In our series „Time and Listening“, Nico Daleman writes about the connection between listening experience and the perception of time. In this third contribution, he looks back at „TIMEPICE“, the 27-hour final project of MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues, which took place on the revolving stage at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, and reflects on the political dimensions of time concepts.

The 2020 Corona lockdowns accentuated our dependence on media in order to function. The ubiquity of screens became more palpable, as most of our forms of interaction happened through the internet. As a consequence of the lockdowns, most of us were confronted with an altered perception of time. But objectively time did not change, the dictatorship of the linear time was always present. Only our senses perceived the passing of time differently. But what happens when this rigidity of time, a perfectly measured scientific clock is presented to us through media, and gets transformed in an aesthetic experience, subjected to a multiplicity of readings? How do we perceive time that has been mediated by regulation? Ultimately, what is our contemporary social perception of time?

“What TIMEPIECE renders visible is the very beating heart of a specific kind of time concept and time practice, the clock-based time.”

As a physical event, sound is dependent on linear time. The medium that surrounds us is excited by certain energy which makes our eardrums vibrate with it, once, at a specific point in time. The exact same perturbation of the medium cannot and will not happen exactly the same. The air molecules have shifted their position and the whole ether is altered. This is valid even for sounds that have been recorded and constricted in time. A sound can be captured and re-produced until infinity, but the medium will vibrate differently every time, thus bringing over a novel experience each time. Through media, we are listening to representations of sound generated by electromagnetic fluxes or digital voltage samples transduced to mechanical movement in the coil of a speaker. Mediated sound challenges Jean-Luc Nancy’s ideas since listening as a possibility of meaning gets truncated by the media, and sound is therefore constricted to an unambiguous meaning without the possibility of resonance.

„TIMEPIECE“ at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake

Time is re-presented or even corrupted by the medium, in the same way that sound is abridged by the medium. Our perception of time is always mediated through standardized mechanisms that are deeply ingrained in our society. Time regimes are a socioeconomic construction that serves the purpose of industrial capitalistic modes of production and subjugates us to the singularity of a sole communal perception. These specific practices are created within capitalist transactions as a form to discipline, control, exploit and colonize, while imposing universals and erasing other temporalities. By presenting time in the frame of the sensual artistic field of sonic temporalities regulated time is susceptible to be challenged, while also engaging with the political, philosophical and multidisciplinary questions of time. The intertwining of art and politics is at the core of the curatorial idea of MaerzMusik as a Festival for Time Issues, which takes a more concrete and direct form in the realization of the closing act of the 2021 edition: “TIMEPIECE”.

„TIMEPIECE“ at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake

As a work of media art, “TIMEPIECE” is a re-interpretation and a mise en scene of “TIM song”, a conceptual work by composer Peter Ablinger, that musicalizes the recording of the BBC speaking clock that incessantly marks the time every ten seconds. “TIMEPIECE” takes this idea further and includes a rotatory stage as a gigantic clock that completes a 360 turn every hour, vertical light configurations that are assembled and dissembled with the passing of time, and the performance of the time readers and musical guests. The audiovisual experience was staged and streamed in real time, emphasizing the contradictions of time performance through media. TIMEPIECE is then not necessarily an objective clock, since the reiteration of the same gestures produces a suspension of time.

Composer Peter Ablinger on the revolving big stage in the Haus der Festspiele. © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake

Furthermore, “TIMEPIECE” is a contemporary monument for our Corona-times: it is the consummation of the alteration of social time consciousness experienced during lockdown. It challenges the perception of time by rendering it visible; it confronts our time subjectivity by creating a community involved in the project itself, while ironically functioning as a monetary distribution mechanism that turns the wage-labor equation upside-down involving as many people as possible. As a result of the current circumstances “TIMEPIECE” takes the role of a closing event that “The Long Now” occupied in previous editions while highlighting its absence. If “The Long Now” was able to generate an experience of enlargement of the present through different forms of music, “TIMEPIECE” offers a sense of (mediated) normality as an alternative to “The Long Now” that has become the pandemic by standardizing time to the unforgivable time grid of the clock.

„TIMEPIECE“ at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake

While “TIM song” does not uphold a particular political aspect to it, the drive in “TIMEPIECE” is always decidedly political: it aims to undermine the United Kingdom’s imperial gesture of standardizing time and language by also using multiple languages that ultimately erodes in a poetical way the claim of unilaterality in temporality. “TIMEPIECE” is subversive in the sense that, by taking the given of the standardization of time as a material while undermining it through background musical compositions, scenography, and multiculturalism, it challenges our preconceptions of this standardized time. Different expressions of time and temporality are present in the different languages and even different phrasing in same language. Furthermore, it presents a diversity of interpretations of the original score by musicians, sound artists, performance artists that reinterpret a score in a particular way, challenging the control of musical tempo regulated by the metronome, and temporality in general.

Paraphrasing Berno Odo Polzer, the artistic head of MaerzMusik and co-creator of this project: “What TIMEPIECE renders visible is the very beating heart of a specific kind of time concept and time practice, the clock-based time. In its rigidity, in its redundancy, in its relentlessness, it becomes palpable – it can be felt, while also revealing its most inhuman part.”  The unique experience of listening to clocked time as an art piece made explicit the invitation to reflect about time as a political question.