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Life is Short and Getting Shorter All the Time  

Life is Short and Getting Shorter All the Time -- about the project

Sam Ashley     print
This collection of devices was created especially for the current okno space. Together the instruments can be thought of as an installation, except that in this case "installation" doesn't mean something that exists there on its own, generating sound. Instead the idea is that a visitor to okno can use the devices to generate an individual version of the piece, a concert for one person at a time. When the instruments are positioned on a table or other surface within easy reach of one person, they just fill the space around that person's ears with noise.

Since the okno space is multi-use and multi-purpose, it was perhaps more socially harmonious to stretch the concept of "installation" in this way, but more than that the approach also fit well with the fact that, after all, Life is Short and Getting Shorter All the Time is meant to be functionally related to the use of tea leaves, bones, cards, sticks, coins and so forth (and there are many versions throughout the world) as catalysts in divination.

One positions the instruments within easy reach, on a table or other surface, then begins by moving them, one or two at a time, until they tend to produce somewhat sustained sounds. They will almost never actually sustain for very long, and they tend to settle down ever more quickly each time they are restarted without being moved to new positions. It's as if they behave a little like organic life, and become habituated somehow to their state. Whether that's true or not, they are fully restarted only by being repositioned, ready to begin a new life cycle... One plays the piece by casually moving them slightly, restarting them occasionally, adjusting each in turn as one likes. The tiny strands on the ends of the resonant wires can also catch the wind.

The simple electro-mechanical oscillators don't produce pure tones (though with different wiring they could generate sounds that are less raucous). Instead quite a lot of effort went into building them so that they would produce a complex noise that is almost impossible to control. The interesting part about using a noise source as a medium in the production of "imaginary" perceptions--one kind of divination--is that it turns out that those perceptions are not necessarily limited to the kinds of things that one expects to perceive. Whatever one perceives in relation to complex noise, if one relates to those perceptions by "objectifying" them, then one is effectively treating those perceptions as a form of divination, and they can offer valuable information.

One goal in the creation of pieces that are part of The Oracle Project is actually the production of sounds that could be described as being in between "noisy" and "monotonous", which culturally could serve to connect with the modern notion of hypnosis. Sonically that would be valuable enough, but conceptually it would be lacking, because hypnosis suffers from a political error: there is always the construct of "hypnotist" and "subject"; even in self hypnosis the "induction" always abstractly reflects this setup. In this construct the hypnotist remains firmly rooted in "reality", so the most that can happen is that the "subject" experiences amazing things---that are only mental. Never is it possible (by definition) for those experiences to cross over into the realm of shared experience, a transformation of reality. This is a serious flaw. "Shamanism" could be defined as simply starting from a different perspective, in which all participants share the willingness to leave familiar perception behind for a while.

There is another possibility too though, and that is that one can explore on one's own, without any preconditions. Then the potential exists for the experience to fully develop into something transcendental. In a democratic oracle, one with no priest caste, divinatory devices in any form should simply facilitate this process.


Sam Ashley has been a modern-day witch-doctor for most of his life, researching trance over more than 40 years. Life is Short and Getting Shorter All the Time is part of The Oracle Project, in which Sam seeks to create art works that can support the flow of useful information from the soul of us to our minds.




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