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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

Philosophical and composing understanding of the time issue in New music

Lavrova Svetlana Vital'evna

PhD in Art History

Prorector of Scientific Research and Development, The Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet

191023, Russia, Saint Petersburg, Zodchego Rossii Street 2
Other publications by this author







Abstract: The subject of this research is the issue of musical time within music of the XX century. Within the creative practice of this period, this issue is especially pressing. Organization of the sound events in the time continuum, comparable by level of density, comprises the reflection of the author’s inner world. Various philosophical space-time concepts are compared by the author with the examples of their understanding in the modern composing practice. The author mentions various concepts of musical time: “spherical time” of Bernd Alois Zimmermann, the concept of single unity of sound organization through the guidance by time parameter of Karlheinz Stockhausen (theory of “single unified time field”). Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino did not theorize his time position. But in his oeuvres, this problem is constantly at the forefront, and gets various commentaries. The scientific novelty is defined by the reference to the work of Sciarrino, which has not been thoroughly studied within Russian musicology. Despite this fact, we can assert that he is a living classic of the new music. For the first time the author refers to the descriptions of the individual compositional method with the time-space aspects. The author's creative search in the process of the research enters into a resonance with the modern concepts Gilles Deleuze.  


New Music, Sciarrino, Musical time, Bergson, Deleuze, Musical Composition, Philosophy of Music, Contemporary composer creativity, Musical concept of time, Chronos and Aeon

      Music as an art of time is confronting the composer with a problem of individual understanding within the categories of space and time. This problem becomes extremely crucial in the 20th century when the concept of musical time and the organization of sound patterns through a time continuum (related to the degree of density) are a composer’s reflection of his internal world.

           As the art of time, music was first introduced by Ancient Greeks. The consideration with this issue could be found in Poetica and Metaphysics by Aristotle, in Elements of Harmonica by Aristoksen and then in the works About Music and Confessions by Augustin. Regarding German classical esthetics one could mention Hegel and his interest in the connections of one’s “subjective internal life with time itself” to the time of sound, which also operates as “the Subject’s time”[II, p.294].

         One of the most fundamental research works in the sphere of musical time in the 20th century is the study by Olivier Messiaen, that is his Treatise about Rhythm, Colour and Ornithology (1949-1992) based on different sources including chapters from Holy Scripture, works on theology, philosophy, mythology, physics and astronomy. The main concepts outlined included two notions: Eternity and Time [1]. Eternity of Messiaеn is the unity and simultaneity of the past, the present and the future which spring from one point. Human time is also comprised of two notions, duration and internal time that could be measured. The phenomenon of net duration is opposed to the idea of structured time which is divided into the present, the past and the future. This type of time has its beginning and end. The stars, atoms, organisms, everything that comprise the worldview has its time, the Superimposed Time, therefore the world is poly- rhythmic by definition. Messiaen takes this concept to define the notion of rhythm which, according to his words, is the main basis of composition, the one that organizes the other parameters subordinate to it.

         Modification of internal human time projected upon the composer’s conception which was formed in the music of the 20th century has changed its path of development in different ways by transforming the time continuum and the cause effect connections of events.

According to the numerous assertions by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze two forms of time, Chronos and Aion, are in opposition: “Only the present exists in time. The past, the present and the future are not the three dimensions of time. Only the present fills time, whereas the past and the future are two dimensions related to the present» [2, p.216]. “Chronos is the vessel of stream-like presents, the definite cycle with its external layer manifesting itself as God”.    Regarding Chronos, the present is in some ways Body like. “The present is the time of mixtures and combinations: these are the processes of mixing. The present is the measure of actions and causes, whereas the future and the past are related to the suffering of the body” [2, p.218]. The impression one gets is that when writing about the body-like nature of the present, the time of mixtures, combinations and temporality, Gilles Deleuze is describing musical time, “We can predict the power of music to create, change and bend the time vector and even to destroy it… The events, not the time are part of its stream. Music is a series of events which not only exist in absolute time but also have its own subjective time modeling it. Time could be considered as a notion regulating the beginning of experience… Musical time stands aside even though music has existed and has been heard in absolute time… Music could be perceived as a moment-after-moment sequence and yet it has its own musical time. Musical time exists as related to the audience and at the same time as physical time it exists as a relationship between people and their experience [2, p. 219].

         The possibility of horizontal as well and the vertical interpretation of time was described by B.A.Zimmerman in his famous essay Interval and Time: «Interval is viewed as vertical as well as horizontal. From this point of view the concept of the unity of time as the unity of the present, the past and the future (in a sense that it was described by Augustine as the nature of the human soul which by means of its spiritual self-extension overcomes the quick moment connecting the past and the future into the unified “constant present”), is very contemporary, and at the same time this established idea is given a new perspective in music, “the art of time”, the art of time order inside the “constant time” of the overwhelming musical structure which we have to set as an ordering principle of all relations in the musical work”. From his point of view, music is defined to a larger extent through the ordering of the time continuum in which it manifests itself and which it is incorporated into. At the same time this is a major antinomy as due to its highly ordered nature, time is in its own way overcome and put into order, which creates the visibility of timelessness [3].

           K. Stockhauzen comes to his conception of unity of sound organization through the time parameter framework in which the relations of fundamental notions of pitch-rhythm-form were united by means of one link: the number of pulsations in the time unit. His articles As Time Passes… (first published in 1957 in the journal «die Reihe») and Unity of Musical Time (published in 1962) (Stockhauzen, 1962) put forward the idea that the time parameter is a meaningful core [4]. While co-existing in different dimensions, fundamental musical parameters are united by different theories of proportional numbers in which pitch, rhythm and form are represented as a definite number of pulses in the time unit. From the point of view of this German composer music is comprised of properties ordered in time which is very close to the idea of organized time. In this system timbre is characterized by overtones, frequent fluctuations as well as pulsation, which leads to definite pitch sounds. Pitches in its own right are created by fluctuations of different velocity, the less the velocity the lower the sound, and vice versa. When the rhythm is obvious, the relation of velocities as sound lengths create rhythm of a higher order, which in its own right is the form. The unified space ranges from micro-time including timbers and pitches to macro-time, including rhythm and form. According to K.Stochhauzen, the easiest way of measuring space is the ratio of the octave 1:2. The time structured in this way is similar to “spatial time” introduced by Bergson.

The same notion of internal and real time was described by B.Tzimermann: “As opposed to mechanical and rational understanding of time as the externally measured value, starting from Bergson the notion of internal and real time, the time of net motion, flow and duration, is introduced, the idea which the European thought has studied since the era of Heraclitus”[3].

         The interest of K.Stockhauzen in space and time quailities is not limited by the «theory of unifying time field», which was described in the above mentioned articles written in 1957 and 1962. His interest in an eternal and quickly passing present which is the “vertical section of time” is reflected in the concept of Moment-Form in which the depth of the present is the vertical section. This concept is very close to the idea of Chronos introduced by J.Deleuze as a “regulated movement of extended and deeply rooted presents”. In relation to form formation, the question posed by J.Deleuze is relevant: “Are the bodies that fill Chronos unified and are the mixtures perfect to allow the present to attain internal measure?” Stockhauzen finishes his article titled Moment-Form quoting  Beckett: “The silence that was once broken can’t be restored” [4, p.86].

         Developing his idea about the reflection of space and time categories in music, Husserl came to the idea of internal experiencing consciousness (dasinnere Erlebnisbewusstsein), a unifying form of all experiences (and sufferings) which are different from measured space time. The idea of internally experienced time is used in the concept of “time clot” and sphere like time by B.Zimerman.

Husserl considers the depth of internally experienced time as the horizon of consciousness which separates the line of chronological time. Time horizons and horizons of perceptual time are given the status of initial. The perception is carried out in the external and in the internal horizons. Beside the internal horizon, the external horizon of properties is placed, which is created by their co-presence. All the horizons meet in one unified total horizon which is called the “external world”. Husserl suggests the future potential of this new synthesis [7, p.84].

         The idea of Husserl’s horizon of consciousness is incorporated into the name of the musical work by an Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino Murо d’orizzonte (1997). Preliminary sketches that I include in my editions could be called “sound maps”. «Muro d' orizzonte» is the title of this musical work almost in the form of oxymoron… An image, an enigma, something that creates special illusions in one’s imagination. In our consciousness the illusion of space and the space of illusions create certain images. Sound maps create schemes around the archipelago of composition, which makes it possible to use their creative capacity. These are maps that are meant to disorientate us to show the right direction [9, p.214].

         The composer uses images, forms, co-sounding memory and consciousness operations as well as fragmentation. This time with a more adequate form of the principle of information perception. The composer uses visual images which are fixed preliminary in sound maps («carte da suono»), for which he introduces the principle of sound space and the idea of the necessity of spatial thinking, a fundamental principle in music, from his point of view. By the feeling of space he doesn’t mean the physical sense but the metaphysical one. The main idea of the composition organization is the «carte da suono» that he uses to exercise “guidance of musical perception”. In diagrams of the «carte da suono» melody movements and the dynamics of figure development are not related to precise positioning of pitch, and in the case of necessity they are transcribed in the notes below the diagram.  Midway between the acoustic fixation and music transcription, the diagram allows the composer to pinpoint the relationship between the micro- and the macro - structured elements within musical work, as well as the relationship between sound images and musical images organizing these figures in time. The diagram becomes simultaneously the means of composition and the form of control over sound graphics. This reminds one of a multilingual approach which allows to transform one element into another by means of interpolational linguistic elements. Special attention in his creative conception, S.Sciarrino pays to intuition, which is based on archetypes, universal and inborn psychological structures that comprise the content of collective sub-consciousness manifested in different eras, cultures and types of art through the notion of “figures”. L.G. Gurevitch asserts that “intuition seems fragmented only in relation to logical structure.” In reality “it is overwhelming and pervasive” [10]. The same qualities could be attributed to contemporary consciousness: fragmentation in reality reflects multifunctional and super informative qualities. Regarding the multidimensional quality, E.M. Spirov in his article Universal language of Globalism, refers to historical and philosophical opinions of MacLeeuween which are “based on the idea of cycles revisiting past states of the human manuscript. Starting from tribal culture, humanity was plunged into it again while listening, because the visual and multidimensional perception of the world in a human being was reborn” [11, p.36].

Apart from Husserl’s notion of the “horizon of consciousness” and the idea of «Muro d’orizzonte»  which exists for S.Sciarrino in the metaphysical sense, a relevant position is Bergson’s understanding of time as well as the interpretation of Aion and Chronos given by J.Deleuze which is no less abstract and image like: “While Chronos can’t be separated from bodies which place it in the form of original matter, Aion is full of verve and is never filling. While Chronos is restricted and eternal, Aion has no bounds similar to the future and the past, but is finite as a moment. While Chronos has cycles and is always related to events such as accelerations, bursts and settings, Aion is stretching, along a straight line, extending in both meaningful directions, always as having past, and, constantly, almost beginning. Aion is a true meaning of time: a pure empty form of time” [2, p.216].

           The composition of S.Sciarrino «Vanitas» is rotating around Aion's emptiness [6]: the empty form of time is a gigantic paraphrase of the canzone Stardust (1927, text by Mitchell Parish, music by Hoagy Carmichael). Famous attributes of the genre Vanitas in visual art are the symbols that you find in painting that are meant to remind one of the lightness of one’s life and of the passing nature of one’s pleasures and achievements. For instance a skull, a symbol of death, rotten fruit, the symbol of aging as well as fading flowers that are becoming the symbol of Sciarrino’s Vanitas. Extending and deforming to the impossible state the canzone Stardust, with its simple harmonic structure, is subject to transformations. S.Sciarrino is intentionally extending the loop of time giving it a breath of emptiness. “Flowers in this work are real, they are beautiful but euphoric. Songs that represent the image of flowers that were picked up, won’t become universal images, or show adequately the idea of death. With careful stylization that faces the resistance of eternity, the song exhibits moments that reveal the fragile essence of a human being. From very remote and hidden memories, every one of us has held in memory such a song which is related to a certain period of the past, and is in some way a concentrated point of nostalgia [9, p.238]. Extending each chord to an unrecognizable degree, repeating sounds, transforming them into a hollow echo of echoing emptiness, the composer dematerializes the canzone, it becomes just a train of empty memories on the surface. The simple rendering allows to produce a bigger effect from transformations which is the characteristic of his anamorphic concept.

        Empty Vanitas is a hollow resonance of eternity, a mirror, broken into a myriad of pieces, that has lost its ability to reflect things adequately. The empty form of Aion which corresponds to the concept of Vanitas is opposed to Chronos.

         For S.Sciarrino with his interest in musical forms and adequate processes of consciousness and memory, Bergson’s theory of duration is very relevant, as it is related to his theory of memory: what we remember continues to exist in memory and therefore is transformed into the present. The past and the present are not external, they are mixed in the unity of cognition. The whole conception of duration and time by Bergson is based on the elementary mix of current chronologies, recollections of past events. The mixture of the present and the recollections of the past are likely to be the basis of time, and are an example of the mix between the act of cognition and its object. This is a combination of the act of cognition and the object of cognition as described in the book called Matter and Memory. Bergson writes, “I call the matter a combination of images, the perception of the matter involves the images and their further relation to a possible action of the definite image, my body” [7, p.135].

         One part of the cycle «Opera per flauto» сarries the name “Bergson’s clock” («L’oroligio di Bergson»). In an abstract to the musical work, S.Sciarrno, in a  metaphoric manner describes his understanding of the play’s content and its special plot: “А.Bergson would take a glass and mix sugar with a spoon, saying to the audience, 'one should wait till the sugar is dissolved' ” [11]. It is important to remember that during his lectures Bergson made sure that everyone in the audience would taste the subjectivity of time. One such experiment is very obvious: A certain amount of sugar was put into a certain amount of water, a certain amount of time is necessary to allow the sugar to dissolve. People perceive this time in different ways, some people would think that eternity has passed. It is natural to imagine that A.Bergson would have a clock and his knowledge would be boiled down to a precise estimate. «Bergson’s clock» is advancing with every tick and almost likely, in the same way time. When the ticking stopped we could continue to imagine this concept and the flow of time. In the middle of these moments (the striking of the clock) a number of similar events with the same or opposite variable of time development take place. This piece of music mostly includes  elementary articulations, remote and repeating sounds, and in a very special way similar to the contrasts or juxtapositions in painting, periodically or discreetly (with intervals). Stability, the focus of the image comes into play as well as the interruption of space and time which leads to the multitude of spaces.

“The feeling of sounds gives us various degrees of intensity. It was already mentioned that one has to take into account the affecting character of these feelings, the shock that the whole body experiences. It has been shown that very intense sounds grab our complete attention, and don’t allow other feelings to interfere. If one tries to forget about the impetus, vividly manifested vibration that you sometimes feel in your head or in your body. If one distracts themselves from the competition between simultaneous sounds, what will remain from sound apart from its undefinable quality which only consists of its property to be heard? One would soon turn this quality into quantity as one often hears this sound when for instance striking a certain object with a certain amount of effort. One also knows to what extent one has to intensify one's voice to produce the same kind of sound, when one turns the intensity of sound into a factor, one gets the idea of the effort in one's mind. Wundt paid special attention to a certain connection in the human mind of voice and hearing nerves. One often says that to hear is the same as to talk with oneself. Some neurotics can’t help when thinking to stop moving their lips, they are only showing in a more obvious way what happens in every one of us. How one would understand a powerful and hypnotic quality of music unless we presume that we repeat the sounds heard, or plunge into the psychological state of the performer. It is true that this state is quite unusual, you can’t fully understand it, yet it takes control of you making your body move” [13].


         This hypnotic effect is, on one hand, the basis of the Sciarrino’s effect of stability and the shaping of the image, and, on the other hand, “the disconnection of space and time where the multitude of spaces start” [13]. Quoting J.Deleuze, “it is not the present of destruction or realization, this is the present of counter-realization, which doesn’t allow the former to destroy the latter, and the latter to dissolve in the former. The present counter-realization doubles the double” [2, p.225].

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