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A smattering of YouTube comments on Artur Rubinstein's performance of Chopin's Ballade No. 4 in F minor (1842) indicates that this music is deeply meaningful to many listeners, not only emotionally but temporally:
‘it only lasts 10 minutes, yet it contains the experience of a lifetime’
‘leave it to Artur Rubinstein to express a life lived.’
‘10:27 sounds like the end of time.’
How does music in general, and this music in particular, convey temporal meanings so powerfully? As I have argued elsewhere, music presents listeners with ‘temporal fictions’ that may cohere with normative temporal experiences – defined by aspects of human information processing and embodiment such as the perceptual present – or may deviate from them, in some cases radically. In earlier studies, I focused on relations between temporal organisation (e.g. event durations, the presence or absence of pulse and metre) and timelessness – the fiction that time has been suspended altogether – with which much twentieth- and twenty-first-century music has been concerned (see also Jonathan Kramer's vertical time). What are here called ‘temporal fictions’ relate to issues already presented in this volume, particularly the philosophical temporal puzzles explored by Connor and Smith in Chapter 4 of this volume, and the passage of time judgements discussed by Jones in Chapter 3. They emerge from complex interactions between many different musical properties, as well as subjective contexts and listening behaviours.
This chapter addresses another kind of musical property relevant to temporal fictions: harmony, focusing on interactions between harmonic structure and temporal organisation without detailed discussion of individual harmonic units. Harmony is, of course, one of the principal features that distinguishes tonality from post-tonality. Many strains of post-tonal music employ similar or identical harmonic units as tonal music (e.g. triads) but something fundamental differs in how these units are structured, with major implications for temporal fictions. As will be explained in the theoretical discussion below, an essential difference is that whereas tonal music typically presents the classical paradigm of beginning, middle, and end, triadic post-tonality may often present as an indefinitely extensible middle without beginning or end. This may be achieved through a variety of means, as I will demonstrate with examples from the post-tonal repertoire.
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.
Philosophical perspectives on time perception often make reference to the experience of music, and for good reason. Listening to a melody takes time, for the reason that melodies have temporal parts. Just as works of paradigmatic visual arts such as painting or sculpture are extended in space, musical works are extended in time. ‘Music’, as Jonathan Kramer puts it, ‘unfolds in time’. Consider hearing any sequences of notes, for example a broken A Minor chord. First one hears the A, then the C, then the E. The sounding of each note occupies a distinct temporal location. One hears the A only when A is played, C only when C is played, and E only when E is played. One way to put this is to say that one's auditory experience is restricted to the present. One hears only what is being played at the time of one's hearing. Indeed, in perceptual experience one seems to be aware of perceived events as present. The note that one hears seems to be happening now. In this respect, auditory perception differs from memory. In memory one is aware of events that occurred at a time before one's remembering of them.
These are truisms. Yet they come into apparent conflict with the equally obvious fact that in hearing the broken chord, we hear the progression from one note to the next. We hear, one might say, not only the notes but also the relations between them. These relations can be temporal – A occurs before C – or aesthetic – A harmonises with C. But if we can hear a relation between two notes, A and C say, surely we must, at that moment, be hearing both A and C. For presumably we could not hear the relation between A and C if we cannot hear the notes that are so related. But since A and C occur at different times, it seems that there must be a moment at which we hear what occurred at an earlier time. That, however, is inconsistent with the truism that we hear only what is played at the time of hearing.
‘Live coding’ has become a performative artistic practice that lies at the intersection of programming and artistic creation, often with an emphasis on music. Typically, live coding performances are presented on a stage, upon which there is a (personal) computer and a human producing code in one of a number of programming languages in real time. The screen of the performer is usually projected so that the audience can see the edits of code being produced. Sometimes, this code may be interpretable by the audience:
sound “kick kick clap kick”
As part of this, the audience thus witnesses the computer following the code/instructions, such as by producing an audio signal; in the example above, a musical pattern of three kick drums and a classic handclap sample. The visual cue provided by the code is important. Since the audience see on the screen that the clap falls on the third beat, they may try to adjust their cognition to ‘perceive’ the clap as the third beat of a 4/4 bar.
As our performance continues, with this programme running in a loop, the performer edits the code:
sound “kick kick clap*2 kick?”
Now the audience hears two kicks and two faster claps, sometimes followed by a rest and at other times by a kick (the ‘sometimes’ induced by the inclusion of the ‘?’). The performer keeps editing the code and the music continues to change until either the computer crashes; the programme fails; the performer gets lost in the code; or the prescribed performance duration is over.
Live coding is therefore the practice of writing and manipulating algorithms by programming (writing code) in front of an audience, and thereby exposing that audience to the effects of the code, which usually (but not always) takes the form of an audio-visual output: music, sound art, visuals, poetry, or dance, for example. Live coding is neither a form nor style of music; it is an audio-visual practice that draws extensively on many forms and styles of music. Live coding is also a thought-experiment with various side-effects, some of which can be framed as music.
In this chapter we examine music ensemble timing. This process, in which musicians watch and listen to sense each other and so adjust the timing of their motor actions in order to maintain good ensemble synchronisation, may be considered an example of sensorimotor synchronisation. We recount how experimental studies of the act of tapping along to a metronome – one of the simplest forms of sensorimotor synchronisation – led to the development of an internal clock model, in which self-perceived errors in synchrony between a person's taps and the metronome's beats drive phase corrections to the timing of that person's internal clock. We go on to expand this model to account for the maintenance of ensemble timing in string quartet performance. We assume each player has their own internal clock which is undergoing constant adjustment according to perceived synchrony errors between them and each of their three colleagues. Such a model is mathematically linear and describes phase correction between players. We conclude the chapter by noting that a recently developed oscillator model points the way towards a complementary, non-linear perspective on these timing adjustments between players. Both the linear and non-linear models make important contributions to our understanding of the science behind music ensemble timing, an understanding that could one day inform new approaches to rehearsal technique, and even stylistic variation, in music-making.
Playing music in time – whether to an internally generated pulse or to an external signal such as a click track – is a complex task that relies on a number of cognitive mechanisms including perception, attention, memory, and action. In many musical styles, the desired timing of playing can be quite complex, with intended large-scale or local fluctuations in tempo or purposeful deviations from the beat. Fluctuations in the cognitive mechanisms during performance, as well as changes in neurophysiological factors affecting the muscles such as fatigue and stiffness, may result in additional, unintended variability in an individual musician's timing performance (as also discussed in Chapter 2). Despite this variability, musicians must be able to predict and adjust the temporal progression of their music-making in order to achieve their desired musical expression. When musicians play together in groups, additional challenges are put upon these mechanisms.
In this chapter I explore issues of process and musical time in a series of works that employ graphic notation, electronic materials, and Anglo-Saxon art and language, titled hearmleot—gieddunga. The choice of materials is not arbitrary: I am interested in the ways that artistic expressions and processes of the past may link the past and the present and provide approaches to the aesthetic questions that are raised by contemporary artists. The pieces that I will discuss continue some of the related themes of iterative processes and the investigation of art in much earlier artistic cultures (such as the Ice Age and the Bronze Age) that can be found in the projects entoptic landscape and ijereja. As a collection, these pieces pose questions about the link between the temporal experiences of music in the present and its material culture and practice, beyond the sonic. Taken together these pieces and practices question the temporal nature of the practice of graphic notation and its role as a ‘layer’ in the temporal exploration of past-ness and present-ness. More generally, heterochronicity and layered time are explored, and I question whether it makes sense to temporally separate notation and performance, or whether these might be better considered temporal layers of the work. The historical circumstances of the creation of art can be assumed to be both not so different from those of today, and also radically so. Past artworks are not only extant examples of past artistic practices, but themselves material cultures that can be re-created and re-experienced through contemporary practice. Such practices link the past and the present. The pieces that hearmleot—gieddunga draws together, in their temporal element, pose questions about the link between the temporal experiences of music in the present and its material culture and practice, beyond the sonic and related to the performing and listening body. As such, this chapter explores the ‘present-ness’ of the work as well as its constructions of time within and beyond its boundaries, and as signified by the musical object as a work and as a score.
hearmleot—gieddunga was created in collaboration with Alistair Zaldua as a performer of live electronics and violin, and Josh Cannon, who introduced further creative practices in the studio.
The following chapter provides an overview of the function of time in the music I have written over the past decade or so. I use four sub-headings to structure the chapter in such a way that moves from an examination of time on a micro- to a macro-scale. In part 1, I outline the cyclical processes involved in putting these pieces together from the perspective of Jonathan D. Kramer's concept of a non-directed linear time (see also Redhead, Chapter 9, this volume) and make reference to Husserl's model of passive synthesis (see also Connor and Smith, Chapter 4, this volume). In part 2, I consider the use of recursivity and the role of musical memory, referring to Deleuze's notions of difference and repetition. In part 3, I open up a broader discussion of musical form, demonstrating how techniques employed at a local level impact upon the macrostructure of these works (see also Thomas, Chapter 6, this volume). In part 4, I discuss more recent developments in my thinking that have given rise to questions about how this sense of non-directed linear time might be disrupted or even momentarily suspended. Here, I consider liminality in relation to form and extended duration.
In this chapter, I will examine (i) how pitch intervals and time intervals are linked in my work, (ii) how I have used cyclical pitch structures to create or disrupt a sense of musical flow, and (iii) how I have used repetition to provide points of orientation and disorientation for the listener on both micro- and macro-levels. Issues of musical memory and how they relate to temporality become pertinent from the second section onwards. I draw upon Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Gilles Deleuze to illustrate the subjective aspect of time passing from a philosophical perspective. I also cite music psychologists and musicologists Diana Deutsch, Eric Clarke, and Bob Snyder, as well as music theorist David Clarke and anthropologist Tim Ingold as a means of supporting the perceptual outcomes identified above. My frames of reference are entirely personal; there are certain leanings here toward phenomenological perspectives similar to those outlined in Chapter 4 of this volume and particular choices of psychological models that parallel some of the types discussed in Chapters 1 and 3, but I am cautious of aligning myself too readily with any specific philosophical or psychological school of thought.
Without hesitation, after I gave an overview of existing research on how listening to music may alter perception of time, His Royal Highness the late Prince Philip responded, ‘you mean, for example, like when you hear music when you are on hold on the telephone?’ Setting aside the doubts we might have about whether His Royal Highness had ever been on hold on the telephone, we can draw three important observations from this exchange:
1. The link between music and time is one that people understand Immediately
2. The link manifests itself in everyday situations in our daily lives
3. There are benefits to gaining new knowledge around music and time and applying these to real-world environments and settings
This chapter will introduce a new model, the Listener Environment Music Interaction (‘LEMI’) model, which seeks to capture what existing research tells us about our sense of time during music listening. Categories included in this model will be illustrated with reference to examples from relevant scholarship in existing publications which have examined perception of time during music listening over the last forty years. Essentially, the multitude of factors which impact on sense of time during music listening is extensive, and, moreover, the interaction between these factors (such as enjoyment and familiarity) has only recently begun to be explored. The complexity of each listening experience, and the interaction between elements such as the listening environment (whether live or digital, for example), the mood and age of the listener, their sense of familiarity with the musical material, and the material itself in the hands of the composer and performer (whether improvising, playing, or coding), is only just beginning to be acknowledged and examined. This complexity becomes all the stickier when we begin to consider that all of these elements of a listening experience are fluid, and are in states of flux at varying paces, for the duration of that experience.
Discussion in this chapter will focus primarily on studies which sit within the field of music psychology, or empirical musicology. Such work focuses on experiments during which participants listen to one or more stimuli in controlled conditions (although more real world – or ‘ecologically valid’ – settings are becoming increasingly common), and respond to these stimuli, after which data are analysed using statistical tests.
It is the calling-card of experimental music that works (if they may be so termed) pose questions rather than provide answers. What is the experience? What happens if…? What set of possibilities might result from this set of constraints? Performers of experimental music hold such questions in the balance even whilst in any given performance asserting some kind of answer (response) at that moment in time. Doubt, multiplicity, and exploration are tropes of an experimental performance practice, and these are very often worked out in the act of performance itself. Indeterminate music, when certain musical aspects are left ‘open’ to performer interpretation, for example, problematises the nature of the work, allowing for multiple (sometimes even infinite) outcomes; other forms question the boundaries of experience, seeping into and absorbing the environmental sonicities within which it is situated. The focus of this chapter is music which experiments with temporal parameters and the consequent challenges to perception: how the whole is understood, and how the moment is experienced in relation to the whole. In this sense, the chapter offers a practice-based perspective of many of the more general philosophical puzzles already raised by Connor and Smith, Chapter 4, this volume.
Within the experimental tradition, how music works within and outside of time has been a defining feature, whether through disregarding time as a compositional constraint in indeterminate works such as Earle Brown's December 1952 or Christian Wolff's Edges (1968), or, quite the opposite, adopting clock-time as the primary formal feature, as in John Cage's 4’33” (1952) or 26’1.1499” for a string player (1955). Others have extended conventional boundaries of time in music through a focus upon perceptual change over long durations, in projects such as La Monte Young's The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys (1964), Pauline Oliveros's ‘Deep Listening’ practice, and Annea Lockwood's environmental installation pieces.
Music which questions and problematises the temporal experience presents issues no less for the performer than the listener. Traditionally, the goal of musical interpretation through performance has been to project an answer, to establish an interpretative model which serves to provide unity and coherence upon a musical work, even if that model may change from one performance to another.
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.
The ability to perceive the duration of events and distinguish them from other shorter or longer events is a fundamental part of consciousness and the way in which we understand and interact with the world. Despite this, within psychology itself (and even within the study of the senses and perception), the domain of time perception is not widely known about. There are several likely reasons for this: firstly, up until the 1980s, the field was heavily based on animal work, with little or no applied human models or data, apart from some very early experiments in the nineteenth century. Secondly the field is often confused with other types of timing such as circadian timing (regulation of the body's sleep-wake cycle) or reaction time (how quickly one can react to a presented stimulus). Thirdly, although we talk of people having a sense of time, it is not strictly a sense, as we possess no sensory organ for time; unlike the cochlea for hearing, or the retina for vision.
The aim of this chapter is to give the reader who has no prior knowledge of the field of time perception an overview of the important facts, models, distinctions between different types of timing, and the factors that affect them. This chapter does not delve too deeply into the specific implications of these facets to our specific perception of music, as such an undertaking is provided by Phillips in Chapter 1 (this volume), although that is not to say that no reference to music will be made.
I will start by talking about the perception of duration and the models we use to explore it and the factors that can affect or distort it. I will then move on to talk about another type of timing phenomenon termed ‘passage of time judgements’ which are concerned not with the perception of how long an event lasted, but how quickly time seemed to pass while engaged in a particular activity.
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.