As a writer, who was a professional journalist for almost three decades, I often was intimidated by a blank page or screen.
But Jens Kruger disagrees. To him silence is not music’s enemy but its collaborator.
The composer and banjo player for the successful band The Kruger Brothers embraces silence as a painter is thrilled by the limitless potential of a blank canvas. As part of his creative process, Jens says he often kills the main circuit breaker at his Western North Carolina home so he can eliminate all sound.
If you’ve every experienced a total power outage you know what he means. The hum of a refrigerator compressor, the sweeping movement of electric clock hands, and other audible evidence of AC power – noises we have come to take for granted and don’t even notice – are quieted.
As someone who records music, I have come to appreciate the value of silence. The other day I was trying to improve a vocal part – something I’m always trying to improve – when my next-door neighbor decided to cut his long-neglected lawn. No matter how well you endeavor to soundproof a home studio it’s hard to compete with the roar of a nearby Briggs and Stratton engine.
It may seem ironic that the player of a banjo, who’s resonator and metallic finger picks can create a cacophony of noises even more offensive than a struggling lawn mower, should be extolling the virtues of silence.
But Jens Kruger is not your garden-variety cornfield-picking banjo player.
He is a virtuoso who has composed beautiful orchestral pieces. As he demonstrated at a recent workshop during the Merlefest music festival, playing two open strings on his much-maligned instrument of choice can produce a simple melody that is as impressive as any flurry of rolls.
Whether he is playing a classical composition or speedy rapid-fire riffs of more traditional bluegrass, Jens makes a joyful noise. He said he has always considered the tones from a banjo to be a happy sound.
He has made me hear silence in a new way, but I wonder how his brother feels about his techniques when he finds the digital clocks dark and the fridge losing its cool.