In our series „Time and Listening“, Nico Daleman writes about the connection between listening experience and the perception of time. In this first contribution, he takes a look at the concert film „Environment“ by Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos (OEIN), PHØNIX16 and noiserkroiser, which marked the opening of MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues.

Listening to environments as a form of discovering sonic experiences has been a common topic within contemporary music. Acoustic properties of spaces reveal in sound through resonance and reverberation, transforming them into aesthetic entities of their own. Our individual perception of sound allows to explore spaces through sound, creating a variety of virtual spaces, diverse manifestations of a single shared environment. But how can we think a multiplicity of time through these acoustic environments? In other words, can we listen to the characteristics of different times through sound as well?

Sonia Lescène, Production Manager of „Environment“, at the MaerzMusik Studio Talk © Philippe Rebosz

While our imagination is more comfortable with the idea of the multiplicity of space, the multiplicity of times results hard to grasp. In physics, time and space are manifestations of one same entity, the spacetime continuum. Thinking space and time as a unified object helps us to realize the perception of time on its own, while producing a multiplicity of times through resonance. Given that resonance is the repetition of the same present, we can perceive multiple times for each iteration of the resounding sound. It is in the possibilities of meanings brought by listening to environments that time itself acquires other forms: it materializes and can thus be sensed and perceived. It develops textures, and becomes malleable; it corrugates and liquifies, disperses and elongates.

In music, the concept of linear time is so ingrained in the imaginary of western music, that it is often through “other” cultures that alternative models of time can be conceived. These forms of time often have a very present spiritual character. Alternative times are usually archived by the repetition of musical patters or by the stretch of long sustained drones. But for Jean-Luc Nancy, other forms of time can be as well experienced through the resonance of sound itself if we think resonance as resounding, and as an infinite repetition of what has already sounded. The MaerzMusik 2021 edition offers an opportunity to engage with these ideas.

„In Resonance the inexhaustible return of eternity is played – and listened to.“

Jean-Luc Nancy: Listening

As it has become usual in pandemic times, MaerzMusic 2021 had to migrate and adapt to the digital and virtual realm. „Environment“ is the title of the opening event that stems from the collaboration of the Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos (OEIN), the ensemble PHØNIX16 and noiserkroiser. Described as a “time-object”, the concert presented a variety of musical performances that reflected on our perception of time during the collective reclusion of the Covid-19 lockdown, enabling the opportunity to experience other forms of time. The production is an audiovisual experience that creates possible futures. Already aware of the conditions in which the project will be presented, „Environment“ was produced with the streaming format in mind: it was recorded on the stage of the Berliner Festspiele with the ensemble distributed as a round table, allowing the use of a 360° video and audio technology, made in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institute (HHI). The possibility to interact with the concert by turning around and exploring the stage set up presents a new form of exploring spaces, both virtually and in “real time” enhancing the possibility of multiple perspectives, of multiple presents.

Rehearsals for „Environment“ © Marlena Waldthausen

This form of interactive event acquires sense when we think of Enviroment as a time-object. Capturing time as an object, time resonates and can be experienced from various perspectives in the performance. Particularly in the piece by Carlos Gutiérrez Quiroga and the OEIN, that was also diffused in darkness. The utilization of native and DIY artisanal instruments from Bolivia into the language of experimental music suggests the existence of superimposed parallel timelines, of past, present and futures that are possible though acousmatic experience of indigenous instruments.

The broadcasting of this time-object, a musical performance wrapped in an audiovisual package, also puts into question our relationship with time, through the idea of real time as part of a performance. How can we perceive the multiplicity of times, once the time-object has been fixed into a multimedia recording, as they happen in real time, or in delayed transmission?  Broadcasting makes evident the idea of time as a social construction. We tend to agree implicitly on what real time is. We are usually flexible to agree on a present when we are confronted with broadcasting but travelling distance of electromagnetic waves render simultaneity impossible. The present is not a precise perfect point in a unidirectional timeline, but a span of time that could have any length, (from seconds to minutes) according to our frame of reference. Technologically this is what is known as lagging or buffering, produced by the physical characteristics of most circuits and technological devices. Real Time Clocks are supposed to synchronize devices to an objective timeline, effectively standardizing the present institutionalizing time.

But for Nancy, “the sonorous present is a result of time-space” (Nancy, 13), it differs from this physical idea, as a precise point and avoids linear succession, for “listening takes place at the same time as the sonorous event” (Nancy, 14). Keeping this in mind, we shall be able to capture the essence of the pieces presented by this edition of the MaerzMusik festival, as long as we are listening in resonance, in the immediacy of sound; and not listening to and through the technological means that make possible this virtual musical experience.

Rehearsals for „Environment“ © Marlena Waldthausen



Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2007. Listening. Translated by Charlotte Mandell. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.