Category Archives: Clocks

I’ve been bad/ I’ve been good…

I really should update the blog with more sound files and info, but I haven’t had the time, this past week. On top of that, I am about to take a small hiatus from my projects in order to focus on my dissertation for a while, so I’m not sure if I will get a chance to post more “proper” updates before next week.

Yesterday I presented my research so far on my alarm clocks project, now titled “In The Moment”, and lately I feel that my idea has really come together, so I will share some of my decisions and plans relating to that on here as soon as I get a chance to (and as soon as I regain function of my brain: I feel utterly drained!).


Resizing my ambitions

There is so much I would like to write, at the moment, but unfortunately I do not have much time to do so: I have a presentation to give on my research so far, in less than a week, so I need to focus my energies on that, for the time being.

However, I would like to briefly talk about some of the difficulties I have come up against so far, and an important decision I have taken regarding the alarm clocks piece.

First of all, and most importantly, I have realised that maybe I am trying to say too much in one work, and that it would be good for me to decide on one thing that I would like my alarm clocks piece to explore, and then just seek ways to emphasize that chosen aspect. I don’t have to make sure I say everything with every work I create. One small thing is enough. Simpler is better.

I do feel that time and its associations are an interesting field to explore further, but maybe I do not need to do it all right now. This does not need to be my masterpiece (nor could it be!), this can just be one of many pieces exploring certain concepts or using these materials. After all, I have the clocks now (and I have just recently bought 200 more, bringing my total to 252, now!), so I can use them again for future works exploring other ideas relating to time, or for future versions of the piece. “Accept that everything is a draft”, says the Cult of Done manifesto. This is only one piece. One of many to come.

This decision was painfully brought on by realising that my presentation is coming up and that, in the longer term, I have only so many weeks to devote to each project before I am scheduled to show the finished work. I cannot still be making my mind up about what I am going to do; I need to be doing!

Even if it’s a matter of just picking something, I need to make a decision. I confess that actively choosing one thing over another has always been a great struggle, for me… which is why forcing myself to make a choice now and sticking to it would be a great departure for me, and I feel would help me inmensurably (I feel anxious just typing the word “choice”). Making a choice and sticking by it. It may not be the “right” choice… but it will be my choice.

So, I have decided that my piece will focus on the idea I have hinted at in recent posts, but with a  slight twist: I want it to be cathartic, I would like it to turn a potentially anxiety-provoking situation into its opposite, or to offer a safe place to release and be exorcised from that anxiety. One would lie down to listen to the sound of time’s passing (tick tick tick… I can’t sleep because I keep thinking about my life), and to the urgent sound of duty calling (ring ring ring must do must not waste time) , and one would be continuously reminded of the time (as in Marclay’s The Clock); one would find oneself in a replica of a situation in which one is usually reminded of time, finding this situation amplified, and could then potentially let oneself experience the full strength of this anxiety, exorcising it, if you will … or because of the very different context in which these time-reminding elements come together (as a piece of art to be experienced and listened to), one could just lie down and experience the sounds as a piece, thus allowing oneself to be in the moment, neutralising the past and future, regret and duty, being for once at peace with time (as I was in the Dream House)…

[to be continued]

Time, or time and its associations

After realising that the place my idea originated from was a personal one, I decided that rather than read philosophy and physics books and attempt to represent or say something about the concept of time with my piece, what I am really mostly interested in exploring maybe is the way in which time relates to us as human beings and to our personal lives, what it means to us. So time as regret, duty, forgetting and forgiving, time as the healer of all wounds, time as eroding and erasing memory, time as the constant reminder of one’s frittering one’s life away… and so on.

The piece would then be a cathartic one for me: in posts below I mentioned the Dream House and my experience, there, of being in the moment through listening. Lying down to listen is one of the very few times I find I can allow myself to be in the moment. So, with my clocks piece, I could neutralise the past and the future and be stuck in the moment, be awake to the moment, feel no urgency despite the alarms, have nowhere to go to and nothing I must do except be in the present and listen…

And when I say “I”, I am also thinking of my audience…

A personal page from my notebook


I scribbled this in a flow-of-consciousness moment on my notebook a while ago. I thought I’d post it, despite its rambling and personal nature:

“Time, not just as a physical thing or philosophical concept! What about what first drew you to the clocks, namely the ticking clocks in your old house, when you were depressed and all you were doing was waiting for death, as sonified by the clocks?

What about all those alarm clocks going off every morning, 3 or more, to remind you of your incompetence, of how unlike your responsible adult parents you are, of how inept: one alarm is not enough to guarantee you will wake up in time for work, because you are an insomniac, because you feel so down you can never wake up, because you never get enough sleep because you stay up too late at night staring into nothingness and wasting time in stupid pursuits, and so on and so forth, because because because.

Sleep to dream, to be at peace, to day-dream without guilt. A little death in sleep. The alarm clocks ring and bring you back to… reality, and time’s nauseating ticking advance.

So, instead of focusing just on representing the concept of time, or attempting to capture it, I should take all the above in consideration too!! As time, for us, is not just a phenomenon that we observe: time eventually means death! (…and loss, and forgetting).

Now the idea of the bed makes sense. Subconsciously reminds me of my old bed. But how not to make a piece too personal for others to get? I’m sure others fight their own night-time demons and have their own dreams and are brought back to reality by their alarm clocks in the morning.

Maybe make a piece with several layers of meaning? Say something about attempting to capture time in an impersonal way… and something about loss and time’s passing and dreams too!”

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…

Some Tests

Here are some very rough recordings. I used around 40 clocks, placed in irregular rows to form a horseshoe-shaped semicircle (the shape I think I would like to set them in for the final piece). I placed an Edirol in the middle and started recording.

Playing with the alarms:

These are just very rough tests. I merely switched all the clocks on and manually activated/stopped some of them, so my handling of the clocks can be heard in the recording, as well as ambient noise. I was very curious to hear what the alarms would sound like out of context, but in stereo sadly it’s hard to convey their sound. Maybe I will try making some binaural recordings, once I have more clocks and can then begin structuring the alarms into more of a composition.

As you can hear, most alarm clocks, though of different makes and age, seem to possess the same type of alarm, which causes some interesting interactions as these alarms go on and off. A strange auditory hallucination also seems to take place: no matter how many of these alarms are added to the mix, the volume never seems to increase much. The mechanical bells & beater alarms are the loudest. It would be interesting if I could get my hands on more of these clocks as well as finding clocks that have a different bell sound (seemingly a near-impossible feat!).

Clocks ticking:

in the next post, I will talk about the visual/physical layout of the work, as a plan has been slowly coming together in my mind (and on scraps of paper that seem to be sprouting up everywhere), but I have not talked of it on here so far.

A growing, ticking collection

Behold! They have outgrown their A4 box.

42 clocks and counting, but still not enough. Must do better.

I would like at least a hundred to experiment with in the next month, so I have started purchasing brand-new job lot alarm clocks, because they are (relatively) cheap and readily available, even though I would prefer second hand, pre-owned clocks.

Sadly, some of the used clocks I have bought were broken, so I have had to open them up and improvise myself into a clock-doctor. I have so far fixed a couple, and am very proud of the results, since the two clocks I have repaired are rather special. One is the chicken-shaped clock visible in the picture above, which crows instead of ringing, and the other has a battery-operated alarm that can either emit a (rather horrid) melody or features a mechanical-clock-style bell that has two loudness settings (very loud is my favourite)!

I also bought an extremely disappointing cuckoo clock because it looked too tempting to resist. It didn’t turn out to be as exciting as advertised, of course. Not that, had it been, I would have definitely used it in my piece, since it is not an alarm clock! I have to admit that I think I am developing a little clock obsession. Next I would love to create a piece using grandfather clocks, as I think they are wonderful (but unfortunately exorbitantly expensive and bulky)!

I have made some experiments using about 25 clocks which I think is the minimum amount of alarms I would like to have ringing at any one time [though I may also put in quiet moments when only the ticking or a handful of alarms can be heard, and I still have to decide whether these will be intentional or whether they will be a consequence of batteries running out]. In order to have 20-25 clock alarms going off in a period of 12 hours (or 24 for digital… but right now I am sticking with non-digital), I would have to have 240-300 working alarm clocks… so 6 times what I have now!

I have made some recordings of the results of my experimentations, which I will post shortly.