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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

The Clock Ticks According to Reichian Time (MP3)

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).

[audio:|titles=”Tick Tock Bong”|artists=Wavelength (Resonance FM)]

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.

Track originally posted at More on Wavelength’s host, William English, at (Image courtesy of via the Creative Commons.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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