The maths in the 26 and 7 Bones musical score

1.5 minutes
15 minutes
50 minutes
1 hour
2 hours
6 hours
1 day
1 day
24 times a year
2 weeks
3 weeks
3 months
1 season
3 years
15 out of 100
187 years
and 65 million years


Most of these times refer to the ‘crucial’ times necessarily associated with each participant’s contemporary activity.

And some refer to the vast timescales of geology that mark the border between land and sea and that span the Mesozoic period.

Times between here and elsewhere

between now and then

15 Minutes to respond to an emergency

2 hours in a tourniquet

3 years hedge-laying

1.5 minutes holding breath

The task has been to find a way of interpreting these events, so vital and particular and so very very small in comparison to the geological timelines.

And, to ask the question: How can we create a timeline that refers to all of these, that adheres to their relativity?

And it must have other qualities too:

It must transform from a cluster of numbers into an expressive form.

It cannot be pictoral, suggesting it is fixed in the past, when these activities, along with the ever-changing movement of the coast, are reacting in the present.

It must be mechanical: operated by hand. The hand acting as a conjunction or a connector between the mechanism and the wakening or stirring of a dynamic timeline that exists only through this interaction.

The Maths

We tried many versions of exploring relativity between each timescale.

One of these was to take the largest timescale of contemporary activity – 3 years – and to work out how often each other activity could take place within this period. For example how many opportunities were there for Alasdair to hold his breath for 1.5 minutes over a 3 year period, or for Dave to walk the Chesil or for Andrew to grow mallow.

For John, the hedge-layer, there would be 1, for Alasdair there would be 1 million 51 thousand and 200 opportunities.

Then we tried converting each person’s timeframe into the same unit of time. Minutes were the shortest unit of measurement given, so everyone’s activity was converted into minutes. And at this point we chose to convert the geological timeframes too: 251 million years, the beginning of the Triassic Period converts to overwhelming 1.05 million 14 times.

Then we used a logarithm (adding 26 and 27 together to make 53) to reduce these massive numbers but still retain their relativity. The numbers now stretched from a handy 0.5 to 19.

The Form

Our musical box has 2 and a half octaves or 20 musical notes. Each length of paper allows each note to be played 150 times.

So, starting with middle C representing the beginning of the Mesozoic period at 251 million years ago, now reduced to a  relative 19, we punched a hole every 19 lines or at every 19th musical opportunity.

And repeated this for each other timescale. Each number had been rounded up or down to create whole numbers and where we had several the same, such as 4, 2’s , we staggered them in their  original order. So 2.4 started on line 1 – 2.3 on line 2 and 2.2 on line 3 etc.

Then our hands ached, our brains were frazzled and our anticipation grew.

Ceremoniously at 7.20pm on the 6th May we placed the musical box on top of a cardboard box stuffed with foam for good resonance, and on to the kitchen table and played: 26 and 7 Bones, the score.

Sally Watkins

May 7th 2012

May 7th 2012