Pause for a Break

June 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

A few months ago, I wrote on the power of pauses and how silence and blank space can convey as much as words and dialogue. Since then, I’ve continued to come across ways people use pauses to enhance their art:

1. In body language: Jan Chipchase, who does human behavioral research, has observed something he calls the “hand pause,” which is the gesture we make while we wait for our technology to do what it needs to.

Example of the hand pause - photo taken from

Designers have used this information to create things like cameras with a built-in waiting period in our gadgets. The picture these gadgets can capture is immediate, but we are used to and expect that it takes time to process a photo. Building in this waiting period makes us feel our camera experience is more genuine by being similar to the act of handling a traditional camera. (Watch Jan’s TED talk on mobile phone design here.)

2. In speech: Using one hour of NPR’s All Things Considered, someone compiled every pause and intake of breath (which came to about 16 seconds of audio):

Click here for Breathing on NPR. Listening to these breaths on their own sounds like a percussion piece or the card shuffling skit on Stomp.

3. In music: What would the Jaws theme song be without those long pauses? John Cage’s controversial performance 4’33” is also an experiment of sound and silence, where the noise the audience makes as they wait becomes what is listened to.

I think Daytrotter’s description of the band Menomena says it best:

It shouldn’t be taken for granted, when a band can hold us rapt with both the things that it does and the things that it refrains from doing. It takes a great band to make you appreciative of the action and the inaction, those moments when it could flaunt its chops and give more than is necessary for the song, but instead, it surprises you with its ability to put the song on ice for a second or two because the quiet will empower that song twenty times as much as any clutter might.

4. In writing: What the intake of breath is to speech, so is the comma to the sentence. Or on a more minute level, so is the space between two words to their distinct definition. Allie of Hyperbole and a Half writes about how people’s use of “a lot” as one word makes her think of the imaginary creatures Alots, which frequently appear in internet comments:

Go read the rest of her very funny post.

I could post more of her drawings, but really you should just go over there.


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