In our series „Time and Listening“, Nico Daleman writes about the connection between listening experience and the perception of time. In this second contribution, he introduces different concepts of time and takes us to the Zeiss Großplanetarium where François J. Bonnet has set up the three-hour „Trilogie de la Mort“ by Éliane Radigue as a binaural audio livestream.

The relativity of time is not only a physic-philosophical concept that challenges our way to understand time. The relativity of time also lives in our perception and in our psyche. Time does not shorten or elongate only because of physical phenomena or external stimuli, but also by the ways in which we receive these stimuli: our current emotional state and our current thoughts or ideas. Is our internal perception of time also affecting time outside our consciousness? How do we then reconciliate these alternate forms of time?

Based on the ideas of Pierre Boulez, Gilles Deleuze uses the figures of Chronos and Aion to personify the difference between pulsed time and non-pulsed time. Pulsed time refers to a form of narrative time, a progression of scenes in succession that retains a teleological nature. Non-pulsed time, on the other hand, refers to the suspension of time that is only sensuous. For Chronos, the present is the only time that exists, and past and future are relative to the present. Whereas for Aion, the past and future are contained in the present that therefore becomes unlimited in each direction: “Always already passed and eternally yet to come” (Deleuze, 165).

Binaural Recording of „Trilogie de la Mort“ at the Zeiss Großplanetarium © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Philippe Rebosz

One of the methods in which music can alter our perception of time is the repetition of patterns that slowly and almost unperceptively change in time. A steady pulse is established and different patterns within the melodies emerge, either by shifting and superposing it (e.g., Steve Reich Piano Phase) or adding and subtracting single notes (e.g., Phillip Glass Two Pages). Here the notion of a steady pulse is not to be confused with the idea of pulsed time. Reich developed his music around the idea of a “gradual process”: it hinders a narrative development in favour of a progressive unfolding. Long extended drone textures also create the illusion of floating music and unsettle the perception of chronological time. The idea of a non-pulsed time is more distinct, since this sonic gesture is explicitly avoiding percussive attacks and thus any sense of pulse of meter (e.g. La Monte Young’s Second Dream of the High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer). In both cases, the music changes just to go back to where it started. It resonates with itself. Music acquires a metaphysical quality through reiterative sonic gestures, suggesting a state of transcendence beyond development, always becoming.

On Monday, the MaerzMusic festival presented a comprehensive portrait of French composer Éliane Radigue. The programme included the diffusion of Trilogie de la Mort using binaural and 3D audio technology. It was a suitable compromise that allowed the public to experience the acoustic properties of the Zeiss Großplanetarium in Berlin. As an act of performance, diffusion introduces a “live” element to electronic pieces, tuning them to the particular acoustic characteristics of a space, while making it susceptible to alterations. Sounds of paper sheets or doors appeared during the transmission, shattering the illusion of an objective recording captured on tape, while including a feeling of “real-time” performance.

„Trilogie de la Mort“ at the Zeiss Großplanetarium © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Philippe Rebosz

Triologie de la Mort is a set of three one-hour long pieces for tape machines and the ARP2500 synthesizer. Inspired by Radigue’s practice of Tibetan Buddism, Kyema, Kailasha, and Koumé explore the topics of death, transcendence and metaphysics, while

searching for an access to eternity through technological devices. Instead of creating a perceptual illusion of different presents, Trilogie de la Mort excites our sonic environment via acoustical and electronical phenomena, folding over the timeline of the future and the past into our present. Her music diverges both from musique concrète and the New York school. Her approach to the deconstruction of linear time is not formulated by the use of musical patterns – or even traditional musical language at all – but from the literal electro-acoustic manipulation of sound. More specifically, she uses magnetic tape feedback loops and analogue synthesizers to produce textures that slowly unfold within themselves suspending our perception of linear time.

François J. Bonnet at the Zeiss Großplanetarium © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Philippe Rebosz

The music explores the multiplicity of time not only by finding resonance in architectonic spaces, but also by finding resonance in her electronic devices. Sound inhabits the space of magnetic tapes, electronic circuits, of atomic particles and traveling electrons, constantly on an infinite feedback loop, and resonating with themselves. Resonant analogue filters sometimes emerge as synthetic human voices and sometimes pierce the acoustic space as pure frequencies that insinuate melodic patterns. Beating frequencies emerge by the superposition of two adjacent high tones, sometimes in high frequencies generating a form of oscillating vibrato, while others appear in the low frequencies, creating forces of wave-like gestures that immerse the listener in a sonic bath. At some points – particularly in the last piece Koumé – loud and intense bass beatings dominated the soundscape. Thanks to the binaural technology, low frequencies that were being propelled by subwoofers were affecting not only my ears, but my entire body.

Through our resounding bodies, time is perceived through the perspective in which the present has an infinity and multiplicity of times (the past and the future), always resonating through sound, and always creating singular possible worlds. The feeling of immersion as a form of exploration of acoustic spaces also reinforces the ideas of non-pulsed time. The ubiquity of space in resonance with the absence of time reassures the presence of eternity, where time and space are not existent.

François J. Bonnet playing „Trilogie de la Mort“ at the Zeiss Großplanetarium © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Philippe Rebosz


Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. The Logic of Sense. Translated by Mark Lester and Charles Stivale. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.