High up above Central Park in Apollo 11, Michael slips a cassette into the deck and watches Neil and Edwin step on the moon. After forty-four seconds of silence, David Bowie whispers “ground control to Major Tom”. There follows more nothingness beyond the feint murmur of a guitar. Background needs space. After two minutes, a lovely isolated flute refrain floats in the darkness. Background begins with the big bang 13.7 billion years ago. After four minutes the cello goes haywire, spiraling out of control and heading for earth …
From background to ... fourground.
I go the former East Germany and run past farmhouses and sit by outdoor pools reading Stuart Murdoch's The Celestial Café which he begins writing when he is 34. Murdoch runs through Glasgow, Tokyo, Cologne, Berlin and Malmo. He sits typing in a Glasgow park at dusk, wary of being mugged or propositioned. He frets over house numbers when he leaves number 24 for a prime number. In the space of five pages he mentions background music, the colour grey and revolutionary girls. He then proposes a conceptual Belle & Sebastian album based on the world's most famous mathematicians. I run around Central Park on the fourth day of the eighth month in the year 2011 and, as the Residents sing, it was my birthday, I was 44. Bill Drummond publishes 45 when he is 45. This is my 44, in the Royal Borough of the Fab Four.
Four minute mile
Alex Bellos is a travel writer and considers numbers as a country to travel through just like Scotland, Iceland or Greenland. His book Alex's adventures in numberland sparks this latest collection that is Kiefer-esque in its large swathes of texture populated by intimate details. I run around with Stuart, Alex, Anselm and Bill. We have a race through numberland looking for patterns. We often find 4. In 1999 Prince includes the silent track 4 Blank Seconds on his CD Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. Ghostwriters include over sixty-six extra tracks on their CD, each one simply four seconds of silence. On 24 June 2011, Beyonce releases a new album called simply 4. In 1984 I score a perfect 100% in my O-Level Arithmetic Exam and am awarded the Dux Medal. At this stage, I find numbers very easy and controllable but gradually as I start to understand art more, I struggle with maths and see no appeal in what numbers are being asked to do. Coincidences. The last three digits of my mobile are 842. Each Monday I take the 8.22 train to Leeds and feel for Brian Clough losing his Scottish number 4 and enduring his infamous 44 days in Leeds. End of the week, I take the 16.08 back to Liverpool.
It is a sunny day in London in 1966 and the World Cup Final finishes England 4 West Germany 2 after extra time. The toothless Nobby Stiles, born in 1942, wears number 4 for England while the majestic Franz Beckenbauer adorns 4 for West Germany. In the same year, artist Dan Graham creates an eleven-line insert for a magazine, beginning with the line:
1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,0000000 miles to the edge of known universe
And ending with:
0.00000098 miles to cornea from retinal wall
Four years later Brazil hit four against Italy in the final with their fourth goal scored by the captain number 4 Carlos Alberto. Four years after that Billy Bremner wears 4. Another four years later and the number 4 has been passed to Bertoni who scores the fourth goal in the final. Factory Records start numbering their products and FAC4 is a poster for Magazine and the Human League in Moss Side. The first band I ever see is the Cocteau Twins from the extraordinary world of 4AD, allegedly shortened from the text '1084AD' on a poster. The exact cost to produce these CDs is £2,004. Our running line now trails back with me in second place, then Alex, Nobby, Billy, Beyonce, Dan, Bill, Prince, Liz Fraser and all four Residents. I run past the weird white clubhouse in the park.
Welcome to World War Four, it's the club you've been waiting for. John Bonham thumps away with two sets of drumsticks on Led Zeppelin's Four sticks from their IV LP while in the background we hear Mad Professor's trippy remix of Massive Attack's Group 4. DJ Caruso's I am number 4 projects on the far wall while he loops the chorus of The Lovin' Spoonful's Four eyes (Four eyes, and how much do you see now, how many fingers, ha ha ha). In the canteen, scientists measure the minimum height of each pudding as 4” before declaring them as Yorkshire. A crowd of rebels from Burkino Fasa raise a toast to their 4 August 1084 Revolution Day as The Gossip's Four-letter word shakes the walls and Kate Bush whispers the chorus of Pi. Party like it's 4 blank seconds.
Perhaps in heaven there exists the set of numbers that mankind has sought. Pythagorus is entranced by the numerical numbers he finds in nature, believing that the secrets of the universe can be understood only through mathematics. Professor Ian Stewart proposes we actually live in an octo-world, with 8 emerging as our most important digit. It means nothing but my name has four letters in both forename and surname and with no middle name it always felt a little mean. I see Roger Waters sitting fiddling with his back catalogue of 4:41AM (Sexual Revolution), 4.47AM (the remains of our love) and 4.33AM (running shoes).
404 error not found
In 1965 Roman Opalka enters his studio to confront a blank canvas. After some rumination, he paints the number '1' in the top left corner. Next to it he paints the number '2' and continues this process each day until his death two days after my 44th birthday. He begins speaking and recording each number in Polish as he paints, a sublime reflection on what artists do. On 25 January 1966 On Kawara enters his studio and paints the phrase '25 January 1966" in neat white paint on a black canvas. He continues this process and invites people to read out each date. I contact On Kawara and Opalka to request permission to use some audio excerpts on this CD. After some correspondence, Opalka's studio replies that “beginners do often relate his numbers work to On Kawara, but to Opalka this is a step and not more.” He declines permission and I feel judged, like a beginner. Our modern jury system emerges from Germanic tribes that use men of good character to judge the accused. Our modern pop emerges from four local lads. Half-time and judged by Vier Herren.
I fall back into last place alongside Chris Watson and we chat about wrens that can produce 64 notes in an 8-second song phase. We hear that as a trill but if you slow it down 4 times you can see and hear the individual notes. Scientists at the University of St Andrews suggest that another wren can resolve those notes at that speed, which is beyond our temporal resolution, separating out all those individual notes and extracting information about sexual status and position within habitat. In Matthew Garrison's Duet, he plays 64 notes in 6 seconds, a level of execution on the bass guitar that is simply not able to be carried out by other players. I nervously stand before a room full of students and invite them to create masterpieces and reduce them down to four seconds. I suggest to them no art can exist without 4. Cram, crop, compress, contain, condense, compact, constrict, concentrate.
© richard kostelanetz
William Rowan Hamilton is born in Dublin on 4 August 1805 and he has a eureka moment when walking along the River Liffey and discovers quaternions, quickly carving his equation into the soft stone of Broom Bridge. I try to comprehend quaternions. The result of multiplying two of them depends on which one comes before the times sign. Mathematicians make stuff up. In an isolated corner of numb4rland CHINATOWN's 4x4 pays tribute to Albrecht Dürer's 1514 Melancolia that includes a strange 4x4 number square. I run around Central Park which is at both times miniscule and colossal. In January 2011 BBC Horizon claims that the true meaning behind reality may indeed be numbers.
The Matrix fulfills many desires when it strips back a reality to reveal numbers. I try to contact the makers of Pi but get nothing back. Open-ended equation. Old mathematicians sit around on park benches, drinking and arguing over the square root of -1. We let our minds try to deal with the range of numbers but our legs hurt. The number of atoms in the observable universe is close to 1080. In Onkalo, Finland, they are trying to design a nuclear bunker that will safely house 250,000 tonnes of radioactive refuse for at least 100 millennia, but they do not even know which words or numbers to put on the doors.
We slow down, out of breath, aware of our own mortality as numbers casually extend on past infinity. Anselm, Albrecht, Nobby, Pythagorus, four Residents, Belle, Kate, Beyonce and the Queen Mother exit the park and stop at the bus stop, panting. They see John Cage driving the 433 bus towards them and en masse hop on. Change of tact. The run through numb4rland makes no sense anymore and it needs an illogical and human finale. Diamanda Galas stands up before them as Eight men, four women plays in the background.
I dreamed that love was a crime
I was alone, so lonely and blue
You know why? Because eight men and four women, Lord
They found me guilty of loving you
It was eight men and four women
How could they be so blind
How could they call me guilty?
And called true love a crime
Guilty Guilty Guilty
Diamanda gets off the bus and leads us to the numb4rland gallows. When Johnny Cash first performs the song 25 minutes to go in 1968 in Folsom, he sings only 20 of the 25 lines. When the music on this CD is converted to an MP3, between 80-90% of the music will be discarded but we will not notice this audio loss due to the psychoacoustic phenomenon called masking. MP3's are notations as much as the number 4 is a notation. 4 can mean 4 or 4,000 depending on its context and our perspective. As soon as we classify or simplify something it becomes even more complex. Numbers arrived into Europe only about 800 years ago. The difference between being 4 years old and 14 is enormous, but between 44 and 54 less so. 88 lines about 44 … lines.
Four is solid, square, family, legs on a table, symmetrical, balanced, even, protective, physical, male, corners, rooms, rectangles, eight minutes to go … four is a building block for musicians and artists. Four tops, Four Freshmen, Gang of Four, 4skins, Four Knights, Fab Four, Four Aces, 4/4, four-on-the-floor, the phone is ringing and the clock says 4am, 4-4-2, four minutes to go, where do bad folk go when they die? They don't go to heaven where the angels fly, go to the lake of fire and fry, never see 'em again 'til fourth of July. The sound of alva noto runs in the background of the background as Diamanda counts down, electrical charges with complex patterns writhing through her body, compressing a life into some kind of ending.
We need endings.
One minute to go.