No, this is not about the record company “Silent Records” that releases New Age/Ambient music. Silent records are not recordings of ocean waves, babbling brooks, or chirping birds and crickets in meadows. It has nothing to do with Simon & Garfunkel, nor are they public records of people or events archived on storage media. Silent Record Week salutes actual vinyl recordings that had no audio content. This week is the anniversary of when actual silent recordings were played on jukeboxes in Detroit, Michigan.
The “genius” behind the phenomenon was William T. Rabe. He was locally famous as public-relations officer of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, or as he put it, “The Miami Beach of the North”. He called himself the “Detroit Hatchetman of the Friends of Lizzie Borden. Many Michiganers remember Rabe best as the chief telephone-book critic for Detroit area newspapers. Rabe was more legitimately known as a member of the “Baker Street Irregulars”, a group associated with the tales of Sherlock Holmes.
In 1959 “Billboard” magazine printed an article saying that three “silent records” were put into play at the University of Detroit. The stated purpose was that students and faculty could purchase a few minutes of silence.
(You may pause the act of reading for a few silent moments to allow this concept to sink into your consciousness.)
Bill Rabe was the CEO of Hush Record Company, the firm that provided the quiet vinyl platters that were put into play in juke boxes. The recordings had to be replaced periodically due to their popularity. The frequent playing of the silent records caused scratches and pops that ruined the sounds of silence.
In 1960, the first week of January was proclaimed “Silent Record Week–An International Tribute to Jukebox Peace and Quiet.” A special musical event was organized to celebrate the momentous occasion. The University of Detroit 65 member choral group appeared in a special presentation during which they did not sing.
A noteworthy Silent Record recording session and concert took place under the auspices of Soupy Sales and the 120 piece “Hush Symphonic Band”. The event was organized by Bill Rabe.
Whether Silent Record Week inspired other silent records is up for debate. One of the most popular silent records of all time was an LP titled, “The Wit & Wisdom of Ronald Reagan”. All the tracks on both sides of the record were silent. The LP managed sales of some 30,000 disks.
Famously, John Lennon composed two silent “songs”. On “Life with the Lions” there was “Two Minutes Silence” plus “Unfinished Music No. 2”. Fans who own copies of “Mind Games” are aware of the “Nutopian National Anthem” that plays for a grand total of three seconds.
There are many compact discs that contain bonus tracks. Some of those are silent recordings. Some of those were included in efforts to hide “hidden tracks” or bonus songs.
It must be noted that silent recordings do not include blank media such as vinyl record blanks for studio recording purposes nor unrecorded cassette, 8-track, or open reel tapes. All silent recordings must be electronically recorded silence.
We can all commemorate Silent Record Week by setting aside some time for respectful silence.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 1959 University of Detroit Student Council President Mike McCann. “Future records will feature ‘stereophonic silence’ which will be ‘twice as silent’ as monaural disks.”