Text by Amelia Groom
Part of a series of works centred on the corporeal and psychological experience of sound devoid of rhythm, Tim Bruniges’ Drum Room sees an orchestral bass drum with five cymbals installed in a space, auto-generating an uninterrupted anti-percussive drone for three-weeks straight. (Eat your heart out Gloria Estefan.)
What we hear in Drum Room is in fact only a nine and a half-second loop, but the longer we spend with it the more it starts to stretch, contract and fold. The prescriptive elements of the digital score meld into our subjective experience of the space, as we move through it and pick up on different resonances. At the same time, a lot of what we hear isn’t actually ‘there’ at all – as the active/creative elements of perception kick in and phantom harmonics are made apparent. In Tim’s words, “through listening to something repeatedly, in a way the brain assumes the role of composer; shifting focus, imagining relationships and attaching narrative to what is in essence an unchanging situation.”
Existing somewhere between the extended duration work of proto-minimalist composer La Monte Young and tape loop composer William Basinski, Drum Room has come from an interest in sound’s capacity to warp our perception of time. Out of ceaseless ambience, the repetition of nine and a half seconds can give way to an unfurling experience where sounds build up, collapse, thicken and spread in entirely unpredictable ways, and things seemingly d/i/s/c/o/n/n/e/c/t/e/d amount to something c-o-n-t-i-n-u-o-u-s.
According to the philosopher Henri Bergson, forms are “simply snapshots taken by the mind of the continuity of becoming.”1 Rejecting static objects in favour of continuous process, his notion of ‘pure duration’ was wholly at odds with the cultural construct of quantitative clock-time, where temporal units are separated from each other and lined up in sequence. While clocks artificially spatialised time, making it divisible and measurable, Bergson understood the time of our inner, lived experience as ceaseless and indivisible flow. Never a matter of one instant succeeding another, duration was “the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances.”2 Experiencing the ongoing resonance of this drum set that never beats, we might think of the Bergsonian principal that “every duration is thick; real time has no instants.”3 But while we’re talking about unbroken continuity, let’s take a break and punctuate the flow with some Adolfo Bioy Casares:
I discovered a secret door, a stairway, a second basement. I entered a many-sided room, like those bomb shelters I have seen in movies. The walls were covered with strips of a material that resembled cork, and with slabs of marble, arranged symmetrically. I took a step: through stone arches I saw the same room duplicated eight times in eight directions as if it were reflected in mirrors. Then I heard the sound of many footsteps – they were all around me, upstairs, downstairs, all through the museum. I took another step: the sounds faded away, as if they had been muffled. (It reminded me of the way a snowstorm on the cold highlands of my Venezuela deadens all the noises within earshot.)
I went upstairs, back to the silence, the lonely sound of the sea, the quiet movement of the centipedes. I dreaded an invasion of ghosts or, less likely, an invasion of the police. I stood behind a curtain for hours, perhaps minutes, irked by the hiding place I had chosen (I could be seen from the outside; and if I wanted to escape from someone in the room I would have to open a window). Then, mustering my courage, I searched the house, but I was still uneasy, for there was no mistake about it: I had clearly heard myself surrounded by moving footsteps all through the building, at different levels.
Early the next morning I went down to the basement again. The same footsteps seemed to surround me again, some close, others farther away. But this time I understood them. Annoyed, I continued to explore the second basement, intermittently escorted by the diligent swarm of echoes, many dimensions of the same echo. There are nine identical rooms in the second basement, and five others in a lower basement. They appear to be bomb shelters. Who built this place in 1924 or thereabouts? And why did they abandon it? What sort of bombings were they afraid of? And why should men who could plan such a well-constructed building make a shelter like this, which tries one’ s mental equilibrium: when I sigh, for example, I can hear the echoes of a sigh, both near and faraway, for two or three minutes afterward. And when there are no echoes, the silence is as horrible as that heavy weight that keeps you from running away in dreams.
Spaces self-duplicating in multiple directions, sounds giving birth to “many dimensions of the same.” Ever since I read this ominous passage from ‘The Invention of Morel’ it has, er, continued to echo with me. And there’s particular resonance for Tim’s resonating installation, since Casare’s story is about looped time – and perpetual, fixed repetition being misunderstood as progression. It’s a story about physically projected images, the delusional projection that happens in love, and the projective nature of any sensory experience. Hallucination is actually a part of all normal perception, and music is never experienced solely through external stimulus. Brahms apparently said that the best orchestral performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony he ever heard was one that took place entirely in his head. Projecting themselves and being projected back onto, Drum Room’s beatless sounds play out day and night for the duration of the exhibition. A suspended present that is temporally circumscribed, like an ellipsis in parentheses.
 Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell, Random House: The Modern Library, New York, 1944, p 349
 ibid. p 7 Bergson, Henri, “Concerning the Nature of Time” in Henri Bergson: Key Writings, ed. Keith Ansell Pearson and John Lullarkey, continuum, New York, 2002, p 210
DRUM ROOM 2013
Orchestral bass drum, cymbals, 5.1 sound
With special thanks to Barry Bruniges, Matthew Goodheart, Scott McLaughlin and Ash Buchanan.