Rashomon & Big Ben!

August 28, 2008 at 2:18 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

After watching Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1951) I thought it’d be interesting to develop a schematic for its narrative and use of time.

The film begins after the dead body of a man has been discovered. Over the course of the film we are told several versions of the events that lead up to his death. Quite a conventional narrative device really! Each time the story is retold we are confronted with the same characters at the same point in the past (more or less), but their behaviour and relationships with each other have changed. Could I translate this in to a piece of music?

First I tried to create a schematic for the film, initially using a straight timeline, then after imagining the film looped to create a circular timeline:

These circular temporal structures reminded me of clocks, specifically Big Ben, since I was there a few days earlier making some recordings. I spent 30 minutes or so on the opposite bank, absorbing the ambience as the clock approached 11pm. I noticed that at 10.30pm, half of the Big Ben bell sequence was played. At 10.45pm, it was 3/4 of the sequence. Then finally the whole sequence at 11pm, followed by the 11 ‘gongs’.

I thought it would be interesting to develop another cyclic piece and use the sound activity of Big Ben over 1 hour as a way of structuring a composition. I thought I could apply a similar structure to Rashomon, whereby the 3 characters (in this case the sounds of police sirens, seaguls and the ‘gongs’) transform and react differently to one another every time the bells chimes. I began working on the piece, limiting it to 1 minute, (so, scale: 1 sec = 1 min)…. but something was missing… I left it alone for a few days.



I’ve been searching for a way to push this idea forward and I think I’ve found it! I decided to go to Big Ben and record for 1 hour (from 6-7pm) today. The reason for this is because I wanted to base this composition on the use of time within Rashomon. So I needed to work with 2 instances of time.

Let’s call the recordings I made today over the course of an hour timeline A (present) and the recordings I made the week previous timeline B (past). Timeline A will be 1 minute long (condensed from 1 hour) and at each quarter (15, 30, 45 and 60 secs) Big Ben will chime. At each quarter point will be transported to Timeline B, where we will hear 3 past elements (seaguls, sirens and gongs) forming a relationship momentarily, then disappearing, at which point we will return to Timeline A and continue the cycle. At the next quarter, Big Ben will chime (playing more of it’s sequence) and we will return to Timeline B once more. However, this time the 3 past elements will form a different relationship to the previous quarter, then disappear once more, before we return to Timeline A again. This process will continue until we complete the loop. Here is my schematic:

During the 1 continuous hour of recording today, I got the idea of using different perspectives whenever Big Ben chimed. Over the course of the hour, I travelled in an anti-clockwise loop between Westminster bridge and Lambeth bridge. The rule was to spend 10 mins at each location (1,2,3,4), then once 10 minutes had elapsed spend 5 minutes finding a new location, before the bell chimed. So (as marked on the map below) I was stationary at loc. 1 between 0-10 mins, moved between loc. 1 & 2 between 10-15mins, stationary again between 15-25 mins, and so on. Whenever Big Ben chimed (marking the quarter points) I had to stop moving! Between loc. 3 and 4 and 4 and 1 I had to run to complete the loop! How unfit I have become!

(below: drawings of location 2 and location 4)

Next I will work on the sound composition, afterwards finding a way of integrating my physical journey around the space in to my visualization of the sound piece.


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