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Longer periods away from home - just over two weeks in Japan and Korea in this case - always make me think about time and our experience of it. On the larger scale, one experiences the elasticity of time complicated by homesickness, jet-lag, work schedule and the personal, emotional shape of absence (the last couple of days always fly by as far as I am concerned). On the smaller scale, trips away are almost the only periods in which I experience regular, abstract exercise, usually swimming. If I swim 20 minutes a day for a week or more, the weirdness of time very quickly becomes apparent: the subjectivity of the time I experience, weaving in and out of my thoughts, is totally at odds with the stop-clock ahead of me, ticking away the seconds, and the ordinary clock to my left or right, converting time elapsed into portions of a circle, slices of a pie.

This is, it might seem, pretty banal stuff. The subjectivity of our experience of time is widely acknowledged. As we get older, time seems to go faster - or is it that we seem to move faster in time? The spatial metaphors we use are confused and confusing. The theories to explain this change range from the physiological (the body cools as we age) to the arithmetical (each moment is a smaller proportion of a lengthening lifespan).

If time is so mutable, so much a matter of the ebb and flow of consciousness, is it in fact illusory? The commonsense view has long been that of classical science. Isaac Newton contrasted "absolute, true, and mathematical time" which "in and of itself and of its own nature, without reference to anything external, flows uniformly and by another name is called duration" with what he called "relative, apparent and common time". This is the view he bequeathed to the industrial age, the world of clocks, measurement and effective time management, but one which was exploded in its metaphysical aspects by Einstein's musings on relative motion and the speed of light, by the space-time continuum, and the uncertainties of quantum mechanics.

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L. E. Cantrell
February 6th, 2009
10:02 AM
My, my, what thin skins some of us have. Earlier, I said that the philosophical Bostridge has little to say. I was wrong. In this passage he proves that he has nothing whatsoever to say: "Because surely, when we get metaphysical about music, what we are looking for is an escape from ourselves, a direct glimpse of something transcendental, something objective if inchoate, a grappling with time and timelessness, with being and not-being, which goes beyond the messy subjectivity of our day to day perceptions and our all too limited language."

P.D.Q. Bach
January 19th, 2009
10:01 AM
Yeah, really. St. Augustin said everything one can say about time, and L.E. Cantrell did the same about this discussion. Both time and music are mysteries, of which either something very new must be said, or nothing at all. We recognize them but don't know what they are, and that's that.

January 12th, 2009
7:01 AM
I fear that, alleged trolls notwithstanding, an article about time and music that mentions only Wagner, Mahler, and Bruckner is ill-informed about the subject. Surely the transformation from the timeless flow of plainsong to the Cartesian rhythms of J.S.Bach is a far more profound development than any ramblings of nineteenth century pseudo-philosophical orchestration. And then another hundred or 150 years past Beethoven, the ostinatos of Glass and Reich, prefigured by Stravinsky and hordes of rock and roll bands, condense another metamorphosis of pitch in time equally inaccessible to those inarticulate philosophers that we are commanded to respect. A subjectivity tied to the perspective of our grandparents or great-grandparents is a worthy recipe for a dead art.

January 10th, 2009
2:01 AM
I am new to this site, and am posting this brief thought because the article coincided with a conversation I had last evening with wife on why music moves us. I am an amateur musician, and the question that has intrigued me for some time is that music, in my view, is different from the other types of phenomena that trigger emotions in humans. In my view, all of the other phenomena that "cause" deep emotions are found in nature, i.e., in the world of that we see, hear, feel and experience. Literature and the visual arts (even the most abstract of these), reflect to some extent variations on our perception of the "objective" world, i.e., our known feelings, narratives and images. In addition to the emotions from human contact, we can find and be moved by the visual "art" we find in nature. Music, on the other hand, is organized sound that does not occur in nature; rather it is exclusively invented by humans. While it clearly embodies some profound archetype, probably related to language and the human voice, it nevertheless seems to me that this fact makes it very distinct from the other forms of art.

January 7th, 2009
11:01 PM
I'm in agreement with Steve Meikle in that the possibility to over-analyze such things is very real. As a composer myself, I've found that the more time one uses to dissect and analyzes music, the less time they spend creating it. How very telling... As for Ted, thank you for proving my theory that most of those who can't, tell others how they can.

January 7th, 2009
3:01 PM
the first mistake here is in failing to provide any operational definition of 'Music', and then becoming surprised at a lack of consensus as to the effects. For example, can we equate Black Sabbath with John Cage simply because it is the same factory dies that press out the digital disks? Therefore is it logical to ask, when one arrangement of sounds evokes one effect on one population, that all arrangements of sound have identical effects on all populations? Some musics are a language, some musics are emotional, some musics are shamanic, in Chinese history they tell of some musics being medicinal (Yue predates Yao) and in his essay about 4'33" John Cage discusses the relevance of that piece to zen temple music and the pre-heroic genres of the rennaisance and before. That they are ALL spontaneously called 'Music', even by their detractors, is of itself interesting, but I sometimes wonder if we are trying to compare aspirin with LSD and find only that they are both, sometimes, round.

January 7th, 2009
10:01 AM
To fear the unknown, to want to conquer mystery and become like gods is the ultimate folly of mankind. Merciful nature! Man will never run out of mystery, and I will never run out of song :)

January 6th, 2009
7:01 AM
"reaches outside itself more credibly than the jargon of the philosophers." Now there's a nice broad brush full of tar. There are smarter and dumber philosophers, just as there are excellent and mediocre musicians. One of the smartest when it comes to the arts was Susanne K. Langer. So anyone (including Mr. Bostridge) who would like to think hard about music and find a way of talking about it that doesn't seem to do violence to the experience could start by reading Langer's Philosophy in New Key (on the nature of symbols) and then (and only then) her Feeling and Form, where the discussion of music will make sense if the concepts presented in the earlier book have been assimilated.

Samantha Carter
January 6th, 2009
3:01 AM
Ted, Ted, Ted...if musicians had "stuck to their trade" and left thinking to all others then i doubt very much that we would know anything of Pythagoras! Who's mathematical genius combined with an intense feel for musical harmony revolutionized civilization!! an artist, musician, philosopher, mathemetician... all these things require imagination to perform and untilise. A musician ( if they are a real musician of course) has a natural sense for harmony and proportion, hence the ability to compose. You need a very mathematical mind ( even sub-consiously ) to write music.. so if anything i believe musicians have all the necessary tools for "thinking" outside the square ..hehe( im not talking pop music here, i kinda mean Beethoven and others that have displayed musical perfection) the key to discovery, philosophy, mathematics, and ESPecially astrophysics is the ability to walk with your imagination whilst holding to a certain set of physical rules and principles.. no different to the task of a musician composing a piece. ...try to keep your mind open! :)

January 6th, 2009
1:01 AM
Music -- whose little hollow notes are so huge that no amount of feeling can fill them.

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