Sound travel at Maison & Objet Paris

26 January 2017

The ultimate freedom of the mind is that it can travel without borders, taking us to another world without our bodies having to move an inch. This is what happened to me last week in the most unlikely place. A professional trade show.

As a design and lifestyle journalist, Maison & Objet is one of the most hectic trade shows I must attend, twice a year. And while it’s always a pleasure to have one’s eyes filled with new, beautiful products, it’s also a very, very, tiring experience roaming the buzzing, over-heated halls filled with busy professionals.  So, imagine my joy when I found a little bubble of peace in the trend exhibition last week.

Every season, a dedicated installation outlines the key trend to watch, and this year, it was called Silence. It focused on tranquil, pared-down design that leaves space for dreams and inner life, and provides time for meditation and contemplation. As I stepped in, I felt I’d travelled to another world, but it was my ear, more than my eye that was caught. Curator Elizabeth Leriche, a trend specialist and set designer whose work I have always felt close to, had set up a listening space to listen to… silence.

“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything” – Gordon Hempton

A series of headphones were available, promoting the precious and indispensable work of acoustic geologist Gordon Hempton. Also known as the soundtracker, this is a man who has spent years roaming the planet recording natural soundscapes and released over 60 albums, to remind us of the importance of listening to nature’s music. At a time where mindful living helps us re-discover the power of attention, where we learn to be present in the moment, to the world that surround us, the relaxing mightiness of silence has never been more crucial.

So as I put the headphones on, I felt transported by the beauty of not hearing anything. At first. Because as my ear adjusted to the sudden calm, I realized there was actually so much to listen to in silence. Little by little I started distinguishing a very quiet soundtrack and felt like a witness to a bustling, yet completely invisible life. The soft, muted sounds of birds flying, drops of water on the leafy ground, hidden frogs faintly croaking. I could almost hear the sound that a fly’s wings make. Or was I imagining it? By providing rest to all the other senses and shifting the focus to the hearing – in a world where our sight is the most heavily solicited – this impressive experience triggered my imagination to almost feel, smell and see what my ears were experimenting. It was an instant switch off, it was so restful, so restorative. But beyond the relaxing benefits, I also felt like it was reconnecting me with my primal nature, with my instinct as an animal species. As I said, an awe-inspiring and I think quite essential experience.

Maison & Objet Silence exhibition by Elisabeth Leriche
Rina Menardi bowls at Maison & Objet

I must admit, I was saddened by the sight of some people looking at each other with impatient “there’s nothing to listen to” expressions on their faces, as well as by others rushing us to pass on the headphones. But for those who are looking for a pocket of calm to switch off from their busy lifestyle, I believe this is a new means to explore… Happy listening…

Curious to find out more?

Before Gordon Hempton, there was no quiet reserve where one could listen to nature’s concerts undisturbed, as 1 000 square miles are necessary to ensure a total absence of noise pollution. At the Olympic National Park, in the United States, One Square Inch Of Silence is the world’s first quiet park, dedicating to protecting “one of the most important and endangered resources on the planet, silence.“ Follow them to join the movement.

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