I'm not sure how or when I came across [The User]. It may have been during my brief tenure as a Computer Science undergrad at an engineering university. I dove into the world of experimental electronic music head-first and spent most of my free time – and class time, which would explain the briefness of said tenure – alt-tabbing between Soulseek and allmusic. Anyhow, some day or another I discovered [The User], a Montreal-based conceptual art duo who, in 1998, released a project and album entitled Symphony #1 for Dot Matrix Printers. Twelve dot-matrix printers were hooked up to a LAN and “conducted” by a user at a central server. The results are impressive, although more on a conceptual level. Below is an audio excerpt from Symphony #2 from 1999.
Several years later and in a completely unrelated excursion across YouTube, I stumbled across Hungarian composer György Ligeti's 1962 Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes. The similarity was striking. Again, a series of identical and non-musical tools were set to a specific calibration – different tempos on each metronome this time, rather than a computer program – and left alone to play. This was even less “musical” than [The User]'s work; a rather insightful YouTube commenter (yes that was the sound of Satan plugging in a space heater) mentioned that it is the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Imagine my surprise when, while researching this post, I found out that one of [The User]'s latest projects was a tribute to 100 metronomes! Entitled Coincidence Engines, it comes in two separate installations. Coincidence Engine One, subtitled “Universal Peoples Republic Time”, uses a “large number” of clocks to create an environment I can only describe as sanity-quelching. It is a walk-in area with a curved wall composed entirely of clock, all beating out the machine equivalent of a caveman drumming. This project goes beyond Ligeti's metronomes, as the clocks are not even pre-set to tick in a certain pattern; everything is left to chance. As an individual who can barely stand to be in a room with more than a single ticking clock, I would probably find the experience harrowing at best.
I am not entirely sure what to make of Coincidence Engine Two, “Approximate demarcator of constellations in other cosmos.” It is more akin to [The User]'s earlier dot matrix work as the clocks are programmed to tick in sequence. I'll let the visual speak for itself:
...and that concludes today's Avant Garde Theater. Stay tuned next week for a man staring listlessly into space for an hour (depending on whether or not the NEA grant comes through.)