The Sounds of Silence

Today, despite my usual cynicism, I'm feeling proud to be British. It's Monday, July 30th 2012, and the London 2012 Olympic Games are well underway, and thank god they did a decent job of lighting the cauldron.

While on the surface the Olympics are simply a massive inter-schools sports day, the ethos behind them is much more complex than that, with the chance for the world's best sportsmen and women to transcend the limits of a single human lifespan, and become true legends.

The London 2012 opening ceremony had plenty of that, from the reflective pause near the beginning to remember the victims of both World Wars, to the white-and-gold outfits worn by the torchbearers, which made Sir Steve Redgrave look like one of the elders from Krypton.

And each time one of those life-and-death reflective moments arrived, a haunting whistled tune filled the stadium, and echoed around the television sets of a global viewing audience:

Underworld's 'Caliban's Dream' provided the backing to the cauldron-lighting sequence, an ethereal but slightly less poignant variation on the same whistled theme heard throughout the earlier 'Pandemonium' sequence that had described the Industrial Revolution and the forging of the Olympic rings.

I've always been a sucker for this kind of repeated motif in music - particularly soundtracks - and I think I finally understand what it is that makes them mean so much to me.

As a storyteller, I know the biggest challenge is not telling the story itself, but filling in the blanks - the narrative, the inner monologues that, in the real world, nobody else can hear.

With a storytelling spectacle like the Olympics opening ceremony, that challenge is still greater, as you fight to keep the audience thrilled to the edge of tears for almost four hours.

Programme notes can guide them through the basic structure, and careful prep work can lay the foundations for your story (I doubt I was the only one who associated the sight of the sparks falling from the freshly forged Olympic rings with the back-story of how Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville came into being, created from the final drops of molten metal left behind when the steel for the Olympic stadium was forged).

But these most haunting of musical motifs play a different part in the aural part of storytelling, whether it's the opening ceremony of London 2012, or any other lengthy performance.

They don't just fill in the empty spaces - they are the empty spaces, placeholders that leave the places themselves unfilled.

They are the sounds of silence, the peace found in a reflective moment, when all else is drowned out by the sheer noise of nothing.

They are the inner monologues of each of us when we have no clue what to say - they are each of us rendered speechless, and that, I think, is why these simplest of compositions are so powerful and, like a true Olympic champion, why they stand so tall and so strong amid all of the pomp and circumstance.