The excellent Wavelength show on Resonance FM is first broadcast in London (at 104.4 FM) and later distributed as a podcast. The show focuses on a variety of sound, from field recordings to experimental music, and a recent entry was one of its most bare-bones episodes yet: about half an hour of a grandfather clock ticking away. It is titled “Tick Tock … Bong.” The “bong” is the intense striking sound that signals the arrival of an hour. It’s a gong-like explosion that disrupts the steady field of the tick tock. Putting aside that “bong” for a moment, the “tick tock” is a splendid thing unto itself, a quotidian Steve Reich installation, no counterpoint, just the steady progression of time (MP3).
As the Oblique Strategies card reads, “Repetition is a form of change.” In this case, the change that becomes apparent is the way the details of the to-and-fro procession of mechanized time come into focus. As it goes on, the whole concept of time comes into question, because the imprecision of the timepiece becomes apparent: the swagger of its off-balanced tone, the extended pause that makes every other beat slightly longer than the previous (or vice versa, depending on when you start counting).
And then, fair warning, there are those hour markers, the intense gong sounds — the “bong!” from which the entry takes its title — that provide the impression that the creaky grandfather clock has, for a moment, regained the ramrod posture of its youth. Heard here, the gong is preceded, as at 7:17, by a kind of winding-up, a quiet warning that the hour is about to be noted loudly. The first hour heard here is 11, and we are then treated to three more such markers (1, 12, and 6) after extended periods of tick-tock homogeneity. The bong is hard to ignore, but worth even closer consideration is the lingering resonance that seems to taper off to infinity, a slow decay that never seems to fully go away. The overall impression is that time doesn’t pass; it accrues. (Peculiarly, at the very end of the recording, there is suddenly traffic noise and then birdsong and then a plane crossing overhead.)
In the post associated with the track, there is a brief explanatory note:
It was midnight in Syston, Leicestershire and the microphone was inside the clock which was awarded to Sandra’s grandfather; William Cross who won a stack of individual and team titles with the army and Castleford Harriers and was presented to King George V and Queen Mary in January 1920 after finishing sixth out of a field of 700 in the army cross-country championship. Sandra’s mother came into the room, noticed the microphone and just said “tick tock” before going back upstairs.