Part festival, part culture crawl, part city-wide trail of discovery, if there are any better single nights of creative feasting than LIGHTNIGHT in Liverpool then we’re yet to unearth them. As is the case every year, the city’s galleries, art spaces, cathedrals, walkways, squares and, every crack in between, will be bursting with artworks and happenings on 19th May, bringing the city to life in glorious Technicolour.
Highly-acclaimed Liverpool sound artist and composer JONATHAN RAISIN – who has created a fabulous range of works responding to spaces and places within the city over many years – will be presenting Where The Time Goes within LJMU’s John Foster Garden for LightNight 2017. The piece will take the form of a site-specific sound installation, exploring the notion of ‘time’ – this year’s festival theme – and ‘timelessness’, and is intended to be an oasis of calm and meditative quiet amidst the familiar bustle of LightNight. We caught up with the soundscaper to find out what we may expect from this intriguing commission…
Time is a precious commodity. Do you think we may be too hung up on it to actually appreciate it?
We’re into saving time, which is a weird concept when you think about it. Saving it for what? If it was like saving money for a rainy day, for the future, then it might make sense. But we can’t store time, we can’t put it in the bank and use it later. It just keeps on going by and we keep getting older. Increasingly, we live in a 24/7 work economy; zero-hours contracts, 24/7 availability and there is a huge socio-economic contradiction going on here. Whilst there is still talk of the work-free, future-robotisation and the sci-fi age of universal leisure, the reality seems to be of less free time and more nose to the grindstone. What free time there is, is taken up with consumerism – if not of material things, then of a brave new world of social media and commodified alternate reality. Perhaps we shouldn’t think of time as a commodity, precious or not, but as more like the place that we live – somewhere we should get to know and appreciate on its own terms.
Or, simple answer: YES!
Your piece for LightNight, Where The Time Goes, is intended to be an oasis. What conditions did you want to set up to create that feeling of serenity?
The space itself [John Foster Garden] offers the serenity – I’m trying to create something that respects this and hopefully offers another layer or two. An art event is a heightened moment and allows you to make statements of a sort; people come to experience something new, and I’ve got things that I want people to listen to, but, really, it’s all about enhancing the possibility for reflection that the space itself offers up.
The installation revolves around pieces found in the garden. Did you visit the space and react to what was there to create your sound artwork? How does one go about starting using a process like that?!
I love the moment of going into a space with an ‘I’m going to make something here’ head on, just allowing your first thoughts to bounce around and see what takes shape. I’ve learned to trust first impressions and instinct with site-specific work. With this piece, there are some things that are hopefully very specific to the space – using its everyday sound qualities, and some that are more about the idea of memory and how memories might linger in a place. I guess that those are the key things: openness, and then trusting yourself.
How can you achieve a sensation of timelessness through music? Are there any specific connections between the sense of hearing and our consciousness that you wanted to tap into?
Good question! There are technical things about just allowing sound and music to be, not changing things too much, not getting too fancy with the chords. I use repetition a lot, which, hopefully, can give a sense of stasis, and allow people to listen to detail, not get swept up in a dramatic narrative…
How does the physical space tap into that?
Well, it’s a garden, and one of the things about gardens is that they just deal with the seasons and the weather. These are timeless, in the sense of not being about clocks and digital moments, and perhaps in a deep way, this is how time is traditionally perceived – the unfolding of days and seasons. How we relate our digital selves to these perennial realities is perhaps quite a big thing that we are going to have to deal with.
And there is another interesting layer here. The garden was originally the grounds of the Notre Dame convent, and one of the spaces within it that I’ll be working with is a shrine of the Virgin And Child. While I have no Catholic background, or any religious angle to press, I’m finding it interesting to think about how all of that idea of serenity fits in.
People who meditate are often said to achieve a feeling of euphoria that is related to a notion of timelessness, not being bound by time. Is this, in a way, a reflection of that process?
There is a piece by Stockhausen called Gold Dust, a conceptual piece from the 70s, which is basically a set of instructions for how to prepare for a performance. He suggests that the musicians spend a week together in a room: eating, talking, thinking as little as possible… And then go and play. The idea of it haunts me, that this sort of meditation leads to good art. I love it, but in quite a profound way, I think it’s just a reminder that when we’re on our game – writing, composing, playing, making good work – we are already somehow out of time. Immersed in the moment, making something timeless.
What do you like to do when you’re unburdened by the weight of time? How do you enjoy yourself while doing nothing?
Well, just at the moment, I want to be outside planting potatoes.
LightNight takes place on 19th May. For the full programme visit lightnightliverpool.co.uk.