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I teach a weekly musicology seminar at 9:00am on a Thursday. For an anthropologist or ethnographer, such a statement contains quite a lot of socio-cultural information about the context in which I may be situated, especially regarding that context's wider notion(s) of time. My own societal context, for example, relates its activities to numerical units of time. Each day and night cycle is divided into twenty-four equal units structured as two sequential twelve-hour subsidiary periods, labelled ante meridiem and post meridiem respectively. A series of seven such cycles becomes a larger unit, called a week, itself a subsidiary of a larger unit called a month, which again is a subsidiary of a larger unit called a year, and so on.
The most important point to be made through such preamble is that the societal conventions by which time is organised – indeed, the societal conventions through which time is socio-culturally understood – are by no means universal. Even my closest geographic neighbours prefer to label the twenty-four hours of the day as a single cycle (their 16:00 versus my 4:00pm), whilst others draw more broadly on emergent circadian rhythms and other worldly phenomena, like the rising of the sun. Both are valid and yet distinct temporal perspectives drawn through a socio-cultural lens.
At its core, the relationship between time and music concerns the temporal experiences of individual subjects in a musical context. This chapter proposes that if we are to fully understand these experiences, we cannot allow ourselves to abstract the subject from their socio-cultural context. Societal conventions of time, as will be demonstrated in the text below, not only reflect notions of time held by the listening subjects that make up that society but also shape them. As Anthony Giddens says, ‘time does not exist merely as something to be measured, but is bound up with contrasts in the very nature of social activities themselves across cultures’. As such, the socio-cultural dimension of music and time must be fed into the discussion of this volume as much as any other area of musicological enquiry.
That there is a discursive relationship between music and its socio-cultural context is, of course, a very well observed aspect of current musicological discourse.
All music engages with time in multiple ways. This is not a useful statement with which to conclude this volume. That is, of course, not to suggest that such a statement is not true. Musical time is experienced by listeners, enacted by performers and composers, and offers meaning(s) to all parties. And in each context, whilst the subject matter remains ultimately the same, the terms of the discussion are fundamentally different. Instead, it is not useful because – having traversed this volume – it tells us little of the polyvalent, volatile, and mobile nature of the space now revealed.
Chapters 1-4 demonstrated the plurality of experiences of musical time that can be felt or offered. Time in music is felt to pass through the experience of it – and as we feel and acknowledge it. The LEMI model proposed by Phillips in Chapter 1 demonstrates the multi-layered and intertwined factors which shape these experiences. As such, experiences of musical time are innately plural, different for each listener on each listening. One may be enthralled – lost in a performance – whilst the person in one's neighbouring seat begrudges every second. How we then talk about these experiences is therefore equally multifaceted. In Chapter 2, Harrison demonstrated how such experiences can be offered, with a journey through musical time now adopting a materiality, to be bent or warped, sculpted or shaped artistically. Jones, in Chapter 3, reminds us of the extent to which musical time can change dependent on the way we think about it, be that prospective or retrospective in nature, whilst in Chapter 4, Connor and Smith demonstrated a plurality of models for understanding or conceptualising the musical present, all of which appear flawed in different ways.
Musical time is volatile, especially from the perspective of those who enact it. The material presented in Chapters 5–7 illustrate this well. Wing, Witek, Stables, and Bradbury revealed the hidden world of micro-scale ensemble synchronisation in Chapter 5, where performers engage in group dynamics at the level of the millisecond to constantly find, adjust, and rectify the temporal grid of the music in which they find themselves. The question of timing and tempo here emerged, not as something fixed and regular but as something ever-changing and fragile.
All music engages with time. This is not a useful statement to begin a volume of perspectives on music and time such as this. That is, of course, not to suggest that such a statement is untrue. From the sago-pounding songs of the Kaluli people to the live-coding performances of an algorave, music manifests in time and time manifests in music. Even the provocative title of John Cage's 0’00” (1963) entwines itself with issues of time through problematisation and rebuttal. Instead, the opening statement is not useful because it is too simple. What we mean by time in a musical context is, in itself, extremely multifaceted.
In recent years, the printing of approximate durations, in minutes, displayed next to a particular work in a concert programme has become increasingly common. Here, time is something numerical; something that can be measured; a kind of quantity. But in listening to the piece itself we are immediately in a different kind of domain. Now time refers to an internal experience or judgement – of long, short, later, or soon. Here, time can take on certain characteristics and qualities; it can fly, or drag, or sometimes even stop.
Time is also a matter of past, present, and future. In this way, time in music becomes almost inextricably bound to ideas of memory. As a means of accessing the past, memory is fundamental to much musical structure. We need to have remembered a musical idea (a theme, a motif, a harmonic progression, a gesture, etc.) to recognise and notice its resurgence or development later – or establish that what we are hearing is new. Our experience of time in music can also look forwards into the future, through expectation – something that composers and performers often subvert and render into a state of play. Somewhere between the two is something called ‘the present’ or just simply ‘now’ – the musical event to which we are currently listening. But how narrow is this bandwidth? The current phrase? The current note? The current period of the sound wave? If independent from the past and the future, the musical now seems to appear as a strip of infinite thinness, like a mathematical infinitesimal. A moment in time with no duration? This itself presents a puzzle to be solved.