Some Sketches

Below are some of the sketches I made as I thought out how best to present my piece.

When I first thought of working with alarm clocks, I imagined simply gathering a hundred or so of them and just setting them out in rows on the floor to form a tidy and small square. This was when I just wanted to play around with some clocks to see and hear what would happen, and before I had started to really think about making this idea develop into an actual piece.

My idea, then, looked like this:

[please note the clocks are not facing upwards, though the ultra-stylized way in which I sketched them might make it look as if they were!]

Then came this, I think partly as a reaction to having witnessed John Wynne‘s installation for 300 speakers re-conceived for and installed at the Saatchi Gallery over the summer, and part of his more recent installation at this year’s Cut & Splice, as well as learning about Arman’s accumulation pieces:

Yes, the hieroglyphs directly above may look quite scary (I wonder what a psychiatrist might make of them?), but in actuality all they represent is a multitude of alarm clocks of different types scattered around a room and irregularly filling the floor-space (you are heavily encouraged to use your imagination). As the first sketch says: “each of these is an alarm clock”. To the sketch above, maybe I should add: “… believe it or not!”.

I liked the idea of allowing those experiencing the work to walk around at will in the space and thus listen from different corners of the room, or to different individual clock-alarms. This is one of my personal preferences when it comes to experiencing work by others. I like pieces that allow some non-directed interaction on the part of the listener/experiencer.

However, another of my preferences as an experiencer of these works, especially works that are durational and that one can walk in and out of or spend very long amounts of time with, is  to be able to lie down and let the sound penetrate my ears and body. Last April, for example, I visited the Dream House and lay down on the floor for two hours, just listening and feeling the sound’s vibrations passing from the floor into my body. Last winter I also spent a couple of hours relaxing on a giant pillow on the floor of one of the performance rooms at King’s Place, as one of my friends was taking part in a performance of Vexations there. These experiences made me realise that, for me, there is something about lying down to listen that changes the way one lets oneself experience a work. All of a sudden… time doesn’t matter as much. A minute becomes an hour… and an hour a minute. The effect that lying down to listen has on me is that it creates a peaceful state in which I can gradually let go of everything that is not sound and that is not the moment of experience itself. There is no past/regret, and no future/duties. There is just the present moment, peace, and sound.

So, then, I thought about adding pillows to the work, to allow those experiencing it to lie down and feel free to spend some time with it:

I liked the idea of encouraging people to lie down and forget about time… in order to seemingly paradoxically listen to the urgent sound of alarms attempting to remind them of the time. As lying down makes me forget about the passing time to focus my attention on a seemingly endless  moment through sound, so it also makes me appreciate the collective sounds of the alarms ringing –individually an irritant, as triggering associations of rude awakenings, but their sum sonically more pleasing as the associations are dampened–  as music.

I suddenly realised there was a link between these thoughts about encouraging lying down to experience the piece and the context in which an alarm clock usually operates. One is usually woken up from one’s sleep, after a night of lying in bed, by the sound of an alarm, which abruptly wipes away dreams and embodies the sound of duty calling.

So then I thought about introducing a bed, to emphasise this:

A thing to maybe think about is that introducing a bed in the piece encourages it to be experienced by a single person at a time, which wouldn’t then make it a shared experience anymore. I thought about this for a while, and I was really quite keen to have the bed there, even though it ultimately means sacrificing the communal experience in favour of an individual one.

I wanted the person lying in the bed to be able to see all the clocks from a supine position, as well as hear them starting at ear level, so I started to think of ways this could be achieved.

This was the next sketch:

I was trying to think of a way of elevating the clocks to bedside-table height, so that they would be in the visual field and at ear-height of the person lying on the bed. I wanted all the clocks to be visible and all to be pointing their face at the person on the bed, rather than at someone looking at the piece from outside. This would both encourage people to lie down on the bed in order to properly experience the piece, and also keep the time-displaying part of the clock ever present and visible (constantly reminding the “experiencer” of the time, making the sound of the alarms be about time once more) , maybe even ominously so, as the clocks would then look as if they were all crowding in on the “sleeper”, like a pack of carnivorous animals going in for the kill/feed, or nosy little creatures observing intently…

I then started to question myself, wondering about my sudden but rather firm decision to use a bed in the piece, instead of pillows. I did like the precedent idea of creating a piece which could be experienced by multiple people rather than just one at a time, and also I started thinking about the unwanted associations a bed could generate (more on that in later posts!), and was aware that, thus, specifically using a bed instead of some pillows on the floor would alter the way the piece was perceived and make it about something different to the precedent versions I had thought up.

Despite my misgivings, I still felt more strongly about creating a piece which would include the bed than creating one without it, so I started attempting to think back to where the idea came from.

It was looking at my previous notes and finding Ligeti’s mention of Gyula Krudy’s story of the widow in a house full of clocks that took me back to where the bed idea (and the alarm clock piece itself) originated from. I suddenly realized that I was basically partly recreating the situation in which I first heard multiple clocks ticking, the situation that was at the root of the idea in the first place. I found myself in my old flat, listening to the clocks ticking, and hearing their bells go off in succession and seemingly endlessly every morning. The bed I thought of using to assemble the work was even the same –this was for what I thought were merely practical reasons, as I can take my bed apart easily, having done so a few times before, and thus would only have to transport it to the location of the installation, rather than spend further money on buying a bed… but really, I wonder how much of that thought was driven by my subconscious.

So… I will look at the issues raised by the use of a bed in a later post, as I still have to do some thinking about that, but basically I am very keen to now stick with this idea.

I then spent some time trying out arrangements for the clocks. I had decided on a sort of horseshoe-shape, with clocks being placed in irregular rows all around the bed and pointed at the head of the imaginary person lying down upon it. However, when I tried placing my clocks in this position in order to make some test recordings, I realized that this arrangement made them appear less numerous than they really were. I then tested a different layout by laying them out on the steps of my staircase at home (see picture in post below). The steps’ gradation made all the clocks become visible and also allowed me to generate some height when it came to the sound emanating from the alarms.  Not only were they more visible, but they also appeared more numerous, because spread out better.

My next sketch then incorporated small gradations:

[clocks are not drawn in this sketch, but they would be placed on the steps in an irregular fashion, rather than neat rows]

Looking at the new structure I created, I suddenly caught myself thinking of an operating theatre (or a forum?). The clocks as spectators, the person on the bed a patient to be operated on or body to be dissected and ogled at.

So now I am trying to think of practical ways I could make this structure happen.  For the bed, I am thinking of taking apart my bed and carrying it to Elephant & Castle for the final degree show (I would have to pay a man with van or find a friend with one, or maybe rent one together with other classmates), because I figure it would be cheaper than getting a bed specifically for the piece. For the mattress, I will buy a low-quality mattress from local outlets (these are quite cheap, fortunately, though they would not make for a good night’s sleep!). For the structure surrounding the bed, I have thought of maybe constructing something out of cheap materials disguised to not look cheap –cardboard covered with draping, maybe, or freestanding steps of the kind that venues use to lead to the stage:

However, this would not look very good, and unless I build the steps myself (I have found some instructions on eHow, but they look complicated) or borrow them from somewhere, it would be rather costly. Also, I do not want to spend excessive time constructing this part of the installation… but I do feel that the way it will be laid out is important to me.

Here are some more sketches of ideas on how to deal with constructing the steps structure around the bed which will support the clocks:

EDIT: Right now I am thinking I will maybe just go with planks of wood supported by metal bins and covered up by white sheets, or, if I manage it, I will attempt to build the structure myself using cheap planks of wood cut to size, shelf brackets to keep it all together/for support and nails…

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