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Nahe Ferne. Zeitgleich

Catalogue text

by Sodomka / Breindl / Math, Juli 1994

to the score by martin breindl Light and sound installation for rotating projections and sound system

by Andrea Sodomka / Martin Breindl / Norbert Math
Photography: Clemens Gießmann
Computer work: Roland Hille

First created in 1992 in collaboration with the historian Gerhard Jaritz - for the "Das Andere Mittelalter" exhibition held at Kunst.Halle.Krems. and reworked for the ZEITGLEICH exhibition in 1994.

Salt mining in Hall dates back to the late Middle Ages. It initiated a social and historical process which, among other things, led to the construction, operation and eventual closure of this exhibition space.


The point of departure for the "Nahe Ferne. Zeitgleich" installation is the representation of simultaneity in time and space as portrayed in paintings of the late Middle Ages.

Medieval works of art are not subject to linear organisation in time and space. The elements are symbols with a certain mean-ing and it is the interplay of the various elements that is the key to the work as a whole.

"What we today see as a striking contrast need not have made the same or even a similar impression on the medieval mind. In addition, it should be remembered that contrast can also mean proximity .... 'Other time at the same time' is a important tool for symbolizing or focusing on contrasts." (Gerhard Jaritz) |1|

It is only the binary code of the modern computer that recreates the basis for synchronous structures undefined by any logical temporal or spatial system.

Digital processes, however, are events that are no longer subject to a common, higher (more abstract) reference framework. What is represented simultaneously in a medieval painting (e.g. the farmer at the plough and the Day of Judgement) is not therefore simultaneous in the same sense. Every digital event has every possible history, has followed every possible path through space-time.


an angel. projection in the installation

"Time is something we can neither see nor feel, neither hear nor taste nor smell." (Norbert Elias) |2|

Although time cannot be perceived through the senses, the senses themselves are tied to temporal sequences in different ways. In the case of a static picture or spatial situation, the human eye can choose the line of vision, can choose to look or to look away, can decide what to see earlier and what to see later. Our freedom to choose the temporal sequence of sounds, on the other hand, is minimal. Even at supersonic speed, the causally determined sequence of sounds is not reversed.

In analogy to the process of time, sound creates for itself a space that human perception cannot easily escape from. (You cannot stop hearing like you can stop looking.) When it is repeated, the acoustic experience cannot be abstracted from its temporal sequence. The instrument for presenting time is not the visible clock face or display with its "recurrent patterns" but an acoustic beat - such as that produced by a metronome - at regular intervals.

Time cannot be heard, no more than space can be seen, except as a manifestation of its own impurity ("What we so poetically refer to as sunbeams are really specks of dirt." Georg Christoph Lichtenberg).


a demon. projection in the installation

The paradigm of space that is pure ('absolutum' = washed) and impure at the same time (how could it otherwise be perceived?) leads to the thesis that information appears against its background (sunbeams) of white noise. The process of digitization is nothing but a skillful and apparently definitive suppression of the background. Information is presented in such a coarse raster that the specks of dirt disappear. As the dirt disappears, space disappears, too, and also the object, which leaves nothing behind but its fingerprints (impronta digitale).

The process of digitization takes place within the segmentation of time. A signal is rastered in time windows as wide as the smallest assumed point in time (i.e. 1/44100 sec. in the case of sound on a CD). Just as at least two points in space are required to describe a spatial progression, at least two such time windows are necessary to define a temporal process. The shortest period of time capable of representation is therefore equal to the interval between two time windows (for sound = 1/22050 sec.).

Events that come to occupy the same time window in the process of digitization are stored and reproduced as absolutely synchronous, and it is no longer possible for anyone to say which event originally occurred earlier and which later. One event can have occurred before or after the other, and if there is a causal link between them, it is no longer possible for anyone to say which was the cause and which the effect.

A digital record of a signal, then, leads to the formation of temporal units which are incapable of further division. In view of the extremely short duration of these units, this effect goes unnoticed. And yet the units must have duration, since without duration they would be infinitely short, and were they infinitely short the storage capacity requirement for any digital record would be infinitely great.

In the case of a digitized image, such minimum units (the pixels in the display or the dots of the hardcopy) are created as picture elements which appear as representations of themselves and also function as the co-ordinates of their own position (e.g. 'the point that is located a hundred pixels from the upper margin and twenty pixels from the left margin').

The same applies to the temporal localization of a sound. The individual sample is both the unit in which no shorter signal can exist and the most accurate definition of time possible (e.g. 'continue for another 44100 samples and you have reached the next second').

In physical terms, such definitions of time and space which are inseparably linked with a data bit are simply the address at which they are to be found in the computer. For accessing the bit, it is irrelevant whether it represents an image or sound signal. It is defined in terms of its position and not in terms of its quality.

"A bit is not something visual. That is what distinguishes it from a picture element on a television screen, which is always a point of an image, i.e. a source of visual information. A bit is the smallest unit of a signal, a basic universal signal." (Bernhard Vief) |3|

"And finally the antithesis between reality and fiction is one that we cannot describe with today's normally clear delineations. Unicorns are not the only case in which it can be said that they existed and were repeatedly seen." (Gerhard Jaritz) |4|

1 Gerhard Jaritz, "Kontraste" ("Contrasts"), in: "Das Andere Mittelalter. Emotionen, Kontraste und Rituale", Krems, Kunst.Halle.Krems, 1992 (p. 95)
2 Norbert Elias, "Über die Zeit" ("On Time"), Frankfurt/Main, Suhrkamp, 1990 (p. VIII)
3 Bernhard Vief, "Über die Unschärfe von Zeitschnitten", in: "On the Air. Kunst im öffentlichen Datenraum", Innsbruck, Transit, 1993 (p. 146)
4 Gerhard Jaritz, op. cit. (p. 100)

This text was published in: Zeitgleich; Wien - Hamburg, Triton Verlag, 1995
Online-version: Kunstradio