Already 289ms Away (2015)

Already 289ms Away is one of a series of pieces liminal have made concerning the role of bells in contemporary culture. The piece was commissioned for BEAST FEaST 2015 at Birmingham University, where standing 100m tall (some say 99m, some say 110m), Old Joe is said to be the tallest freestanding clock tower in the world. Unlike a church bell, which defines the territory of a Parish, protecting those within it and calling the faithful to prayer, Old Joe has no sacred function, does not strike to warn of danger and provides no opportunity for ringing the changes. Striking the hours, Old Joe represents only the authority to mark time.

However, standing at the foot of the tower, it already takes 289ms for the sound of the bell to reach our ears, and at the bell’s acoustic horizon it might take up to twenty seconds or more to be heard. Already 289ms Away was installed in a building right next to Old Joe, where the bells could be heard. Returning to the theme of folding space back into a central location, the installation sounded every quarter hour in time with the bells.

Four pairs of loudspeakers placed around a circular balcony created carefully timed echoes of the bells that corresponded to different locations in the city, moving in a spiral over a twelve-hour cycle. At the beginning of the cycle, the delays were very short, creating a temporal blurring of the Old Joe bells that couldn’t be fully differentiated from the delays. Over the course of the twelve-hour cycle though, the delays become longer and longer first being heard as echoes and then turning the chimes (the Westminster chime) into a complex musical canon. Already 289ms Away playfully exposes the flaw in the authority of the iconic sound of the bell then by celebrating the collapsing of time into distance.

Already 289ms Away continues to explore the theme of territory and sound that we began exploring through Of This Parish. Starting with the premis that a Parish is defined by the earshot of a bell. Already 289ms Away joins Of This Parish: Soundwalks, Of This Parish: A film and Report in developing this theme.