In Night-Sea Music, many small music boxes are driven by slow electric motors attached to them via rubber cables which curl and release intermittently. The piece is titled after a John Barth story, Night-Sea Journey, which is narrated by a confused and not altogether enthusiastic single spermatozoa on its journey in search of…well, something (the narrator is not very clear on the concept). The twisting and spasmodic movements of the piece alludes to those tiny twitching travelers whose brief existence is a suicidal mission to carry information through a difficult environment. The music boxes all play the old folk tune “The Merry Widow,” which serves as a wink and a nod towards the overwhelmingly futile energies expended by all those determined sperm.
The motors run at slightly different speeds depending on the amount of slack between them and the music boxes to which they are attached, so there is no way to synchronize the content of music boxes. While the flavor of the melody is heard, the overall contour of its progress is diffuse and meandering. This diffusion is both temporal and spatial since individual notes or clusters of them are heard randomly from various points across the wall where the piece is mounted. The factors causing the different rates of playback – the amount of slack on the rubber cable and the angle of that cable on the wall – are clearly visible and intuitive. The rubber cables make a mark of their motion against the wall, thus emphasizing the piece’s tactile presence and leaving a physical trace of the amount of its efforts.