fifteen times sixty (sundial)
please listen with headphones!
Massachusetts Bay, on WMBR Cambridge 88.1 FM
(Aired Fridays 8-8:15PM Eastern time, October 2009-March 2010 followed by Brad Simpson’s Response:)
Fifteen times sixty. Site, broadcast, return.
This project, like most, comes out of desire. A desire to count out, perform, experience, and communicate time in different cyclical scales, so that experiences in the present tense can be brought into new relationships with historical time. In response to this desire, audio recordings of Squantum Point Park are timed and paced according to certain regular rhythms, bringing them into and out of synch with other rhythms around them. Every Tuesday at 14h00 Eastern time, in accordance with a somewhat regulated version of the time it takes for the earth to complete one axial rotation, I begin a fifteen minute recording on the beach. For example, on Tuesday October 6, it was high tide at 13h05, so my recording coincided with high and receding waters. Since high tide comes in an hour later each day, the weekly recordings coincide with high tides one week and low tides the next, never quite in synch with roughly twelve hour and ten minute cycles. As the weeks roll on, lush Indian summer turns rustling fall turns brittle winter, and each Tuesday, I am there.
At the top of the hour, I face the beach grass, standing at the water’s edge. I press record, and begin a slow counterclockwise rotation towards the water. The stereo microphone picks up a 120 degree sonic picture, sweeping 360 degrees as I slowly rotate, a full circle for each minute. Fifteen full rotations, sixty seconds times fifteen minutes. Following the water as it creeps away from the beach grass. The microphone held inches from the water as I face the bay, up in the air as I face the beach.
Counted in imperfectly regular baby steps, crunching on the rocks as I go, minute gradations of a planetary and solar time scale confront the long, rolling count of the moon’s magnetic pull on the Atlantic ocean. This is my present, slipping away from me in a plethora of different scales. Then broadcast on the frequency of 88.1FM, three days and a few hours later, as far as the antenna in Cambridge will send it. If those radio waves could escape the atmosphere, they would go on forever.
Sink into the present of a place, in all its sensual specificity and historical abstraction. This information is not precise in a quotidian sense, but experiential, embodied. How can it help to cast light upon the politics of the past?
Squantum is an Algonquin word, translated literally into English as a heap or pile of rocks. Strange as they are to me now, there are people to whom I must answer with my presence here on these occupied territories – strange pale and dark skinned people who long ago made each other others. Now all dead, my ancestors sailed across unimaginable distances to arrive here. They met people on the beach, and by a fateful mixture of design and coincidence, incited a long and brutal war with them. Through all that followed, the name of this place has stayed the same. First flights took off of the peninsula in 1911, and shortly thereafter runways were paved to make a Naval Air Station. During the First World War it was used as a site for the manufacture of Navy Destroyers, and became an air strip again after the war. In 1953, the last small planes taxied across its narrow asphalt runway, gained speed, and parted ways with the earth. Since then it’s been naturalized and domesticated as a bird sanctuary, with a granite sculpture at its point and some historical plaques along the overgrown runway.