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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, November 22, 2003
    The surprising world of !
    What are these - Plain Bob Minor, Grandshire Doubles, Restoration Triples, Stedman's Principle, Whirligigge, My Honey, Plain Hunt on Six? Answer - they're names from English bell-ringing, for different methods of ringing changes. I've been reading about them in Brian Eno's sleevenotes to his January 07003 - Bell Studies for The Clock of the Long Now. It's opened up a whole new world - The Surprising World of !. It's to do with change-ringing. Eno explains:

    "Change-ringing is the art (or to many practitioners, the science) of ringing a given number of bells such that all possible sequences are used without being repeated ... n bells will yield n! sequences or changes ... so 3 bells will yield 3x2x1 = 6 changes ... The ! process does become rather surprising as you continue it for higher values of n: 5! = 120, and 6! = 720 - and you watch the number of changes increasing dramatically with the number of bells."

    January 07003 is fifteen experiments in !, sequenced meditations around what sound The Clock of the Long Now could make to announce the passage of time. The Clock of the Long Now is not yet built - though a prototype is on display in the Science Museum. It's as much a concept as a timepiece, as explained by Stewart Brand:

    "Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed - some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where 'long-term' is measured at least in centuries."

    The prototype clock, designed by Danny Hillis, has been built by The Long Now Foundation to explore the mechanism for a clock intended to keep time for 10,000 years. Hillis hopes that the clock, once built and installed perhaps in the Nevada hills, "if sufficiently impressive and well-engineerred, would embody deep time for people. It would be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally it would do for time what the photographs of earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think."

    Eno's experiments take a sample of time - Saturday 1 January 07003 - and speculate what sounds the clock will be producing then. It's fascinating and lovely music. Gentle and spacious enough to offer time to reflect on questions The Clock of the Long Now raises, about how we see time, how we act in time. About the effects of adding a zero on front of the date (something Blogger won't permit just yet). About the very, very different time-view I'll step into this afternoon once I pull on my replica shirt and head off for a tense two hours at Goodison Park.