It’s About Time It’s About Space

This takes the form of a recipe. It will begin with a series of brief, unconnected observations, then allow, through a speculative, though informal and playful process, interleaving, folding and bleeding of the contours and the ingredients to reveal something about their connectedness.

1 We respond to space with emotion, and how we respond says something about us. The kitchen, the woodland trail, the garden shed, beneath a cloudless sky in the heart of the night. These spaces provide contexts for experience – a sense of focus and command, alchemy, nurture, resolve, reflection.

2 When a person begins an anecdote with the words “Last night I dreamed that I was…” we are, as listeners, transported immediately to a fictive world with which we are all intimately familiar, before the story even begins.

3 We habitually shake ourselves free from reverie as if scared that we may slip irrevocably from physical space and time and become lost

4 Kafka used location like no other writer – with the possible exception of Bachelard – to inform emotional space. The angular man stretching his limbs in a too small room, the figure curled under the bar counter, the monstrous woman “burrowed” in a vertiginous attic in Amerika. The description of imagined space speaks directly as the construction of emotional condition. The spaces familiar to us as a dream.

1 Research suggests that in a gallery we spend an average of seven seconds viewing an individual painting.

2 Elvis Presley’s drummer, Ronnie Tutt claimed, in 2009, that Colonel Tom Parker had ordered the mixes on 1972s Elvis: as recorded at Madison Square Garden to be sped up prior to cutting in order to fit more tracks, and therefore increased publishing royalties, onto a single disk.

3 John Berger wrote beautifully about the difference between a photograph and a painting. A photograph is a captured moment, and a good photograph captures the most telling moment. A painting, on the other hand, is the distilled essence of a period of time. It is a summation of moments and the evidence of a period of time in which an artist and a subject maintained an iterative dialogue.

Time and Space Slipping
1 I click on a link someone has posted to a timeline. Judy Garland singing Paris is a Lonely Town on the Jack Parr show. I receive a nostalgic blow and slip into a reverie of monochrome Manhattan, sharp suits, late nights, smoke and Hamptons etiquette.

2 On the last train home a drunk gives up on trying to solicit conversation and puts on his headphones. He presses play and is immediately gone from us. He stares out of the dark window and gives an occasional word in time, if not tune, with what he is hearing, and his hands work on the ghost of a guitar.



Then, the giveaway clue to his current location, “Darling, young one”

A girl sitting opposite him covertly films him on her mobile phone. As I sit and wonder where it is that he has actually gone, and how much of him actually remains here with us on this late train, I also begin to wonder what it would look like if I mapped the girls video footage against a soundtrack of Roxy Music’s Hard Rain. I suspect that the clip would suggest that the behaviour is nothing out of the ordinary at all, so long as you have your passport to this location.

3 In a notebook I sketch out the proposal that time travel is 10% physics and 90% music. Quickly, I find myself arguing against the proposal, suggesting instead that this is to do with the construction of space, not relocation in time.

I return to the last train. He plays the same song over and over again. And again sings the few words he can recall and with which he vocally reports back.

Where has he gone? Another time? Another place? And how much of him is there? How much of me is in the bed when I am dreaming? 10%? 100%?

Much current research speculates that musical emotion is the same only in name to more general emotional states. That musical emotion is discrete, something in and of itself. This would suggest, as is commonly observed with other narrative media, that there is a degree of projection, a tacit agreement to engage with an emotional state, and gain something positive from the process – even with essentially disagreeable emotional conditions; anxiety, sorrow, loss.

We emotionally react to physical spaces. In dreams we conjure spaces appropriate to the emotions passing through our unconscious minds. In music, is it not possible, that we create the emotional architecture in which to locate ourselves?

The discovery and evolution of recording has allowed for an annexation of music from the context of its delivery. In much contemporary research writing the role of music in this sphere has been appropriated by sound. Consequently, one could speculate that we have much more liberty to construct mental contexts, dream architectures, emotional scaffolds in which to inhabit musical sounds.

Approached playfully, one could argue that there is much to be investigated in terms of exploring a largely unconscious phenomena. What techniques might be used to ascertain the underlying structure of these responses?

One method might be to figuratively thicken the sound of a particular location to observe how the emotional response to the place alters. Does it still ring true as per our presumptions of the place, or does it offer us something unexpected, revelatory?

I made a series of recordings of the interior of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh – ostensibly for Pietro Riparbelli’s cathedral project, in which he digitally curates a series of such field recordings from cathedrals across Europe.

I recorded over a two day period in the spring, during which the cathedrals organ is annually tuned. This could be viewed either as a curse or a blessing. I sent the individual files on to Pietro for his project. Back in the studio, however, I layered the recordings upon each other to thicken the signal.

This is a technique, possibly attributable to Lucier’s I am sitting in a room (1970), similar to that of generating impulse response signatures – where the specific qualities of an individual space are captured through its unique reverbarative quality – and has been used to successful effect by Jacob Kirkegaard in his 4 rooms record. In 4 Rooms (2006), Kirkegaard captured recordings of 4 spaces directly affected by their proximity to Chernobyl: a swimming pool, a church, and auditorium and a gymnasium. He fed the recordings back into the spaces and re-recorded, then repeated the process up to ten times, with each layer thickening the overall signal.

Despite being entirely without words, or intervention beyond that of the process outlined above, 4 Rooms stands as a profoundly political work. The spaces speak. Informed, no doubt, by the knowledge of the origin of the recordings. But that, I would offer, guarantees a very personal, very individual political response.

There is no direct political agenda with the St giles recording. Rather I have an awareness, or rather a predisposition of what I suppose the interior of a church is going to offer me in terms of informing an emotional response, and I want to establish whether thickening the signal enables the physical space to, in a sense, shout at me thereby revealing whether my initial response is in fact the genuine one. Might the space, amplified in this way, surprise me, or teach me something?

I have played back the layered arrangement at high volume in the studio. It is undeniably full, and it thrills me in a way that a single layer, a single capture from the series does not. The arrangement still speaks of the interior of a church, and it still, for me, speaks of reflection and contemplation, but it seems less supine on this form that I would have anticipated coming from a church interior. This represents a meditative engagement more initially associated with eastern disciplines – it speaks of drones, bells and persistence. It informs my sense of the mental sound architecture and emotional connotations of a church interior. It is a response that builds upon what I project and throws back a query, a call for a modified response.

I returned to St Giles this morning, just to walk around the space and sit awhile. An unexpected bi-product of the exercise was that I left each recording session feeling like I had just had one of my five-a-day. I felt clean and calm and ready to go on with the day. God never crossed my mind during any of this, but the space, in this sense, could be said to be working well. So, consequently, I now habitually stop in there for a few minutes on my way through the city.

This morning, after playing the arrangement in the studio, the interior felt different, energised in some way by the hidden knowledge of what I knew the space was capable of. Every sound in there seemed a little clearer, a little more individual. This echoed the experience of using contact mics to record hidden episodes in the home and enabling me to be more aware of these sounds and associate them intimately with the idea of home. My home. (

The space has spoken to me with a louder voice, and something very subtle has been altered, I think, in my own musical, sound and emotional mapping to this location, in the broader sense.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed that “music is liquid architecture, architecture is frozen music” It seems lyrical but no longer satisfying.

When I visit the dream world of musical sound, the one that we all share but interpret and visit in our own individual way, I create emotional architectures of moons, arches, cupboards and wind tunnels. Like Kafka, I inhabit these spaces in a manner best suited to the emotional condition; I climb the walls, I hide under counters, I stretch my limbs into cramped space. Much as it often feels like it, music does not allow for time travel, it allows for the construction of emotional space, and temporality is only a fractional component of the make up of that space…


Related Posts
The Landscape Outside –

Setting Sounds – Wayward Music and Imagined Space in the Age of Recording –

Recall: Sound Present And Past –