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TUCSON TIME


I found a clock in a curbside box of trash earlier this month.

It was nestled at the bottom of assorted vintage electronic supplies.

Dusted and dirty it began ticking right away with a quick wind.

The clock is a
Westclox “Big Ben” model made between 1964 and 1981.

Sturdy with a large face and a metal housing, it ticks confidently with an alarm that sounds like a firehouse bell.

The Big Ben is an artifact from another time, like pedestal ashtrays and typewriters. I’m older than this clock, but not by much and living with it has sent me down an unexpected path.

For a couple of hundred years after sundials and before electric / digital clocks, the windup clock was God, and with it came our modern relationship with time.

The sun based clocks and calendars required we be connected with the earth and sky. Clouds negated time. Changes in season altered shadows. Time passed outdoors not indoors.

The sound track for the first age of time was purely environmental: wind and animals and plants.

With the introduction of the mechanical clock, time was now housed and contained and personalized. As was God in churches and mosques and temples.

The mechanical clock let us parcel out our time precisely in increasingly miniscule dollops.

Time could be wasted or made the most of.

It was up to us and the clock to decide.

The mechanical clock also brought about other subtle shifts.

For the first time we were now responsible for the maintenance of time. The mechanical clock had to be wound. Failure to do so would result in our individual time bubbles bursting. Without a clock we would become like ghosts out of time, not knowing when to eat or wake or go to work.

But equally important and perhaps most neglected, the mechanical clock also gave time a new sound.

A sound of metal gears meshing and clicking.

Time had become industrial and unnatural.

Every second equaled a tick or tock, and every single moment could be accounted for.

Sixty seconds in a minute.
Sixty minutes in an hour.
Twenty four hours in a day.

How many days in a life?
The clock can't tell you that.

At home with Big Ben, the rooms of our home are filled with it’s unrelenting rhythm, a steady reminder of my custodianship and fleeting existence.

The introduction of the electric clock took the responsibility of time from our hands and handed it over to the power company.

The clock was plugged in, the time was set, and so long as there was juice flowing through the wires time existed, and by extension so did we.

In exchange our ritual connection with winding and oiling our clocks was lost.
Was it a liberation? I’m not so sure.

Without our winding rituals, we gained a sense of immortality. The maintenance of time was no longer our responsibility, but we were still expected to abide by it’s laws, obligations and appointments.

Our personal time could roll on forever without our tending.

Time was now a mental awareness rather than a physical awareness.

The electric clock also changed the sound of time, from industrial ticks, clicks and tocks to a steady drone or hum. We could see the seconds count down but no longer hear each one pass by.

The age of electricity is the age of the drone, the hum and the buzz.

A singular and endless streaming.

And while the clock, electric or manual, tries to create a unified, collective group perception of time, it’s all an illusion.

Some of us live lifetimes in moments.

Others live moments in lifetimes.

Shortly after finding Big Ben, I received an email from my other life as a
University of Arizona School of Journalism adjunct.

A student named
Tess Martinez had died in a car crash in New Mexico on her way to Chicago.

Tess had been in my feature story writing class.

She was gradually becoming a seasoned journalist and she had all the right instincts.

I didn’t know her outside of the university setting, but in our conversations she’d talked often about leaving Tucson to live in Chicago, preferably to work as a journalist or writer.

When she died in New Mexico it was in pursuit of her dream.

I don’t think anyone could ask for more or less from life.

As a kid the old joke was:

Why did Silly Billy throw the clock out the window?
Because he wanted to see time fly.

If you ask me, Billy was just setting himself free.
 
TUCSON TIME is a new recording from the
D-Construction Series (high quality cd-r) based on the last month's events, and available for a limited time as an MP3 download.

SOUND HERE.
 
TRACK 1 – AMPLIFIED POMEGRANATE TREE IN GUSTS OF WIND
TRACK 2 – FORTY YEAR CLOCK, 100 YEAR  PUMP ORGAN AND PIANO, 20 YEAR CLARINET
TRACK 3 – THIRTY YEAR ENHANCED RADIO, 100 YEAR  PIANO
TRACK 4 – FORTY YEAR CLOCK, 100 YEAR  PIANO, 30 YEAR RADIO
TRACK 5 – SPINNING THINGS
TRACK 6 – FORTY YEAR CLOCK, 100 YEAR PIANO
TRACK 7 – ASSORTED NOISY THINGS, 15 YEAR FLUTE, 100 YEAR PUMP ORGAN
TRACK 8 – 100 YEAR ORGAN AND PIANO, FIRE WORKS, NEW BANJO, 40 YEAR CLOCK
TRACK 9 - AMPLIFIED POMEGRANATE TREE IN GUSTS OF WIND