JR: I’ve spent the last two weeks here at the Kiekula residence on my first visit to the Arctic. I’ve never experienced 24 hour days, and it’s extraordinary how such a simple difference so radically alters my perception of time. When noon looks the same as midnight, clock time becomes meaningless. The most fundamental activities such as eating and sleeping are no longer triggered by darkness or by the angle of the sun. I can feel tired or hungry at any time, not unlike jet lag.
EF: The strong ties to the daily sun cycle can be represented by aesthetic, psychological, and physiological relationships to light and darkness. For many species and many cultures of humans, the deepest relationship to sun cycles are formed within the 24 hour sun cycle.
JR: How do I cope? I am clinging to a regular schedule. At a reasonable hour I shut the curtains, put on my sleep mask, and make myself lay down to sleep. I seem to wake up after the usual 7 or 8 hours. Meals likewise happen at the usual intervals. Perhaps I am afraid to let go of regularity, of a reassuring rhythm that grounds me, connects me to my appetites for food, for sleep, for running and walking.
EF: Within a few days, my sleep time creeped along later and later and my wake time followed along in tow. By the end of my stay, I fell asleep at 6am and woke at 4pm. I believed that my biological clock was in a state that is called ‘free run’ – dissociated from the day-night light cycle (or lack thereof).
JR: Funny how appetite and time are so closely connected. With clock time fading into the shadows, I am noticing how many clocks in my body are asserting their existence. My heart and my breath, eating, walking, running, sleeping: all are oscillating in their own rhythms. My heartbeat has become even slower than usual here, beating 36 times a minute while I write this.
EF: Fatigue set in at midnight, regardless of when I fell asleep. Between fatigue and sleep, movements felt languid, thoughts felt prolonged, and the ‘wait’ seemed to be inescapable.
JR:As a composer, my activities are not as closely linked to the environment here at Bioarctica as those of many of the other artist residents. So what do I do here? Mostly I go outdoors. I run every morning, for 40 minutes or an hour or more, up and down hills, skipping over rocks and mud and streams, bumping into reindeer. And most days I go for extended hikes, from one to six hours.
Then I listen to music on my trusty iPad. I follow my nose, and it’s been leading me to highly rhythmic music, funk especially, and dance music of all kinds (The arctic solstice felt like funk). Finally, I compose and sketch fragments of various pieces I’m working on, or fragments with no direction home, complete unknowns, musical doodles.
I am noticing a thread here. Of all the elements in music–timbre, harmony, melody–it is time which is perhaps the most compelling, and the most mysterious. It’s notoriously difficult to talk about, to quantify or theorize, whether as local rhythms or large-scale structures. Yet it is said that timing is everything.
EF: These kinds of considerations are the lense through which I view the world. Particularly, I am drawn to low frequencies. Timescales of days, months, and years, are relevant to aspects of our experience like memory, reflection, and emotional resolution. It is possible that time heals because it removes you from the moment, and it is viewpoint that keeps your perception locked in some ‘there’ – in some space. Music is like a moving image of time that takes me on a journey to other spaces.
JR: Arnold Schoenberg once told John Cage that he had no feeling for harmony, whereupon Cage replied that he would spend the rest of his life banging his head against the wall, trying to figure out harmony. I imagine Cage, whose wonderful innate feeling for rhythm can be heard in joyful 1940s works such as Third Construction in Metal and Credo in Us, banging his head in those same infectious grooves. And if I bang my head against anything, no matter how wonderful the world of harmony might be, let it be the rhythm wall. (If only Schoenberg had banged that wall every now and then.)
EF: It feels odd to say – counterintuitive, maybe – but I find it much easier to find myself lost in time to music that it very ‘rhythmocentric’ than while listening to music that highlights melody (Heartthrob – Futures Past). Perhaps I am searching for rhythm, and that attention to time makes it more difficult to lose track of temporality.
JR: On a hike north of the fell Saana, there are the remains of a German WW2 prison camp. I think of Messiaen and his Quartet For The End of Time, written in just such a camp.
At times in that piece, we can hear how his perception of time must have been radically changed by his surroundings, putting him in closer relationship with the idea of eternity, an idea which was also important in his Catholic faith. I am drawn to composers who have very personal takes on time, be they Messiaen or Cage, Stravinsky or Varese, Andriessen or Feldman.
EF: The prison camp was settled in the basin of rolling hills at the foot of massive blades of mountain. El medio de la nada. Everything was visible but you felt the ‘nowhereness’ in the superficial stasis of the environment. Spending time in the location meant experiencing the flux of the wind, and the events that come with it. As we grew to learn, many species and cultures of humans form deep aesthetic, psychological, and physiological ties to the cycles of the wind.
JR:I’ve come this far without mentioning the most striking thing about being here: it’s so beautiful. The plants and animals, the rolling alpine meadows and snowy peaks, the lakes and rivers, the quiet (no planes, no honking, no car alarms, no blaring music), the pure and tasty air and water, the colours, seeing nothing but nature for mile upon mile: how could anything be more beautiful? It shows me what I lose by living in a city. Being here is like finding roots I wasn’t even aware existed.
It’s especially relevant being from Canada, a country whose identity is so closely tied to nature, yet which has become rapidly urbanized. How odd to go so far from home to learn about home.