Formulations
Published in

Formulations

Zeitraum Short Story

Zeitraum Graz, Austria, 2013 (Photo: Gerhard Eckel)

You enter a large room. It is almost empty. You hear a pattern of percussive sounds, resembling strokes on a snare drum. The sounds come from many loudspeakers suspended from the ceiling. It is relatively dark in the room, but there is enough light to roam about at ease. Slowly you become aware of the irregular constellation formed by the loudspeakers. From various heights they project the sound into different directions. You notice that each stroke comes from another loudspeaker. The pattern has a fast pace, but it takes quite a long time until a certain loudspeaker contributes a stroke again. You sense the space as empty and full at the same time. You are not alone. Other listeners stroll around, trying to find out what this space is about. The title of the sound installation claims it is about time. Lingering at a spot you wonder if all strokes were alike. They sound so different depending on where they come from, depending on how they find their way from the loudspeaker to your ears. Does this make for the unevenness of the pattern?

You become aware of a spot light marking a point on the floor in a corner of the room. One of your fellow listeners just stepped into the light beam. You wonder how the pattern sounds there. While moving on slowly you notice that something in the pattern shifts slightly. You never can predict from which speaker the next stroke will emanate. Not only does each stroke sound quite different from the last, some surprise you by as being a bit late while others seem premature. You find an area in the room where this makes for an agreeable groove. In other parts of the room the pattern is hopelessly limping, in yet others you find it completely erratic. You wonder why. You share your doubts with two fellow listeners who are also puzzled by this experience. They just came all the way across the room from where the spot light is located. There, they claim, it sounded quite different, mentioning that they have repeated this going forth and back twice already. You follow their recommendation to slowly approach the light spot by traversing the room along its diagonal.

Photo: Udo Stelzer

When you start walking you spot another listener standing in the beam, about 30 meters away from you. While you are crossing the room you are listening for a gradual change in the pattern until you notice that it suddenly has changed from erratic to limping. You return to where you came from, back into this zone of complete unpredictability in the corner opposite of the light point. Once you start your diagonal trajectory again the listener in the light beam has left and you hurry to get there. At about half way through the room the pattern has changed to quite a predictable one and once you are close to the spot light you notice yet another clear change. But what was it that changed? The direction from which to expect the next stroke is still unpredictable and every stroke still sounds different from the last — a few very clear and direct, but most others muffled and reverberated.

You remain for some time in the dazzling light beam, listening and pondering about what you hear. Once the title of the installation comes back to your mind, it dawns on you that it is the timing of the strokes which has changed. It is completely regular now. The strokes form a steady pulse without any groove. If there were not the variations in the strokes due to the different distances and orientations of the speakers, it would be quite a boring rattle you heard. Excited about your discovery you start walking back across the room, once more listening for changes in the pattern. On your way you meet the couple again you talked to before. You cannot resist sharing your discovery with them, but they find it difficult to believe. Why should the timing change with the listening position?

There are no obvious devices in the room to keep track of the listeners’ positions such as to change the pattern accordingly. And this would also only work for one person at a time. The three of you decide to perform a collaborative test. One would stay in the centre of the room and the other two would listen at the extremes, one at the light point and the other at the point furthest away from it. You agree on a hand sign everyone would make if he or she found what they expected: regular timing at the light, a pleasant groove in the centre and an a-rhythmical pattern in the opposite corner. It turns out that these three conditions occur at the same time. Still puzzled, the three of you decide to leave the installation and take a drink in a café nearby. You exchange further speculations about the experience you have shared.

On your way to the toilets you overhear a fragment of a conversation at another table: “… it is surprising that this effect has such consequences already in this relatively small room”. You want to think that they are also talking about Zeitraum. But which effect did they mean? The windows in the toilet are open and you hear the roar of an approaching thunderstorm. Briefly before you leave the toilet you catch a lightning in the corner of your eye. When the corresponding thunder strikes only once you had almost arrived at your table, you suddenly know what the people at the other table where talking about.

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Art as practice of formulation

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Gerhard Eckel

Gerhard Eckel

Using sound to explore ways of world making.

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