Introduction: Temporalities in contemporary music


[Added October 2016]

In Divergence Press’s original format, articles were grouped into issues. The following text was supplied as an introduction to issue 1 (published 1 March 2013), entitled Temporalities in Contemporary Music. The issue comprised the following articles, which are still available to read on our site:

  • The handless watch: On composing and performing Flutter echoes – Richard Beaudoin and Neil Heyde

  • Looking inward: La Monte Young, Arvo Pärt, and the spatiotemporal dwelling environment of minimalist music – Sarah C. Davachi

  • Temporality as an analytical approach to minimalist music: Tom Johnson’s An hour for piano – R. Andrew Lee

  • Scanning the temporal surface: aspects of time, memory and repetition in my recent music – Bryn Harrison

  • Time, eternity and the problem of minimal music’s alleged non-linearity in Louis Andriessen’s De Tijd – Maarten Beirens

This first journal issue of Divergence Press[1] explores notions of temporality and the temporal experience in contemporary and experimental musics.

Issues of temporality remain close to many musical discussions, yet there remain comparatively few sustained theses on the subject. In particular, contemporary and experimental musics, which can offer radically unique temporal experiences, provide many rich untapped sources for scholarly investigation. Often, research stops short of examining the actual experience, rather falling back to focus upon what information can be drawn from the score, or the compositional intentions behind a piece. But what is the relationship between these composed designs, and individual temporal experience? The former can undoubtedly provide more context to the discussion, but fails in producing a full understanding of the real, felt experience of musical temporality. Just as when it is said that time itself may do this, or that, then what is actually under discussion? The individual experience is replaced by supposed objectivities, described using terminologies which close off discussion to other viewpoints. Investigation of temporality in music needs to be an investigation into how we experience temporalities in music; how do musical context, environment, and space, amongst others, alter experience? Temporality is subjectivity, and subjectivity is temporality Temporality is intertwined with our own self-awareness, and our own self-consciousness. As philosopher David Couzens Hoy’s reading of Merleau-Ponty states: ‘Temporality is subjectivity, and subjectivity is temporality’ (2012, p.73).

Part of the motivation for this journal issue’s theme is the addressing of this situation, and the following papers adopt a variety of approaches in attempting to explore further how to discuss the musical temporal experience. R. Andrew Lee and Maarten Beirens both take a single work from the minimalist canon (Tom Johnson’s An Hour for Piano and Louis Andriessen’s De Tijd, respectively) and discuss the pieces’ influences and construction in relation to the listener’s experience. Both authors frame their investigations using Jonathan Kramer’s terminology of verticality, but follow intriguingly divergent routes in their discussion: Lee brings a performer’s viewpoint to this writing, whilst Beirens draw upon an intimate knowledge of Andriessen’s work to illuminate his analysis.

Composer Bryn Harrison discusses his approach to the use of cyclic repetition in his own music, in conjunction with the listening experience. As well as examining the repetitive compositional devices employed in recent pieces, Harrison considers his close relationship with the work of visual artists such as James Hugonin, Bridget Riley and Tim Head. He explores connections between our perception of these artists’ works and our auditory perception’s scanning across the continuous cyclic structures in his own music, investigating how this can impact upon the temporal experience.

The notion of ‘dwelling’ inside the listening experience is proposed by Sarah Davachi, whose article suggests that familiar techniques of minimalist composition can create very particular spatiotemporal environments. Works by La Monte Young and Arvo Pärt are analysed to demonstrate how, despite their overt sense of stasis, these composers’ music generates specific, distinguishable inner worlds of movement.

The opening article assumes an alternative strategy by including both the composer’s and performer’s discussion of the same piece: Richard Beaudoin describes his use of ‘microtoming’ in his recent string quartet Flutter echoes, discussing the process of transcribing recordings and ensuing notational issues, particularly with regard to durational specificity. The following performer’s commentary by Neil Heyde gives an account of temporal considerations in the interpretation of this unique compositional approach.

The sum total of the diversity inherent across these five articles should demonstrate that consideration of all aspects of music making are vital to the discussion of the temporal experience, allowing for greater awareness and the development of further connections. This issue does not intend to provide absolute answers concerning the subject of how we might think about, or experience, temporality. Instead, it opens up new avenues for thought; discussions are narrowed so as to explore original, focussed areas for scholarship, providing new tools for further creativity in all its guises.

Couzens Hoy, D. (2012) The Time of Our Lives: A Critical History of Temporality. Cambridge, MA: MITPress.

[1] Articles in this issue of Divergence Press formerly appeared in CeReNeM Journal Vol.3 and have been reformatted for online publication. A downloadable Pdf of the original version appears at the bottom of each of the web-articles. CeReNeM Journal continues as a forum for postgraduate research at the Centre for Research in New Music.

About the author:

Richard Glover is a Research Fellow in composition at the University of Huddersfield. He writes on experimental approaches to music making, and in particular sustained tone music. He has chapters in both a forthcoming publication on the music of Phill Niblock, and the Ashgate Research Companion to minimalism. He is currently working on publications exploring the temporal experience in experimental musics, alongside broader perceptual issues in sustained tone music. His music is performed internationally and will be released on albums with both the Sheffield label ‘another timbre’ and the University of Huddersfield CeReNeM’s HCR label.