Cissi Tsang
Entry #1


Time keeps on slipping…into the future…”

“How do you get the time to do all this?” is a question I often encounter. People are evidently surprised that I can juggle all my life obligations without (mostly) losing my sanity. I always answer in return, “I make the time.”

Make time, though? How do you make something which is otherwise a fixed, measurable element? We have calendars and clocks and all sorts of devices that denote the relentless passage of time. The Earth itself is a well-run clock, with the constant, regular changing of the seasons.

Well…while we can’t change the passage of time itself, we can change how we perceive time.

Which leads to the the concept of time perception, aka the subjective experience of time, measured by an individual’s perception of the duration of their experiences. In this context, time becomes changeable. With perception comes the ability to organise the time you have – in essence, to work within the parameters of a fixed entity.

Sometimes life seems slow – when the day never seems to want to end. Sometimes life seems fast – when the day is slipping away in a blink of an eye. Sometimes our perception of time alters according to our emotional states. I vividly remember my near-drowning experience that felt like hours for me during the moment, but actually was only a few minutes. Fear slowed my internal clock down, to allow me the possibility of considering my options within a small window of opportunity.

Our perception of time can also be affected by our environment.

The contrast of how the passage of time feels like in Bogong compared to Melbourne and Perth, for instance, is fascinating. The pace of urban living, with the multitudes of humans zipping to and fro every day, makes the day appear to move fast. In cities, sometimes it feels like energy is being moved at a frenetic pace for the sake of movement.

Cities move at a frenetic pace because of limits placed on time itself. Certain tasks have to be completed by a certain absolute marker of time, otherwise this can cause problems for the individual. These problems can then potentially flow onto those around them. Deviation is not always possible. People are expected to work their concept of time around these markers, to modify their internal rhythms to fit with the set paradigm.

In a place like Bogong, on the other hand – time slows. Movements are purposeful and consistent, if they are made. Otherwise, the object of the game is conservation – of energy, and of time. Nothing is wasted. Deviation is possible, because there are no absolute limitations on time.

Out here, time becomes a flexible, malleable entity.

Which is how I personally organise my time. Like the forest that surrounds Bogong Village, I expend energy on aspects of life that are important. I conserve my energy – and time – away from situations that might detract from life. Which means I have plenty of time for the things I love. Creating art, being outside in nature, being in the company of like-minded people, having a cup of coffee in the morning – I have time for those.

An interesting corollary to this is that time does not act like an arrow. Logic would assume that time would feel the same forwards or backwards, but time does not work like that. Instead, time works in one direction – it is asymmetrical. Sometimes it is surprising to realise just how much – or little – time has actually passed. How we remember a certain passage of time isn’t always indicative of how much actual time has passed.

Case in point: it was 13 months ago when I sat down and worked out the current direction of my practice. I wanted to find a way to merge photography with music, because that would merge two of my interests together. Looking back, it does not seem like 13 months has passed because much has happened and in that time, my practice has changed dramatically. Sometimes I perceive that a longer length of time has actually passed, but no – the calendar assures me that it is indeed 13 months.

Time perception.

Actually, I should probably a step further back in time – six weeks back, to be precise. I was part of the Island Innovation Lab based in Vanuatu, and had an interesting conversation with artist Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky). He mentioned he was making music based on Antarctica (the album is, unsurprisingly, called Antarctica), and based his music on climate data. Which initially planted the seeds of turning data into music into my mind.

13 months ago, I was part of a small entourage from the University of New South Wales under the Porosity Studio banner, led by Richard Goodwin. I spent my time wandering around the city of Tianjin, with the occasional foray into Beijing. I remember being inside a large studio space shared between us and about thirty students from the Tianjin Academy of Fine Art.

I remember my first forays into hexadecimal music while in Tianjin. Initially I wanted to be as authentic to the data as possible, but I quickly realised the creative limitations of making purely algorithmic music. I didn’t like being a passive observer while machines made music for me. I wanted to manipulate the notes as well. So I began actively changing the note sequences, picking out the parts that sounded aesthetically pleasing to my ears.

Back home, I began to play with music visualisations to accompany the finished work. The music visualisations have a two-fold purpose – to tie the photograph and the music together, and to offer an extra layer of interactivity between the viewer and the piece. Then I began to work on adding more organic elements into the work, such as field recordings.

13 months later, I find myself under the auspices of Bogong Centre for Sound Culture. My focus while at BCSC is three-fold: firstly, I am interested in using data as an organic composition tool and expanding the possibilities of algorithmic music. Secondly, I am interested in creating immersive and multi-sensory environments that combine music and the data source. Thirdly, I am interested in exploring how to incorporate narratives and memory into digital work.

From an island in the Pacific to one of the biggest cities in China to a quiet bush setting in rural Victoria. Time flies.