithful to the nature of music’, they turn sound into an object and ‘it would be an act of charity […] to smash them whenever they are discovered.’

And yet Cage has been one of ‘the most recorded of twentieth-century composers.’ (ibid) His 1939 composition Imaginary Landscape No.1, was intended to be ‘broadcast or heard as a recording’, and was also one of the first compositions to use records and turntables as instruments. The composition, 33⅓ (1969) was written: ‘For a large number of phonodiscs and at least twelve turntables operated by the audience.’

In 4’ 33”, ‘the performer sits at a piano and marks off time in three movements […] while making no sound.’ (Kahn. p165)The silence shifts listening to whatever sounds are here now and available to the ear. The silence of Silence on Loan is a noisy, flawed and failed silence: a record that is not a recording of anything, but nothing, simultaneously shifts attention, to what we can hear now and what was not heard before. With every audition, the harm, dust and decay written into the landscape of the vinyl surface, audibly ruins its record.


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Image 3: Close-up of the vinyl record used to record ‘Silence on Loan’, after it has been catalogued and added to the Artists’ Books collection at Winchester School of Art Library. Photograph by Sebastiane Hegarty.


It is intended that Silence on Loan will be played annually or at least until the damage sustained or the innate obsolescence of the vinyl medium, results in the record itself becoming unplayable and dumb; or perhaps until, through a complete lack of interest, the silence is withdrawn from loan.

But until then, every year Silence is played (or loaned), the needle of a stylus will shift another particle of dust and pick-up the harm of damage done. As a previous silence is written over and erased by this, the record becomes a palimpsest of silence remembering and forgetting silence.


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Image 5: ‘Silence on Loan’ by Sebastiane Hegarty. Photograph by Sebastiane Hegarty.


References and further reading:

Grubbs, D. 2014. Records ruin the landscape. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kahn, D. 1999. Noise Water Meat. Massachusetts: MIT.

Toop, D. 1995. Ocean of Sound. London: Serpents Tail.

Hegarty, S. 2019. ‘Remembering rain: listening to water and memory [loss]’. Wolf Notes, 16 March 2019. https://wolfnotes.org/2019/03/16/sebastian-hegarty-remembering-rain-listening-to-water-and-memory-loss/#more-553 (Accessed 3rd April 2019).


For more information about sound art, visit our latest exhibition ‘Various Silences’, which has been curated by Sebastiane. On display 3rd – 26th April 2019. ‘Various Silences’ includes “a selection of previous silences in various forms. The earliest work, red silence: for the missing (1998-1999) was erased over the period of one year, during [Sebastiane’s] PhD in the Sculpture Department at WSA.” – from exhibition summary by the artist.