‘In music the only possible abstraction possible [sic] is the sense of TIME-SPACE, and its relation to the human body through the organ of the ear; through the spacing-off and draughtsmanship of TIME-SPACE by the means of various points of sound.’ This is clause VI of George Antheil’s manifesto ‘Abstraction and Time in Music’ (in MANIFESTO!, ed. by Mary Ann Caws, pp.651-652). In so many ways The Flaming Lips have taken these theses as points of radical departure with their 24-hour song 7 Skies H3. 24 hours is no arbitrary track length, but one that reinforces the very insistence and modality of time itself, in music, as in life, as in death (on which the song is purportedly a meditation). As we find in a line of its lyrics – ‘now, a minute’s not a minute, and now, an hour’s not an hour’ – we’re met with a concentration on this (still-)radical NOW; the moment in its simultaneous contiguity with other moments, and continuity within in time. ‘Now’ is a concept so important throughout modernist and avant-garde movements in art, not least to ‘Nowism’ itself, and it is mediated here through a reflection on common temporal measurement – units of time – that become less easily, immediately and complacently graspable as quantifiers of music as we move from the minute to the hour to the day.
As James Joyce’s novel Ulysses is, in so many ways, a life in the day of, so is this: a radical reconfiguration of what we conceive of our day being is demanded by the endeavour of listening to this track, in relation to the most basic constituents of sleep and waking, meal times, routine: our very diurnal spatiality is (momentarily) revolutionised by this piece of music; it transforms (our) TIME-SPACE itself. The necessity of it inhabiting our day spatialises its temporal presence too; rest assured, it will really get into your skull: to have it on for the full 24 hours is to simultaneously enforce the very idea it is also a meditation on – in its links with death – repetition, and its compulsions; desire, continuance, recirculation: ‘I can’t shut off my head’, as Wayne Coyne sings.
Of course, one doesn’t have to listen to it in just one sitting, so to speak. It can be chopped up into segments – or ‘bitesize chunks’ (to put it in old BBC secondary school revision speak) – or even delved into at will: listened to systematically bit by bit, or randomly; whenever, wherever. Stretching these spatio-temporal possibilities even further is its endless repeated circular streaming online: log on, tune in, drop out, whenever – temporally, it’s almost limitless; it’s always there, repeating; wherever – spatially it’s as almost-limitless in that it’s accessible from a multitude of points of modern connectivity and mobility; so many technological devices.
As an instance of recorded sound it is extraordinarily audacious; a humongous work, in terms of length and memory; a timely avant-garde exploitation and exploration of the technological means by which it becomes a possibility beyond imagination: the skies have become the limit in terms of electronic recording and its equipment. There is thus something anti-commidificatory about 7 Skies H3 too, in its redefinition of materiality, or material parameters; yes, it was made available physically on a USB drive encased in a human skull – 13 of which were made and sold for Halloween – at the immodest price of $5000, but it’s also streaming in its nonstop form online, and can be found here and there to download in its entirety.
Thus overall, from the pounding two-two pummels and monk-chants of roughly hours 2 to 4 to the ecstatic beauty – cut in on by awesome guitar-slice sublimity – of the section approximately between 14 and 18, this song pushes at the very borders of art, and in doing so, also at those of time and space, of the human body, and its materiality and condition. In so doing it forces us into an intense a concentration on – and in – our own skulls; one that hasn’t been quite as insistently realised since Samuel Beckett’s radical fizzle ‘For to End Yet Again’.