Entering the back room of Silence on Essex St. is like being transported into a space outside of time. The walls are lined with musical instruments of every make and variety. This is Gary Diggins’ personal sound sanctuary and therapeutic studio. Diggins, an art therapist, author and multi-instrumentalist, is able to name each one and shares stories about each instrument’s origin. He draws attention to an otherworldly-looking instrument called a hang drum. Within seconds, the room is filled with resonating, ethereal tones as he explores the sounds of the drum. Everything else falls away as the sound experience takes over, only momentarily, before before disappearing forever.
This is the norm at Silence, which is dedicated first and foremost to a practice of deep listening. “It’s a space like the name implies – silence,” Diggins explains, “where we’re asking ourselves almost to be in that mindful state, to be present.”
Diggins co-founded the art space, which began with a gathering of people who wanted to explore improvisational practices – a tradition that continues every Monday morning. Silence looks to provide a place for adventurous sound. “Don’t come expecting cover bands here – come prepared to be surprised, to be challenged […] Silence is a place for us to observe not so much what’s happening up front with a grouping of artists but more to observe what is your response to something that is unfamiliar.” Artist and audience blend together in workshops, events and featured guests in the open and expansive main space nearly every day of the week.
What is it about Guelph that cultivates the creation of an eclectic makers’ space like Silence? Diggins draws from his own experience, “what drew me here was the sense of a smaller version of community than I had in a larger metropolis city. […] The space has been supported by the community of Guelph. It serves a niche within the larger cultural eye.”
The city’s very essence facilitates these sound experiences wherever you go. “Guelph is wondrous in terms of wandering pathways along the Speed and Eramosa Rivers. It’s one of the great blessings that my family has experienced here.” Diggins offers a maker experience that anyone visiting Guelph can create on their own, “my son and I have a practice of biking up to the Waldorf School and not saying a word to one another, but biking up those pathways and listening to rippling water or to singing birds, to the dog that is chasing a Frisbee. And I think those experiences – both for a 14 year old and someone who’s older than 14 years – bring us into a moment. Bring us into a presence.”
Silence is our jumping off point for Visit Guelph’s new Guelph Makers video series. With the tenth anniversary of Culture Days around the corner, we set out to explore those Guelphites who are inspired by our city to create and contribute to the Guelph identity. Over the next few weeks we will be exploring artists who connect to community through their creations. What does it mean to be a maker? What is it about Guelph that inspires makers? Is it the landmarks, the landscape, the people, or a combination of all of three plus a little bit of something else?
Diggins considers his response, “I’m grateful, now being a member of the Guelph community, to riff off this theme of making. By feeling the support from the community to make a space. People can make trouble, make a lot of noise – but we’ve made a space here in which the spirit of improvisational sound and music-making has found a home.”
Follow @visitguelph on our socials over the next few weeks to see the makers we’ll be highlighting ahead of Culture Days. Thank you to Ward 1 Studios for supporting Guelph’s makers scene in contributing to this project!