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The Sound of Silence: a melomaniac's 40-day music fast

Updated: Mar 6

Have you found yourself immersed in music while strolling, cycling, dancing at a club, or cooking in your kitchen, only to encounter the abrupt interruption of a drained headphone battery, a lost internet connection, or blown speakers? Your environment completely flips, and your world is turned upside down. There is a moment of perplex and then you suddenly become completely aware of your surroundings, back in tune with reality, as you reconnect with the symphony of existence. Things that were muted by tunes become extremely present, and the raw melody of your thoughts are revealed once again. In the silence, you awaken to the profound resonance the music once stirred within you, unveiling the depths of its influence.


QUANZA live - photo by Tijmen de Nooy

Now this may seem a bit overdramatic, but what I am trying to expose is the the pivotal impact music exerts on our lives. Music is not considered a bad thing. It stands as one of the most exquisite treasures this world has to offer. Throughout history, it has woven threads of unity, expressed the deepest emotions, and etched memories into our hearts. While certain melodies may evoke memories we'd rather leave behind, the essence of music remains intact with the brighter sides of life.


Nevertheless looking back at the scenario I presented in the introduction; our reverence for music can sometimes blind us to the virtues of silence. Music can be seen as a blockade between us and our own thoughts, acting as a barrier between introspection and the outside world. But amidst the magical moments conducted by instruments and synths, we can rediscover the profound reality that surrounds us. By embracing the stillness.


Every year around easter time, Anthony decides to stop listening to music for a significant amount of time, usually around a month to 40 days.

I first heard about this at one of Steppin' into Tomorrow's Muziekkrings, an event which is rooted in the affection of listening to music. Just before the interval of the evening, after a Cocteau Twins track had been played, he stated the fact that he consciously confines his music consumption for a stretch of the year. Of course, stating something as bizarre as intentionally not listening to music, in a room full of audiophiles, he was met with an inundation of inquiries, that it almost became a Q&A:


“So no music...none?!”,


“What do you do when they play music in supermarkets? Run out?!”


“What about the new 'so-and-so' track, are you just not going to listen to it?”


“Why would you do something like that?”.


Seeing the horror and fear in the eyes of these music mules generated the idea of interviewing Anthony to find out more about this inconceivable act. There has to be more to it than just not listening to music... right? Otherwise, why has he been doing it for 10 years!?


To find out about the Why’s? Where’s? What’s? And How’s? of this endeavour, I met with Anthony on the eve of his voyage into silence.


Anthony by Tijmen de Nooy Photography

M: First, tell me about yourself. What’s your name? What do you do?


A: My name is Anthony, I'm 29 years old. I like, and love music and events. That's my main focus in life, I'm doing my own festival and my focus is really on the music and on how people will experience the Music.


M: It’s interesting that you talk about music in this way, and I’m guessing that this has a big part to play in why you do this act of 'fasting'. Could you explain a bit, about where you got the idea and what it entails?


A: Yeah, so... can you ask the question again?


M: Basically, what is it?


A: What it is? Okay… so basically, it's like a "dopamine reset".

So, anything that gives me a dopamine hit, like; YouTube, Instagram, music or ... anything. Even food. Well not food, but sweets. All of those things that I take for granted or see as normal. I try to cut these for 40 days. Try to do more of the things that I feel I should do. So, for example, go to bed at the time I want, get up at the time I want to.


It came from being raised Christian, I had always heard of this, this concept of fasting. This is not something that we practice back at home. But I knew that this was something that people did back in the day, to not eat and drink for specific time periods. And as I started to grow older, I think it was when I was 18, I thought about doing something like this myself.

But something that felt more authentic to me, something that would serve me. And this is where the idea of doing it with music came about.


I remember I was teaching dance actually, back then. This was not one of the best decisions in my life... It was not something that I eventually found as fulfilling as I thought I would. I did like the dancing, but I didn't like what it did to music. As I felt the music that I was using for choreographies started to lose its value. Because you have to repeat it over, and over, and over. So whenever I made a choreographed dance for a song, I could not listen and enjoy that song anymore.


That's when I started to realise, that I lost the appreciation for music. I thought: How is this possible? And is there a way to reset this?

That's when I started to think about stopping listening to music for a longer time. I thought, if I also can also do it with things I know are bad for me like Facebook, sweets and such, I can also take the same approach with music. I also felt like I was always listening to the same type of music all the time, so this reset allows me to 'cleanse my pallet', in a sense. So... yeah! That's a little bit of how I started, I was around 18 or 19.


Anthony by Tijmen de Nooy Photography

M: Why this time of the year?


A: In Christianity there is a 40 day fasting period, and time of reflection that starts around February or March depending on the year, and then when it's Easter you're finished. I also like doing it at this time of the year because it's the coolest, so it makes it more challenging. You know, because it's getting colder, you look for more things that make you happy, so it's much more of a challenge.


(pause)


Sorry, I'm just thinking about some memories...


It's interesting talking about it because now I remember the first time. I had really bad sleeping habits, so I would often go to bed late, which meant I would fall asleep during the day at different places like at school, but also on the train. So what happened was that I stepped onto my last train after work and I fell asleep and ended up in a different city, far from where I lived. And then I was stuck in that city for the whole night. This also happened in February while I was in this fasting period. So I didn't have any music. I didn't have anything to like...


M: To distract you?


A: Yeah!


M: I've been talking about this point with some people. And they've been thinking about how much music is a part of their life. I mean especially here (Amsterdam), when you're on a bike and you have your headphones on, if you forget your headphones at home, it creates such a different experience, you're so much more aware of the space around you, and also able to hear your own thoughts. Do you find during this time of fasting you reflect much more on yourself? Way more than you would if you could use music to fill up the silence.


A: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. This is exactly the experience that I had when I got stuck. All the way in Zwolle it was, and it was cold. It was snowing and all I had were my thoughts. I needed to be strong in that sense, like mentally strong to just be by myself and not lose hope or get sad.


It became a time for me to reflect.

Anthony and his mum by Tijmen de Nooy Photography

M: Speaking about the religious aspect a little bit more, I went to a Christian school so I understand lent and the '40 days and 40 nights' story as Jesus resisting temptation, to be able to become closer to god. If we apply this to you, what is music's role in this scenario? You have expressed a love for it, but also an understanding of its ability to distract.

So would you say music acts as the temptation or the thing you want to become closer to?


A: For me the main goal is always God. So, anything that I do is indeed to grow closer to Him. Cutting out the music is also a way for me to reevaluate my relationship with him, or how I act in life, in reality.


It's cutting out a temptation, but also looking for a way to enhance my relationship with music.

In my mind, God is everything; our interaction with music and with people is our interaction with God. How you treat the homeless man on the street, that's how you treat God. So, if I use music as a way to escape; to feel happy when I'm sad, instead of feeling what I'm actually feeling. That doesn't build a good relationship with myself. But if I'm able to keep the music at a distance, and find my happiness within other things that God has given me, then that's a better way to live life.


M: You've been doing this for a while now, since you're 18, so almost 10 years. Do you find that every year is different?


A: Well, when we were talking about it, (at the Muziekkring) it was amazing because I knew that it was coming up. And I always need to take some time before to evaluate what is it that I want to stop. What do I want to do? And this is the first year that I'm like, oh, there's not a lot of things that I want to cut. So in that sense, yeah. I feel like it's, it's getting easier. But I have no idea actually, because I don't know how it's gonna be in the next 20 days. But I remember that two years ago, I think it was the first year of Corona. No, no, actually the year after, so it was 2021, that was a difficult year. I experienced a lot of stress, and just needed a form of relief but I was cutting out all those things.


M: Of course, a big part of all of this, is to face these things, right? When you have difficulty, not run away from it or distract yourself.


A: Exactly, and so you really see your dependence on these things.


Of course, it's good to have those releases, but how dependent are you on them?

If it's not around, do you just die? And if that's the case, that's not good.


M: Do you look forward to it now every year?


A: The few weeks before, I'm like, oh, yeah, it's coming. But during the year, it's not on my mind. Because most of the time, what I've experienced is that I don't feel tired of music and whenever I feel like that, I don't have to cut it out. Right now, I'm not feeling the music anymore.


M: Why is that?


A: Probably because I've been listening to music for so long and I feel I'm taking it for granted again. Then I think it's probably time to "detox".

The funny thing is though, since the last Muziekkring, I actually got excited about music again. Especially about the Cocteau Twins. So I've been listening to their whole discography. And I was like: "Oh, shit, I have to wait for 40 days after this to be able to listen to it again. So now I'm listening as much as I can to make this a strong memory."


M: So there's no exceptions? Not even another Muziekring?


A: Well, I'm going to Porto on the 20th of February. And normally when I go on a holiday, outside of the country, I always have music, because music for me is like pictures to someone else. People take photos when they go on a holiday to keep memories with them, I do it through music. So for me, the only way to really get back into those kinds of memories is through music. So I cannot go on a holiday without it, I could not deny myself that pleasure. But Muziekkring is very much active listening, so I won't come to that. But I also look forward to coming back after those 40 days. With a clean pallet.


M: When you finish, does it feel like you've completed something? Or does it feel like there are still loose ends? You have a timeline for how long you do it, but do you ever feel sometimes you want to do it longer?


A: No, I think whenever I get close to the last week, I hope it's over.


M: And what is the very first thing you do once this is over?


A: Listen to music. For sure.


*All photographs were captured after Anthony rekindled his love for music, during his attendance at Steppin' into Tomorrow's 'Coming into Knowledge: Aretha Franklin'.

 

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