When I read headlines about the rising number of noise complaints in Nelson neighbourhoods the issue for me is about more than noise pollution. It is about more than manners. It is about aesthetics.

Painters and film makers wax eloquent about the quality of light in Nelson.  They find the light inspiring because of its purity and consistency, the seasonal changes, the depth of colour washing over the land and sea.

Sometimes I wonder why I relocated to Nelson far from the madding crowds and the music hubs of Queen and Cuba streets. Then I remind myself of one good reason: the quality of silence here. In Dovedale Valley the evening silence is deep. It is something you don’t just hear- you feel it. I felt it too standing on Back Beach at low tide on Saturday morning and I can remember the same feeling the first time I ventured into the peaced-out  stillness of the bush in Abel Tasman National Park.

Silence is a musician’s best friend. It is the table rasa, the blank page, on which we write. Traditional Chinese performances began with the audience clapping to rid the theatre of performances which had gone before. The silence was purged in preparation for new music to enter.

For some people silence is terrifying because it means confronting your interior life. For creative people that inward journey is a blessing. The quiet that deep silence brings provides a space for the spark of creativity to enter and light up the imagination. One of the consequences of being silent is that memories flood in from the back of consciousness. For a composer a memory may generate a sound, a word, a melody or a chord - and a new song, a new symphony is born.

For the creative soul silence is an essential element of life- right up there with air and water. Famous composers like the great minimalist John Cage have written at length on the topic. His 1961 book called Silence is essential reading for any serious student of music. It was his student, Lamont Young, who once performed a composition where he opened a shoe box full of butterflies and gave the audience the instruction to “open all of the windows, the composition will be over when the last butterfly has left the room”.

UK experimental musician David Toop has set up microphones to capture the sound of trees in the different seasons.  In 2005 New Zealand composer Phil Dadson famously broadcast the sound of rocks recorded in the Dry Valley in Antarctica as part of his Polar Projects.

When I set up a microphone to record in Dovedale I can depend on the fact that the silence will be punctuated by nothing more than tui, morepork or the rare drone of a top dressing plane.

Don’t get me wrong. I am partial to sitting behind a rack of keyboards plugged into a 20,000watt festival sound system. Big sound makes my world go round. What is annoying is people who make sounds without thinking, for the sake of it. People sharing their music with the neighbourhood at 3 am, front of house guys who sound check a PA  system with a Cradle of Filth song at maximum decibels on a Sunday morning. And don’t get me started on boy racers and the mad fishers checking their boat engines at 6am before heading for the coast. It’s no wonder people complain.

If people complain about noise pollution we should listen. Yes, it is about respecting others’ personal space. But it’s about more than that. Silence is powerful and it is eternal. In the end silence will trump us all. When the echoes of the big bang finally fade into the far reaches of the cosmos it will be all that remains.