Quartz Music

Sound installation based on the website project As Precise As Time

Details: a lot of mundane texts

Full text:About Quartz Music(中)

In the last days of having alarm clocks accompanying people to sleep and waking them up, by replacing the jumping hands with sweeping hands and in other ways, watchmakers at last minimized the sound of the seconds and the running of the movement. Soon afterward, electronic digital clocks and other screens made these single functioned little gadgets disappear into obscurity. After that, the passage of time became silent.

When listening to the fifth movement of Olivier Messiaen's Quartet pour la fin du temps, Homage à l'éternité de Jesus, I always imagine a scene of a small plastic alarm clock ticking away, that is the image of the exquisite and everlasting time. Throughout the history of man's perception of time, the instruments for recording time evolved. The human perception of the progression of time, which is embedded in the horologes, has also changed, and this in turn has affected all the creations related to horology.

In addition to the development of musical note-taking, which is directly related to time-keeping instruments, the change in the concept of a precise time has also indirectly influenced the time structure in music, this influence is based on the change in the concept of time from the relative to the absolute - the change from imaginary time to a precise time. This is a change, in turn, that is reflected in the three music pieces that directly inspired this project. They noted the relationship between the infinitely smooth progression of time and the cuts made to it - the (un)precise scales at which humans record it - as manifested in the mathematical alterations and repetitions upon what was originally only a natural unfolding of musical progression in time, as well as the variations and errors that come with such repetitions.

The first is pianist Glenn Gould's 1962 performance of Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, in which Gould slowed the entire piece down to 4/3 of its original tempo, extending the duration of the performance from about fifty minutes at its usual speed to over an hour.

The second is Eric Satie's unperformed Vexation, a short, bland fragment that needs to be repeated eight hundred and forty times in a row, and which has been put into practice by later performers - including John Cage.

The third was Steve Reich's work Clapping Music, in which the performer generates variations in rhythmic effects by repeating and shifting the timing of a basic sequence consists of eight claps.

All three experiments achieved exceptional results: Gould's extended version of the concerto created a distinctive, rich tension; the performance of Vexations brought "epiphanies" and "hidden melodies" to the last remaining listeners; Clapping Music instantly presented a sharp sensation of order and rhythm.

An underlying clue is present - the precision and discrepancy in the music, which derives directly from the temporality of the music and the execution and alteration of the music's time course. By controlling the constants and variables in the music's body and its execution, musical experimentation produces an overlap of known and incidental elements, of the unit's precision and its deviation. From the imposition of tempo changes on a relatively well-structured body of classical repertoire, to the repetition and accumulation of short musical instants, to the framing of only basic rhythmic arrays, they exhibit a tendency for constants to diminish and variables to grow, in which constants correspond to the ever-simplifying units used to slice and scale time: the water, the sand, the candle, the pendulum, the hairspring, the quartz, and variables to the error itself that results from the measurements of time made with these units. --The composers were generating these music through the deviation of the timekeeping.

Quantities and their units are thus reversed. In the logic of this abstract movement of time, music no longer means melody within its original unit. The progression of Brahms's music, the short fragment of Vexations, or the eight claps of the hands would become the unit of measurement of time itself, like water or quartz. Music can continue to be produced in this logic, for if we interpret this music as a variation in time, and here variation comes from error (deviation), then this music exists because of error.

In this long music, the apparatus of timing is the player, its instrument, and the music itself. In an ideal situation, this performance would include all kinds of timekeeping instruments: water clocks, candle clocks, pendulum clocks, mechanical clocks, quartz clocks, atomic clocks ...... The presented work is therefore a part of this ideal performance, which uses jumping-second quartz clocks - the last perceptible ritual of timekeeping technology - to realize this music. Five quartz clocks are switched on at the same time, and the tremors of their second hands will gradually shift out of sequence with each other.