Category Archives: Research

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.

Back to the Future

I recently found out through a tutor that one of my course-mates had considered working on an idea involving Casio wrist watches and their hourly alarms, but that he had given up after discovering that another artist had already developed the same idea into a piece.

I was curious (and apprehensive!) to learn more about the Casio watch piece, so I obtained from my course-mate a link to a blog post which mentions the work in question as well as describing other works in the exhibition the Casio piece was part of [all of these deal with the topic of time, though I am not sure they deal with aspects of time I am interested in exploring in my piece, but I have taken a look at each of these works nonetheless, as they may provide inspiration in the future].

The piece is by an artist called Ignacio Uriarte. Uriarte uses what he calls “the little creative moments within office-routines” as a starting point for his work, which features humble everyday objects found in offices as its  main materials. He has created a few pieces that in one way or another deal with time: “Accumulative Clock”, “All My Days” and the Casio piece, the one of most interest to me as it makes use of the sound of watch alarms, which is called “60 Seconds”.

Uriarte’s piece presents similarities to my idea, in that it makes use of the sound of clock alarms to say something about time. However, though the materials used are similar, the execution will be different (this might be comparable to two different paintings both making use of the same material: paint).

When looking at the comments posted on the blog reviewing the piece, I can see there are similarities in ideas which go beyond the use of similar materials: I too thought of showing the impossibility of capturing time by creating a constantly repeating sound piece (each instant would be a repetition/reiteration of something that has happened before at the same time, trapping the listeners inside the same 12 or 24 hours) which would start slowly degrading  as batteries ran out or the clocks went out of phase with each other. However, this is only one part of the time-connotations I would like to explore.

I also want to create a 12-hour (or 24: I still am undecided as I would like to only use non-digital clocks, which only span 12 hours) composition, that will captivate the listener and make them forget about time whilst constanly reminding them of it. This is what the BBC commenter brings up when discussing  Christian Marclay’s The Clock in the short video that I have embedded in one of my previous posts: he talks of how spectators watching the film and are engrossed in it and distracted by it from the passage of time… they forget about time, yet are paradoxically constantly reminded of it in Marclay’s work.

I have a tendency to write excessively long posts, so I will cut this one short here, but I would like to discuss the themes of my alarm clocks piece further. I will do so in a coming post.

Reflections on Arman, time, junk, art… and my clocks piece

I still can’t quite believe I had never heard of Arman before yesterday, but hopefully this is only because I still have much to learn when it comes to art, especially art whose primary focus is not on sound, rather than because he is not that widely known.

Last night I spent a great amount of time looking at the Arman works displayed on his official website, and found them utterly charming. I think that the fact that on the website they are all… massed together in one place, accumulated, intensifies their power.
In fact, I would love to see a whole gallery just full of Arman pieces, an entire retrospective dedicated to the artist (I know there have been, but what I mean is that I would love to personally experience one!), just so that all these works could be seen together and their impact thus be multiplied… an accumulation of accumulations.

Something definitely happens when the simple objects that Arman accumulates are put together and displayed in this way. As I have confessed above, my knowledge of art is still somewhat limited, so forgive me, as I am probably about to say something that has been said endlessly before and better, but this repetition, this amassment forces one to reconsider the object thus displayed, it takes the object beyond its physical existence as an object and makes it become the idea of the object itself.
I will explain what I mean: by looking at the work in the picture immediately below, for example, I am not merely looking at a bunch of clocks:

Alarm Clocks (Reveils), 1960

The repeating of the clocks in the work kind of makes the individual clocks disappear, and the idea of “clock” emerge, for me. That is, by examining this work, one finds oneself perceiving “clockness” rather than merely looking at a bunch of clocks.

While looking at the piece above, once separated from the clock-object I then also find myself thinking of things that relate to the idea of clock, like time (a clock being the time-telling device par excellence) and its passage.
There is also maybe a sense of alienation stemming from the repetition (one is “desensitised” to each clock?), but this immediately disappears when the piece is more closely inspected, and each clock is found to be different, to be an individual telling its individual story –so the piece becomes personal.
This, I suppose (sadly I could not find larger photos of this particular piece) would happen even with a work like this one, in which the clocks are all of a similar make and arranged in a more “neutral” way, to “depersonalise” them further:

With Arman’s clock accumulations, because of the clock’s nature as a time-telling device, I find myself also thinking of theses clocks’ past, present and future; of the memories attached to each, the signs of which are visible in the way each clock is slightly (or severely) worn; of the people who may have owned them; of the present piece and my looking at it, in my present (and of the fact that I am in fact looking at a digital picture of the work, which is an un-degradable and endlessly reproducible freeze-frame of time); of the piece’s future: what will happen to it as time goes on, and what of the artist’s memory… how fast will he be forgotten? Will this piece itself one day become junk, as the materials that made it up were once junk themselves, which was then elevated into art?

Time under glass. An attempt to preserve it. I am reminded of Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living“.
At the same time… These plexiglass boxes look a bit like forgotten exhibits in some dusty museum.

I’m not sure if this was the artist’s intention… but all of the above is what I get from studying photos of his clock accumulation pieces.

Some other remarks:

As mentioned briefly above, the blue clocks piece (actually called “Minutes”) that I posted above seems much more clinical, less personal than the other alarm clocks accumulation work also pictured above. However, I would say that in all probability that is only because all I have to go by, so far, is a tiny digital photograph in which the homogeneity of the clocks is accentuated by distance and lack of detail (I will keep looking for a better quality picture, and see if I can find some books on the artist to leaf through, too). I thus have only a vague idea of how the actual physical piece might look like, close up, but I am sure that once again, if examined closer, little differences would be present between each apparently identical clock.
Another interesting thing about this piece, as I can observe it from its photograph, is how much it looks like a Warhol silkscreen, from a distance.

On the subject of similarities to other artists’ works, I was also very interested to see Arman’s artworks involving musical instruments, some of which reminded me of Christian Marclay’s impossible instrument sculptures (and some of which made me think a little of cubist painting! Particularly the coleres pieces involving dismembered instruments laid flat). Sadly I could not dwell on this similarity for too long as I feel that its discussion would be somewhat off topic, for my present research, but I will probably revisit this work at some point in the future…

Further thoughts:

On my way to work, today, pondering over the Arman works, I caught myself thinking about what makes a simple object into a piece of art – about readymades, or even about what makes an idea become a conceptual work of art.
To my surprise, I suddenly remembered a TV advert from a couple of years ago (sadly I cannot recall the brand, though after spending far too much time fruitlessly searching for information or videos of it online, I believe it may have been AirWick), which featured a gallerist accidentally knocking a piece of modern art off its plinth and breaking it, and replacing it with a plastic air freshener to cover her tracks. Subsequently, an unknowing visitor to the gallery intently studies the “piece” thus created and proclaims it to smell wonderful.
The joke, in the ad, is that the freshener packaging looks so stylish, it’s “mistaken” for art.
However, the freshener, intentionally put on the plinth to stand in for an artwork, arguably does in fact become art, by virtue of its presentation. As with readymades and conceptual artworks, I believe that objects (and ideas) become art by virtue of their presentation as such (although I would like to point out that presenting anything as art does not necessarily make it good art).

Presentation thus is very important: the plinth; the plexiglass box; the choice to repeat the object or present it on its own…. or just the choice to talk about it in a certain way, and thus raise it on a plinth made of words. All these things are part of presentation. Presentation says: “consider this”, “consider my intention in choosing to show you this”.

Thoughts on my own work in relation to all the points discussed so far in this post and to Arman’s work:

  • The Arman pieces and their presentation will very likely inform the final presentation of my artwork.

  • Presentation is vital.

  • I don’t think I can create a piece that uses clocks as its main material without taking into consideration the concept of time and its passage, either by engaging with it or by actively rejecting it.

  • This is why, among other things, I now feel I should prevalently attempt to use clocks that have been owned and discarded, as these have a visible history.

  • An idea might be to collect the same model of clock, but from different pre-owned sources, so that each clock will tell its story, unencumbered by any immediate visual diversity (a different model/type of clock). Although visually compelling, maybe, I feel that this idea would be sonically less so (because the alarm tones would not be different). Also, I like the bric-a-brac aesthetic: I would like the clocks to look like sublimated junk, I want them to have a more pronounced pathetic side (“pathetic” in the sense of emotion-stirring and fragile), to emphasise the transient nature of time, and thus I’d prefer them to be of a variety of different makes and in different states.

  • Not to forget, it is not time only that is transient in nature: so is sound! Each alarm sound would return on cue after 24 hours (or 12, depending on the type of clock), as the clock time “repeats” itself. So, in a way, I would be attempting to reverse the passage of time and sound by creating a cyclicly repeating sonic event. Because the sound would be continuous (there would always be sound coming from the clocks, as all alarms will be set to go off at different times), each instant of the sonic part of the piece would be a repetition of something that has happened before.

  • However, the fact that clock hands revolve and get back to indicating exactly the same clock-time does not mean that external time does not go forward, that it does not pass. Similarly, then, although the alarms repeat themselves on cue, and thus the same event happens again and again, creating an illusion of time constantly repeating itself… this attempt to loop time and capture it through sound is in fact ultimately doomed to failure because the sonic piece will never be exactly the same again, the clocks’ batteries will run out eventually, the clocks will go out of phase imperceptibly, etc…

[Dear Blog] Tick tock tick tock… bbbbrrrring!

Dear Blog,

…I am feeling utterly exhausted! After a long hard day at work, I spent most of this evening glued to my computer, trying to source interesting and relevant reading materials for research on my alarm clocks piece. For dinner? A muffin and a pot of yogurt, because I didn’t want to leave my desk. And now it’s bedtime, but I want to at least post a little update on the things I have been up to today/tonight, before I have to go to sleep to be ready for work again tomorrow.

So, here we go:

Tonight, thanks to a pointer I received earlier in the day from my former boss, who happens to be a working artist, I found out a little about Arman, who not only was married to Eliane Radigue and had children with her (to think I did not know who he was until today!), but also created a sculpture made of massed clocks:

Arman also produced several accumulation pieces, which made use of, among other things, alarm clocks and watches:

Earlier today I was also shown this work by Felix Gonzales-Torres, which, as well as being a moving piece of art, has now made me think of the possibility of letting battery-operated clocks go out of phase, which I may use in my alarm clocks piece.

Today I also made my first clock purchase from a charity shop. I got very excited over a simple plastic alarm clock – the women at the counter in the charity shop were distinctly unimpressed.

As I mentioned, this evening, apart from looking up Arman, I searched for books on the subject of time in art, but could not dig up that much that I felt would be relevant, bar this. I have however ordered this book and this book from Amazon. I hope I will be able to understand them! I am interested in finding out how time can be represented in a work of art, what time is and how we can conceive of it, since questions of time will inevitably enter into a work composed of clocks. Physics might be coming next (eeek!)…

And now, bedtime! Ready for my alarm clocks to go off in the morning…

Poème Symphonique and my life passing me by

Here’s an embeddable version of the Ubuweb video file of Poème Symphonique that I have found on YouTube, for your viewing pleasure. So now you can view the video right here, from the comfort of this blog page, should you feel too cozy here to venture out to explore the wonders of Ubuweb:

The machine that kick-starts the metronomes in the video above was created by the sculptor and installation artist Gilles Lacombe, as explained in the video’s French-speaking voiceover. Ligeti’s original performance instructions called for ten musicians in formal attire to ceremoniosly appear and set off the metronomes under a conductor’s orders, in what appeared to be a humorous and absurd, in this context, take on formal classical concert traditions. This was because Ligeti composed the piece partly as his contribution to the irreverent Fluxus movement, to which he had a brief association. However, in following performances Ligeti abandoned the ceremony aspects of the performance and let the metronomes instead speak (or, rather, tick) for themselves.

I have had another look at the sections of my copy of Richard Steinitz’s book on Ligeti (“Gyorgy Ligeti: Music of the Imagination”) that refer to Poème Symphonique (these are pp. 126-129). Because of features such as its Fluxus association, its intentionally inappropriate title and the comically ceremonious aspects of its first performance, Steinitz says that Poème Symphonique may appear to merely be a piece of “subversive anti-art”, but is in fact multifaceted.

Here are some of the points the author makes about the work, and some other points which I found interesting as perhaps relevant to my research  [please forgive the somewhat messy presentation and some repetition, as these are pretty much just notes to myself!]:

  • it’s “an experiment in indeterminate rhythmic counterpoint, furthering Ligeti’s exploration of micropolyphonic textures”
  • it’s Fluxus-ly (yes, I am inventing an adverb!)   entertaining as the public can playfully attempt to guess which metronome will stop first
  • it’s sonically compelling, as one can first hear all the mechanisms ticking together and then listen out for the ticking gradually thinning out
  • it’s visually engaging (a hundred metronomes all moving at the same time and at different speeds, all of similar shape make for a fascinating spectacle)
  • it does have strong elements of provocation (the title, the ceremonious sending up of tradition, the replacing of traditional instruments and musicians with 100 clockwork performers, etc…)
  • it superposes “pulsation grids – a moiré effect familiar in physics – [which] results in a rhythmic evolution […]. At the start, the grids are so numerous that they coalesce, sounding disorderly and blurred. To achieve adequate textural density, he needed large numbers of metronomes. A hundred had been an estimate.”
  • Disorder to order. Unpredictable patterns to uniformity (of one metronome’s regular ticking). Change of patterns over time going from mass to less, irregularity becomes more evident as some metronomes stop and the grid thins out, and then regularity appears as the last metronome is left ticking alone. Ever-mutating rhythms to steady rhythm.
  • The running down of mechanisms takes time (one has to wait for the metronomes’ ticking to die out. Idea of time’s passing…)
  • it “charts successive stages in a polyrhythmic counterpoint that is differently perceived by every listener; for the interpretation of acoustic (and visual) patterns is to a degree subjective”
  • “Originating in his reading of Gyula Krudy’s tale of a house full of clocks” [I have done some research to find out which story this refers to, but I couldn’t find the actual title of it anywhere, though quotes of Ligeti referencing this story of a widow living in a house full of clocks where time appears to stand still abound. I have ordered two books of stories by Krudy, as I am curious, and hope this story is printed in one of thee two books…]

In the small flat I lived in before moving to my current place, we used to have several clocks all constantly ticking away. I owned a few, and so did my ex boyfriend: we each had our own alarm clocks, and then there were the wall clocks, and watches. Their ticking would drive me insane at night, as I sometimes suffer from insomnia, as I would be unable to stop focusing on the rhythms created by the interplaying clock-ticks, and thus to sleep. I was also very depressed, at the time, and, as I restlessly listened, I felt as if my life itself was slowly being extinguished with each tick, as if the prison of impossibility I felt trapped in was being made audible. When I moved to my new house, in my own room, started a new life and a new course, I did not want any clocks, as the house was so very quiet, at night (except for the frequently and horridly loudly feuding semi-human neighbours next door). However, I soon had to arm myself with a couple of alarm clocks, as I need several bells to go off in order to wake up for good in the morning (I use 5! 3 to wake me up, and two more for safety…). The quiet of the room… the ticking of the clocks… the alarms… and finding out about Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique all made me wonder about what a multitude of ringing, ticking alarm clocks would sound like, all together. This was the beginning of my idea…

So, how does Ligeti’s piece relate to mine, apart from being one of its inspirations? What can I gather from it that I could apply to my own work?

I will have to revisit this blog post and Poème Symphonique further down the line, for an appropriate answer, as I know that the connection is there, but words still elude me and I have to reflect further…

Clock links

I have been running searches on Google and YouTube, looking for interesting clock art videos, but sadly tonight I could not find much bar the inevitable and a lot of different websites selling hand-painted clocks and the like, or videos of ticking clocks…

Here are a couple of interesting videos I found tonight, though I am not sure of how relevant they might be to my research:

Clock Art – By Digital Futurism
Quite interesting. I am planning to do something similar, in the sense that my piece will also make use of a great number of alarm clocks. However, my clocks will be constantly emitting sounds, creating a 24-hour-long repeating composition with their ticking and different alarms. The clocks will also create an entirely different visual impact, as they will all be of different makes and sizes. I wish I could find more videos making use of large quantities of clocks… but it’s still early days of my research.

I like the ticking sounds of the clock mechanisms in this piece. I anticipate my clock piece will also produce similar ticking.
At this stage, I am thinking of creating a piece that features continuously ringing alarms, so I am not sure if I will incorporate moments in which nothing but the ticking can be heard… but I would have to try it all out once I have acquired enough clocks.

Alarm clocks

Very often I have ideas which I at first dismiss as possible pieces, but which I find myself thinking about again and again and wanting to carry out “in my own time” and away from others’ judgement. This year, I decided I would unapologetically embrace these ideas instead of dismissing them, and work on them to develop them to their fullest potential. I am very excited about my decision.

The humming piece I am currently working on was one of these initially dismissed ideas, and so is another piece I plan to create, which involves alarm clocks.

Basically, I would like to compose a continuous 24-hour repeating piece using a multitude of alarm clocks of different types and sizes. These will be non digital, as I would like to explore the ticking as part of the emitted sounds, and either wind-up or battery-operated (this is merely because I don’t want to have trailing cables, but with non-mains-connected clocks I could also explore what happens if I let the batteries/winding run out).
To this end, I have started purchasing and collecting second-hand and job lot alarm clocks. I hope to build quite a collection…

Here are some sources of inspiration which I will be looking at further:

Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes – (1962) by György Ligeti [sorry, cannot embed Ubuweb video files, but do please click on the link]

Christian Marclay’s The Clock, which I went to see when it was playing at White Cube, earlier this year:

[Please ignore the truly awful voiceover. Why do people on TV always treat their audience as if they were little children?]

Here is a great interview with Marclay conducted by the Economist as the artist was putting the finishing touches (or rather, the finishing edits) to his 24-hour piece.

Publicly humming…

Just a quick post to point out that, as the humming piece is my first involving a flash mob in a public place, I am unsure of how much information I can divulge in this blog before the event without prejudicing the piece itself. Therefore, please forgive the vagueness of posts relating to it.

I have deleted most of the posts and links that I found too compromising from this blog and have decided that my research relating to this piece will from now on be carried out and documented outside of the blog.

What’s in a hum?

Here’s a little more info on the Hums (temporary title) piece I am working on:

The humming piece I am planning aims to, among other things, make those experiencing it as spectators become suddenly aware of their sonic surroundings. The plan is to make the humming of the performers start imperceptibly, then crescendo slowly until evident and sustain loudly for a while, before repeating the process in reverse and fading out to leave the ambient hum bare.

With this piece, then, I aim to bring to the attention of the public a sound characteristic of a given space and which mostly* goes either unnoticed or ignored.

I have chosen to do so by using a small crowd of (briefed) humming performers, in part because this plays on the word “hum”, but also because using the human voice in this context is very practical, as it allows me to carry out the piece without creating excessive disruption in the location I have chosen or having to worry about the piece being halted by security before it has a chance to begin. Humming to oneself in public, after all, is not forbidden…

Furthermore, I like the simplicity of using the human voice in this context, I like the fact that with sufficient planning and preparation anyone could create a piece like this, that the materials for its execution are readily available to anyone.
In addition, because the human voice is personal and characteristic of each individual, maybe this will mean that something of the performers, through their voices, will be permanently embedded in the surroundings and left behind as a memory within the ambient hum.

Also, because the fading in and out will be gradual, the boundaries between human humming and ambient hum will become blurred, the hum then becoming part of the piece and permanently extending it both in the past and future.

This piece, once fully ideated, could also be adapted to and used to explore other ambient hums in different spaces.

*I say “mostly” because I do not claim to be the only person who has noticed it or enjoys listening to it…


I am currently working on a piece which will involve a humming crowd in a public space of my choosing.

Last year I took part in a performance by Arco at Milton Keynes Gallery. One of the pieces we performed, by Sam Belifante, required us to hum along with a video depicting the composer in Taos, New Mexico (a town  plagued by a mysterious hum) as he hummed surrounded by the local soundscape and landscape.

At around the same time, I performed with a group of other improvising musicians in a public space in which a persistent hum could be heard. Afterwards, I kept wondering to myself how wonderful it could have been, had we played along to the hum rather than treated it as an annoyance or ignored it, during our performance.

This wondering turned into a bit of an obsession, and I got thinking about ways of going back to the space and interacting with its ambient hum. A small flash mob -style co-ordinated performance and vocal humming seemed a very appropriate, practical and unintrusive way of doing this. Furthermore, the simplicity and beauty of the human voice was very appealing to me.

However,  I remembered Sam Belifante’s piece, and wondered wether I could go ahead with an idea bearing similarities to his. After being unable to let this idea rest, I have come to the conclusion that I need to make it a reality, and what matters is that I carry out thorough research into similar work (of which I have since found out there is more), and make sure that the final piece is informed by it, but mine.

Tonight I took a look at Sam’s website, and found a further voice piece, again in a (superficially at least) similar vein to the one I am planning. This will be a challenge…