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Contemporary Music Review, (~1993 Harwood Academic Publishers, GmbH

1993, Vol. 7, pp. 3-32 Printed in Malaysia

Photocopying permitted by license only

Postmodernism, narrativity, and the art of

Jann Pasler
University of California, San Diego, USA
This article explores an important difference between modernist and postmodernist music,
specifically in the role played by memory and contemplation of the past. It analyses Pierre
Boulez's recent revision of his song cycle, Le VisageNuptial, with regard to the role of influence
anxiety and juxtaposes to this analysis a discussion of postmodernist approaches to music of the
past. Then, examining some recent music of John Cage and Pauline Oliveros, the article
proposes a new aesthetic in some ways postmodernist, in some ways moving beyond the
modernist-postmodernist dialectic. This involves the emancipation of memory, the inter-
penetration of non-aesthetic with aesthetic domains, and the exploration of connections the
listener may come to understand through memory. To explain the relationship between
perception and thought in these works, it discusses these works in terms of new kinds of
narrativity. The notion of a memory palace serves as a model for understanding their open,
non-traditional kind of structure in whose construction the listener plays an important role.
KEY WORDS postmodernism, narrativity, memory, quotation, gender connotations in
music, influence anxiety, memory palace, spatial metaphors in music
KEY NAMES Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros

In Saburo T e s h i g a w a r a ' s "Blue M e t e o r i t e [Aoi Inseki]", a m a n is c a u g h t b e t w e e n ,

on the right, an e n o r m o u s wall of large glass p a n e s r e p r e s e n t i n g the past and, on
the left, a sheet of blue suggesting the f u t u r e . His dilemma, as the Japanese dance
c o m p a n y Karas p r e s e n t e d it at the Los Angeles Festival in S e p t e m b e r 1990, is not
unlike o u r own. " S t a n d i n g before the h u g e p r e s e n t time, w h a t can I do?" w r i t e s
the c h o r e o g r a p h e r and soloist, "I d a n c e . . . Dancing is the p r e s e n t , c o m e o u t and
go a w a y in each m o m e n t , T h e eternal p r e s e n t , t h a t ' s m y sense of time - sense of
Is this " w h i t e dance," " p u r e dance," one which f o r m u l a t e s "a bold n e w
v o c a b u l a r y for the h u m a n body," as E u r o p e a n critics have described it and the
c o m p a n y m a r k e t s itself? By citing such descriptions in his p r o g r a m note,
T e s h i g a w a r a places himself squarely in the m o d e r n i s t tradition. He seeks to
"exponentially increase the possibilities for c h o r e o g r a p h i c e x p r e s s i o n . " T h e
p r o d u c t i o n itself, h o w e v e r , tells a n o t h e r story.
In f r o n t of the seductive blue screen on the left, as distant and illusive as the
a z u r of a French symbolist p o e m , lies a field of b r o k e n glass t h r e e or f o u r feet
wide. T h e first sentence in the poetic p r o g r a m n o t e explains, " T h e b r o k e n pieces
of glass which are spread on the stage as s h a d o w of the blue wall r e p r e s e n t b o t h
crystals of light and f r a g m e n t s of time." As such, these t r a n s p a r e n t f r a g m e n t s
4 ]ann Pasler

represent shards of the past, standing guard before the future and demanding
reconsideration before one can move forward.
The hour-long work divides into three parts in which the dancer interacts with
these symbolic elements. In the first part, he exults in his own presence. Then,
moving before and behind the glass wall, flirting with the distance between spirit
and body, he engages with each of his three doubles ("five years old, fifteen years
old, ninety five years old"). In the second part, he approaches cautiously and then
enthusiastically the glass field on the left "where as a white faun he dances." The
glass shatters, dancer and audience alike wince. But as if to suggest that reliving
the agony of past moments brings its own pleasure, the dancer begins to pick up
the pieces and caress them. At the same time, the music modulates from
electronically produced background sound to Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a
When accompanied by Debussy's music, these caressing gestures are not "pure
dance;" they recall those of Nijinsky who, at the end of his 1912 choreography for
Faun, picked up and affectionately fondled a veil one of the nymphs had left
behind. As Teshigawara lies down and thrusts his body into the glass pieces,
trying to make love to them, the knowledgeable viewer cannot help remembering
Nijinsky's similar gesture at the end of his ballet. In the manner of Pina Bausch,
the choreographer calls on such references to clarify his meaning. Like the veil,
which symbolized Nijinsky's memory of the nymphs, and like the Ballets Russes
production of Faun, which harked back to ancient Greece, the shards of glass here
suggest a past the dancer is desperately trying to hold onto, despite its being in
Unlike Nijinsky, however, Teshigawara rises after his ecstasy to continue the
dance despite the piercing sound of the glass underfoot. In this, the third part of
the dance, the dancer returns to center stage. From there, unable or unwilling to
face the blue wall of the future, he repeats the same gesture over and over,
reaching out and falling down, rising, reaching, and falling again in apparent
despair. The work ends where it began.
Much of this work's choreographic vocabulary, its self-consciousness and
pretense at autonomy from any specific context, its preoccupation with the past,
and its final despair show modernist concerns; however, the dancer's attitude
toward time amidst this spatialization of the past, present, and future is
somewhat different. Although the choreographer may wish to confront the
frontiers of expression, the dancer does not engage with the blue wall of the
future. The modernist notion of progress is absent. He is willing to confront his
past, to traverse the wasteland of his memory, to make sense of it, to enjoy it. But
ultimately he does not escape the present.
The dancer's despair at the end of 'Blue Meteorite' invites us to reexamine our
perception of time, not as an abstract Kantian category of knowledge or the flow
that leads us into the future, but as an interactive experience involving personal
and social meaning. In the postmodern era, as Frederic Jameson (1984, 64) has
argued, spatial rather than temporal concerns dominate "our daily life, our
psychic experience, our cultural languages"; 1 interest is focused on the meaning
lodged in our experience of the present, even the physical present, more than in
our expectations about the future. In musical terms, the challenge this suggests
for composers is not one of creating continuity or discontinuity within a work or
Postmodernism in music 5

a tradition, establishing and fulfilling or subverting goals, but rather one of

making or suggesting connections within a synchronic situation. 2 Despite (or
because of) the world of satellite simulcasts, e-mail, conference calls, and growing
interdependence among nations, many people feel increasingly isolated from one
another. Connections are neither easy nor evident. An important tool for making
them is memory. The past is not only something to embrace or reject or
something upon which to build in spiraling toward the future; it is also the
repository of memory. Whether private or public, intimate or collective, memory
is something we all possess. It makes possible communication.
Before the written tradition became dominant, philosophers, rhetoricians, and
preachers considered memory a powerful tool for reflecting on the world and
turning sense impressions into understanding. In her book The A r t of Memory
(1966, 36, 33), 3 Frances Yates examines how this concept evolved over the
centuries. Plato believed our memories contain forms of the Ideas, the realities
the soul knew before its descent. (For example, we perceive two things as equal
because the Idea of equality is innate in us.) Knowledge of the truth consists in
remembering, in the recollection of these Ideas. Aristotle went further. From his
perspective, constructing images to help us remember is similar to selecting
images about which to think; memory makes possible the higher thought
processes. To explain reminiscence, or how to navigate through memory, he
emphasized two principles, association and order. Using places and images
arranged in some order - what was later called a memory palace 4 - one can effect
an artificial memory consisting of mnemonic techniques that improve one's
natural memory. Cicero and Augustine expanded on these ideas. The former
included memory as one of the five parts of rhetoric, the latter as one of the three
powers of the soul, along with understanding and will. In the Renaissance and
later, the occult movements turned memory into a science, paving the way for the
development of the scientific method.
In the arts, the notion of memory relates closely to that of narrativity.
Typically, scholars and critics use this term to refer to that which characterizes
narratives. In my article, "Narrative and Narrativity in Music" (Pasler 1989), I
argue somewhat differently, following the example of the French semiotician A.J.
Greimas. Even anti-narratives and non-narratives 5 can have narrativity, if this
means the presence of some organizing principle, some macrostructure and
syntax that permits categorical understanding of a work's configuration and its
semantics. Here, in response to recent musical developments, I wish to expand
the definition of a work's narrativity to that mutually agreed upon quality,
normally preexisting in the culture, that allows the composer to plug into the
listener's mind, to engage his or her memory. Of course, this relies on what
Lyotard (1984, 21) calls "know-how, knowing how to speak, and knowing how to
hear," but it does not necessarily refer exclusively to a macrostructure or specific
syntax. As for new narratives with which composers have been experimenting,
this more general definition of narrativity permits discussion of multiple kinds of
meaning and works that follow the logic of a kaleidoscope. Only those works that
try to erase the role of memory, that refuse to mediate between the sounds they
produce and any specific meaning, can be called works without narrativity.
Because I have already discussed new forms of narrative in recent music, what
interests me here are new forms of narrativity. How can composers engage their
6 ]ann Pasler

listeners, call upon memory, and play with it without necessarily having recourse
to overarching forms and syntax? What does it mean to use narrative devices
such as story-telling without creating a narrative macrostructure? Answering
these questions will help to define an emerging musical aesthetic that is rooted in
postmodernism but beginning to go beyond conventional notions of it in
important ways.

It is one of the ironies of modernism that this aesthetic can embrace the
ephemeral, the transitory, and the ever-new and at the same time, be
persistently preoccupied with tradition and the past. In hisnew book, Remaking the
past, Joseph Straus (1990, 2) defines the incorporation and reinterpretation of
earlier music as the "mainstream of musical modernism." This practice links
neoclassical composers like Stravinsky with progressive ones like Schoenberg.
Borrowing from Harold Bloom, Straus speaks of the relationship between these
composers and their predecessors as being frought with the "anxiety of
influence." This anxiety arises because all language is always the revision of
preexistent language and analogously, "poetry lives always under the shadow of
poetry" (Bloom 1976, 4). Poetic strength, as Bloom (1976, 6) defines it, involves
the "usurpation" from one's predecessors and the "imposition" of one's own will
on their accomplishments. Straus, like Bloom, calls works creative misreadings
when composers deliberately appropriate elements associated with their prede-
cessors ranging from specific quotations of certain pitch class sets, textures, or
sections of music to triads and conventional forms. They do this to overcome and
neutralize these forerunners, or, in Bloom's terms, "to clear imaginative space for
themselves" (Bloom 1973, 5). From this perspective, quoting from the past is a
way to assert one's own priority, power, and strength. An obsession with the past
can reflect an obsession with one's own place in history, and vice-versa.
Like most contemporary theorists, Straus's focus is "musical construction." To
illuminate deep structure, he uses pitch-class set theory. The thrust of his
argument, however, goes further as he proposes a theory of the strategies
composers use to treat borrowed material. Inspired by Bloom's categories of
revision, Straus explores the ways composers rework their predecessors' music
often to serve different aesthetic intentions, how they compress, fragment,
neutralize, immobilize, generalize, and marginalize borrowed elements. It is
these strategies, he asserts, more than any specific structures that "define a
twentieth century common practice" (p. 17). On one level, Straus thus shares the
preoccupations of modernist composers with coherence; but on another he
recognizes that many twentieth-century works "are relational events as much as
they are self-contained organic entities ''6 - "our understanding of such pieces will
be enriched if we can fully appreciate their clash of conflicting and historically
distinct elements" (p. 16).
Boulez's first important work with text, Le Visage Nuptial (1946-47; 1951-52;
1988-89), is a good example of this influence anxiety. Boulez began this setting of
Ren6 Char's love poetry when he was 21, A soprano and an alto are accompanied
by a small instrumental ensemble in the 1946-47 version and by a chorus of
sopranos and altos and a large orchestra in the 1951-52 one. The vocal writing
Postmodernism in music 7

encompasses microtones, one b e t w e e n each conventionally notated semitone,

and intonations ranging f r o m spoken to s p r e c h s t i m m e to sung. For each of these
p e r f o r m a n c e indications, Boulez developed a special notation. Doubtless because
of the difficulty of this work, these versions w e r e n e v e r recorded. 7
In the orchestral score published by Heugel in 1959, and especially in the recent
revision p e r f o r m e d at the Festival d ' A u t o m n e in Paris on N o v e m b e r 17, 1989, one
can surmise Boulez's attitude t o w a r d his predecessors: make r e f e r e n c e in o r d e r to
o v e r c o m e and surpass. In m a n y ways, the w o r k is a direct response to his teacher
Olivier Messiaen's Trois Petites Liturgies de la Presence Divine, w r i t t e n 1943-44 and
first p e r f o r m e d on April 21, 1945. In his notes on the 1983 recording, s Messiaen
recounts that Boulez was in the audience for the p r e m i e r e along with virtually
e v e r y o t h e r composer and cultural figure in Paris. The w o r k was so successful
that it was p e r f o r m e d again almost immediately and 100 times all over the world
by 1956. W h e t h e r it was the social success that the y o u n g Boulez coveted or the
p o w e r of the aesthetic innovations or both, the w o r k left a mark on Boulez's
imagination as he began Le Visage Nuptial a year a f t e r the Messiaen premiere. As in
Trois Petites Liturgies, w h e r e i n piano and O n d e s M a r t e n o t play major roles, the first
version of Le Visage Nuptial features piano and two O n d e s M a r t e n o t , in addition to
percussion, a soprano and an alto. In 1951-1952 Boulez deleted the piano and
Ondes M a r t e n o t w h e n he revised the w o r k for full orchestra, soloists, and
In the orchestral version, the most obvious quotations come in the chorus,
again one of only w o m e n as in the Messiaen work. The presence of a chorus is in
itself a reference to the past, the early part of the c e n t u r y when, in response to
public taste, composers w r o t e m a n y large choral works. Echoes not only of
Messiaen but also of Messiaen's predecessors, D e b u s s y and Stravinsky, pervade
both the 1959 score and the 1989 revision as if Boulez was trying to diffuse the
immediate influence of his teacher by r e f e r e n c e to the earlier composers. 9 The
chorus' unison singing, for example, recalls not only Messiaen's exclusive use of
this technique t h r o u g h o u t Trois Petites Liturgies, but also the t e x t u r e of the
w o m e n ' s chorus in "Sir~nes" f r o m Debussy's Nocturnes. But it is one section in the
middle of the third poem that makes explicit reference, this time not to Messiaen
but to Stravinsky. In it, the man of the poem describes the c o n s u m m a t i o n of his

Timbre de la devise matinale, morte-saison de l'4toile pr6coce,

Je cours au terme de mon cintre, colis4e fossoy4.
Assez bais6 le crin nubile des c6r6ales:
La cardeuse, l'opinatre, nos confins la soumettent.
Assez maudit le havre des simulacres nuptiaux:
Je touche le fond d'un retour compact. 1~

Musically Boulez b o r r o w s here directly f r o m Stravinsky's Les Notes, also the

source for certain r h y t h m i c vocabulary and intervallic c o n t o u r s in the first of the
Trois Petites Liturgies, a n o t h e r w o r k a b o u t ritual and love, albeit divine instead of
sexual love. Like the C h a r poetry, Les Noces, as Boulez (1986, 351) puts it, 11
synthesizes violence and irony. It is almost as if the c o m p o s e r wishes to suggest
analogues for the "nuptial images" the man is cursing not only with the reference
8 ]ann Paster

to the nuptial preparations in the opening of Les Notes, but also with the
incorporation of Stravinsky's music, a possible emblem of his o w n musical
preparation of which he m a y have felt he had had e n o u g h .
That which clues the listener into this similarity with the S t r a v i n s k y is the
descending m i n o r ninth 9 Boulez uses this interval t h r o u g h o u t the song. But
w h e n (beginning in m. 141) it is followed by n u m e r o u s reiterations of the same
note as the c h o r u s syllabically declaims the text in changing meters, this "doorbell
of m o r n i n g ' s m o t t o , " itself an image of echo, recalls not Messiaen's use of a similar
passage in the bird song played by the piano in the opening of Trois Petites Liturgies
(m. 6), but r a t h e r the a u g m e n t e d octave at t w o m e a s u r e s before r. n. 2 and w h a t
follows in the vocal lines of Les Noces, that is, w h e n the bride-to-be laments " p o o r
me, poor me" as her hair is being b o u n d in p r e p a r a t i o n for the wedding c e r e m o n y .
The rhythmical relationships of m. 141 in the Boulez also resemble those in the
first m e a s u r e of r.n. 2 of the Stravinsky. 12 So too do m a n y of the ensuing phrases.
C o m p a r e the examples in Figure 1.
Soprano solo

9 ,~1 i 9 sat IJr . I! [I I! [ I~

*9 'l-

Pauvre, pauv- re d'moi pauvre on - core une foist


0,.~ p
~'..ut,) I t ~1. m
.. ~ AI]I ~11 PP'all-- .ill ~1 I .ill .~1 .all ill .ill I~~1i>O m I ,ill .all .I.I1 ]

On Iresse on tresse-re la tresse ~ nas - ta - slo, on tres- se- ra

Example 1. Igor Stravinsky, Les Notes, beginning at two measures before rehearsal number 2.
~, _..,. 3

"lira - bre do la de- vi- so ma - ti - na lo

Example 2. Pierre Boulez, Le Visage nuptial, Third Movement, mm. 140-141.


As - sez bri - s4 lo crin nu - hi-to de o6- r6 - a los

Example 3. Pierre Boulez, Le Visage Nuptial, Third Movement, mm. 147--148.

Figure 1
Postmodernism in music 9

Likewise, the analogous sections both begin with tempo changes and subito
forte after a diminuendo at the end of the previous phrase. The soloists in m. 140
of Le Visage Nuptial enter in the same range as those in Les Notes (but on E flat
rather than F sharp); then the sopranos and altos in the chorus continue in both
pieces, the only significant difference being in how the soloists and the chorus
split the phrase. The responsorial alternation of soloists and chorus, and the
chorus' unison singing in this section, also echo those of Les Notes.
In the orchestra, Boulez uses extended trills just before and during climaxes as
Messiaen does in the second song of Trois Petites Liturgies (r.n. 9 to the end); but the
texture and sound of these trills, particularly when coupled with tremoli and
short ostinati in other parts, recall Debussy's and especially Stravinsky's use of
these gestures more than Messiaen's. As the man of the poem encourages
himself to go forward in the pursuit of his love, his body trembling, Boulez
creates a series of five such musical climaxes, each followed by a dramatic change
of tempo, dynamics, and, especially in the piccolos, a drop in register. These
mirror the sexual ebbs and flows suggested in the poem. In the first, mm. 48-50,
they accompany the chorus shrieking fortissimo on a high E flat as they express
the man's hope soon to be realized, "I dream of floating on the shade of her
Presence [J'6voque la nage sur l'ombre de sa Pr6sence]." Another section of
strident trills and short ostinati at m. 69 accompanies the second climax at m. 71
and the highest notes of the piece as the man tells himself, "Descent, do not
change your mind" and then speaks of "lapidated departures." A third climax
gathers momentum with the percussion's pulsating triple-sixteenth note pat-
terns and the two measures of trills and tremoli in the full orchestra just before
the fortissimo chord in m. 105 as the chorus comlSletes the phrase, "Nativity,
guide the unsubmissive, let them find their foundation,/A believable kernel of
fresh morrow [Nativit6, guidez les insoumis, qu'ils d6couvrent leur base,/
L'amande croyable au lendemain neuf]." This intensity reaches its apex at m. 113.
When the piccolos reach again up to the high E flat at m. 148, and as the man is
"cursing the haven of nuptial images" in mm. 153-155, Boulez builds his fourth
climax with a very Stravinskyan block-like texture of trills and tremoli in the
winds, xylophone, glockenspiel, vibraphone, harps, and strings. At the same time
the singers reiterate the minor ninth borrowed from Les Notes, E flat-D, to close
this section as it began. (See Figure 2.)
The fifth and final climax of this song begins to build in m. 178 after the man
"feels the obscure plantation awakening," and as he utters four parallel phrases in
his final drive to "the plateau." Here a similar combination of harp ostinati, string
and wind tremoli and trills, as in the beginning of Petrushka, accompanies "I will
not see your body with its swarms of hunger dry up, cluttered with thorns [Je ne
verrai pas tes flancs, ces essaims de faim, se dess6cher, s'emplit de ronces]"in mm.
178-180 and "I will not see the approach of buffoons disturb the coming dawn [Je
ne verrai pas l'approche des beledins inqui6ter le jour renaissant]" in ram.
186-188. In the latter example, there are also three different but overlapping
arpeggio ostinati in the second violins divisi, like those in r.n. 2 of Debussy's
"Sir6nes." (See Figure 3.) Tremoli and trills throughout the orchestra, including
the percussion, then punctuate the moment the sopranos sing, "Illusions, we have
climbed to the plateau [Chim~res, nous sommes mont6s au plateau]" in mm.
195-196. Such quotations of orchestral textures (which do not recur in the last two
v l Iqc~

2 F1 g r

F I en Sot

2 lhbs
~ I> ? ~, / ~pl ql,I i.- Pe I I
~ -~::~----~, ~ ~". -~'_L -- ~-~--__~',_i
~C.A ~ ,,i -~ . . . . . . . . . ~ ,~o

Cl. Pir Mi~ ,. , '~/ G:~ r ;-~--~. ,-. ! , -'

2 Cl.$iI~

CI.B e. La "P
~. ~ .,.L--~ ~r:~"-~-J~ J !
e B~ s - .r ~ ~ i
3~ BO_a
C,B~ n

~ ~
Xylo. I II

9 ., ~-


? .. L 5" ~ ............



q+ C m~ riv~

Perr 9


Tutti ~ . ait ]~ r e# b a ~ r r aes t e a si G mu la . 2 do - ores eZ - Iia~ e t~. c e le




Figure 2 P i e r r e B o u l e z , Le Visage Nuptial, T h i r d M o v e m e n t , m m . 153-155.





lo H,r~

- q r a" - - 7 ~ ' a ' ' 1 ~ I s qr ~-~ ' 9 .


.......... 9, . . . . . . I,e.. I ........... . ~ ~
A l t l ?ulti
r' l / ~ |

I~ . . . . . . - '--iV

N ml.~om

Figure 3 Pierre Boulez, Le Visage Nuptial, T h i r d M o v e m e n t , mm. 186-187.

12 ]ann Pasler

songs) thus function as musical analogues to the "illusions" which the m a n

embraces, then abandons.
At the end of this poem, with "nothing fierce [having] survived," the woman is
left "breathing [respire]," as if depleted, while the man is "standing erect [se tient
debout]," his energy still vital. After a long fermata pause, Boulez likewise
reasserts this virility in the last four measures of the song with another rapid
crescendo to a tutti fortissimo. It is in the next two songs, however, that he
demonstrates the strength of his imaginative power. There he eschews further
quotation of Stravinsky in order to experiment with and expand on a radically
new treatment of chorus and orchestra inspired by the third part of Messiaen's
Trois Petites Liturgies. In the Messiaen work, the chorus alternates between
speaking and singing their lines. Addressing God, they sing; describing the "time
of man and of the planet" (such as in r.n. I and 10) or God present in man (r.n. 3
and 12), they speak. Messiaen reinforces these changes by alternating between
triple and duple accompanimental patterns as well as between different material
in the piano and celesta. He also reserves the maracas for the spoken lines only,
while having the strings provide continuity throughout the piece.
The chorus in the third song of the Boulez work also alternates between the
two techniques, although for no apparent reason. In "Evadn6" and "Post-
Scriptum," the fourth and fifth songs of Le Visage Nuptial, however, Boulez
accentuates even more blatantly than Messiaen the juxtapositions that in the
third song he had otherwise buried within a continuous texture. For these last
songs, he asks that the singers be placed on a different level than that of the
orchestra. In the fourth one, which recounts the consummation of their love in
the past tense and expresses how their "hunger and restraint were reconciled
[Avidit6et contrainte s'6taient r6concili6es]," five altos, alternating with five
sopranos, dispassionately declaim the entire poem without any determined
pitches and in absolutely regular sixteenth notes as in the spoken sections of the
Messiaen. When declaimed by the sopranos, the full orchestra accompanies;
when declaimed by the altos, silence or minimal percussion accompanies. The
percussion is the only element that bridges the sections. In "Post-Scriptum," the
juxtapositions are even more stark, as the man of the poem begins to leave the
woman, "I was born at your feet, but you have lost me [A vos pieds je suis n6, mais
vous m'avez perdu]." The orchestra here consists of only two groups, the
percussion and the strings. The strings, playing divisi with up to twelve to sixteen
different lines per part, accompany the sung lines; the percussion, the spoken
The last line of the cycle, "Leave me, let me wait unspeaking [Ecartez-vous de
moi qui patiente sans bouche]," is very significant. One can imagine Boulez
himself t h i n k i n g such an idea as he finally turns away from his musical
predecessors. In his hands, this line becomes a refrain--what was the first and
seventh line of the original poem he reiterates again in the middle and at the end
of the work, just as Schumann for similar reasons added "Ich grolle nicht" to the
middle and end of Heine's poem in the Dichterliebe. Also the recurrence of this line
constitutes an occasion for special treatment, a display of Boulez's creative
imagination. In the first appearance, the soloists and altos sing it mezzo piano,
dividing its phrases among themselves; in the second, the altos speak it with
"half-voice" in the low register; in the third, the soloists and the sopranos sing it
Postmodernism in music 13

fortissimo and passionately at the same time as the altos simultaneously speak it
in a "broken, violent" manner. In the last instance, the five altos utter it "with
their breath," "almost without articulation, without any timbre." At this point,
pitch and durational changes in the orchestra also nearly freeze. For seven
measures, the strings maintain a trill on one chord, pianissimo. The only
instruments punctuating the syllables of the almost inaudible chorus at the end
of the work are the percussion.
The change in the percussion's function from being part of the orchestral
texture in the first three poems to becoming the sole accompaniment to the voice
in parts of the last two poems marks an important development for Boulez. While
the singers and orchestra are tainted with purposive references to the past, the
percussion represents the exotic, the unusual, and is not used in a way that makes
quotation evident. 13 Boulez's placement of this group center stage but far to the
back in the 1989 performance suggests that the composer considered these
instruments a central force in his work, but also one still working in the
background. In some ways, one might say that the percussion represents Boulez's
own voice at the time, still in its formative stage. Like him, they come forward and
ask to be treated on equal terms with the more conventional forces, the strings
and the voices. Viewed from this perspective, the work not only reflects a
composer trying to come to terms with the music of his predecessors (which he
did by incorporating some of their most original vocal, instrumental, and
rhythmic innovations and then leaving them aside); but, more important, it also
shows him beginning to "clear imaginative space" for the expression of his own
individuality and the assertion of his own historical importance.
The end of Le Visage Nuptial suggests another latent message as well. This comes
from the gender connotations that become associated with the voices and
percussion. Here gender refers not only to the sexuality of the man and woman of
the poem, but also to the masculine and feminine forces, including ~their
manifestations within the composer himself. 14 Boulez may not have intended
this association, even though, as Joan Peyser (1976, 33) points out, he began the
work in the midst of a passionate love affair. Nevertheless, the score supports
two observations.
First, as the altos and the percussion eventually take over in the last two songs,
it seems that Boulez associates the male of the poem with them. Throughout
these songs, Boulez treats the sopranos and altos in increasingly different ways.
In "Evadn6," they never sing together but rather alternate groups of lines. The
sopranos declaim much longer ones than the altos, but the altos begin and end the
song. In "Post-Scriptum," the altos become more important than the sopranos.
Boulez makes this point by changing which group initiates phrases. Whereas the
soprano soloist begins the opening refrain, followed by the five altos and then the
alto soloist, the alto soloist enters first when the refrain returns in ram. 37-40,
the midpoint of this song. Afterwards, it is the five sopranos and soprano soloist
who complete the phrase. In the end, only the alto soloist and alto chorus deliver
the text, the soprano soloist having dropped out after m. 50 and the soprano
chorus after m. 55. The association of the sopranos with the woman and the alto~
with the man begins at the end of the third poem, when the soprano sings of the
"woman breathing" and the alto of the "man standing erect," and culminates ir
the last one when Boulez asks the altos to sing in a "low tessitura" (mm. 18-251
14 .]ann Pasler

and a "violent" manner (mm. 37-46). The altos, moreover, are uniquely
responsible for the repetitions of the man's refrain, "Leave me," that Boulez adds
to the poem and the ooly spoken lines in the last song.
If one can assume that in this piece Boulez intends the male to control the
tempo of the love-making, the way he uses the percussion also suggests an
association of these instruments with the male. In the third song, where its role is
greatest, the percussion provides a rhythmical breathing, alternating measures
of activity with those of total silence, as the sexual tension being described builds
before and during each of the five climaxes. For example, from m. 32 to the first
climax at ram. 48-50, the pattern of alternation is at intervals of approximately
one measure percussion/one measure of silence, then two of both, and finally
three measures of both. Later the two may alternate as rapidly as within
measures or almost every measure for extended periods, such as from ram.
In the last two poems, the percussion gradually goes hanu m hand with the
altos. Only in the beginning of the fourth poem are the altos accompanied by
more than bare silence or minimal percussion. By contrast, all the long sections of
the sopranos' declamation have the accompaniment of the full orchestra. In the
fifth song, the percussion plays only when the altos speak the refrain, echoing the
association Messiaen built in the last part of Trois Petites Liturgies between spoken
verses, percussion, and the "time of man." The sole presence of the altos and the
percussion at the end of the work thus not only asserts Boulez's triumph over the
traditional orchestral and choral forces esteemed by his predecessors, but, when
read as representing male forces, it also hints at notions of conquest and male
Second, one can read Boulez's reduction of the female voices to rhythmic
breathing in the final measures of the work as a determination to control and
even conquer the beauty of the female voices, perhaps the feminine force itself, as
the man of the poem conquers the woman. In several instances earlier in the
work, Boulez makes it clear he intends to control not only the notes and how the
singers produce pitches and timbres, but also when they breathe. In the middle of
the third poem's first climax (m. 49), for example, he instructs the singers not to
breathe in the middle of the phrases where certain rests are indicated. The
importance he attaches to breathing may derive from the final line of the third
poem that heralds and in some ways explains the work's musical conclusion. Just
as the man of the poem has the woman in a submissive state, only "breathing,"
her energy consumed by the end of this poem, so too Boulez leaves the women
singers in the work's final measures "almost inarticulate," "without the slightest
timbre," their vocal power reduced to a '"whisper." When Char writes, "Here is
the dead sand, here is the body saved," it is arguably Boulez who feels saved, the
male forces having prevailed and "the intimate undoing of the irreparable" to
follow in future works.
It is no accident that this confrontation with the female/feminine forces
parallels Boulez's confrontation with his predecessors. Andreas Huyssen (1986,
53) sees it as a problem characteristic of modernism that people persistently
gender as feminine that which they may wish to devalue. In the case of Le Visage
Nuptial, Boulez treats these two representations of the other as passive forces to
be used as he wished and to which he was unwilling to surrender strength.
Postmodernism in music 15

Especially in the last two songs, he asserts his authority over both by increasingly
differentiating and distancing the representations of his own ego from those of
the ever-different other. The voice of his own creativity he opposes to those of
his predecessors; the percussion alone to the full orchestra, as ultimately
represented by the strings; the altos to the sopranos, at the same time as the male
and the female forces they come to signify. Both kinds of encounters are
characterized by violence, domination, and irony; stated baldly, both end with the
submission of the other and the resurrection/triumph of the idealized self.
Le Visage Nuptial launched a challenge for Boulez: how to continue what he
initiated in this work? The composer's response, as he describes it (Boulez 1975,
86-87), was to begin exploring instrumentation, about which he soon "became
passionate. "~5 In the early 1950s, he wrote many instrumental works, including
an unfinished one for percussion, and set two more cycles of Char's poetry. In the
second, LeMarteau sans maftre (1952-54; 1957), Boulez revisited the relationship of
voice to ensemble, this time using the vibraphone, xylophone, and percussion in
major roles. As Stockhausen's analysis of the Le Marteau has shown, (1960, 40-
47), the female voice in this work eventually retreats from leading the
instruments with her syllabic declamation of the text to becoming part of the
instrumental texture, only humming with her mouth closed, uttering no text at
all. In the final section of the last piece, the flute takes the musical lead,
accompanied by the gong, and the instruments thereby succeed in overcoming
the voice. The female human voice, bearer of nostalgic references to the past in Le
Visage Nuptial, gives way to Boulez's authorial voice, the voice of his own future. 16
What led Boulez to revise Le Visage Nuptial in 1989 cannot be fully explained by
his confession that he "cannot separate himself from material while it's still alive
for him. 'q7 Although he has revised many works, his return to this one after
nearly a forty-year pause seems to relate to the aesthetic conditions of the late
1980s. In recent years, as sensuous beauty has returned to be a viable aesthetic
option, composers in France have shown renewed interest in the female voice,
even in bel canto singing. Boulez's return to a work with female chorus should be
understood in this context, especially because we now have the women's lines
stripped of their original sprechstimme.
Its revival, however, goes beyond responding to current public taste; in many
ways, it reasserts Boulez's belief in his original achievement, deletes some of
Messiaen's influence, and clarifies his message. The revisions alter the character
of some of the singing, stripping it of some of its novelty, while enhancing the
role of the orchestra. At the end of the third song (m. 211-214), for example,
Boulez rewrites what was unison unpitched singing as richly harmonized,
slightly countrapuntal lines, thereby eliminating a technique inspired by his
predecessors. (He also harmonizes the opening solo of the fifth song and changes
some of the vocal lines in this song.) Then in the section citing Les Noces, his
conducting of the new score overwhelms the voices so that the reference that
comes in m. 140 is not audible until its reiteration in m. 147. In the fourth song, he
almost completely alters the work, deleting the juxtapositions inspired by Trois
Petites Liturgies. The singers now modulate their pitch, the alto accompaniment
changes from silence or minimal percussion to a full orchestral texture, thereby
eliminating the abrupt juxtapositions with the soprano sections characteristic of
the 1959 score, and there are interludes between the texted lines. Boulez adds
16 ]ann Pasler

string and o t h e r i n s t r u m e n t a l parts to the beginning and end and l e n g t h e n s the

opening to m i r r o r the ending; the result is a c o n t i n u o u s and m o r e a p p a r e n t l y
organic form.
Boulez also increases the force and p r e s e n c e of the percussion. The revised
third song begins w i t h a h u g e brass and percussion g e s t u r e e v e n before the voices
start, radically changing the original opening in which the singers spoke the first
line of text u n a c c o m p a n i e d . Elsewhere too, w h e n the singers had u n a c c o m p a n i e d
lines, such as m. 70, Boulez adds percussion. He also reinforces each of the
climaxes in this song, adds several m e a s u r e s of interlude b e t w e e n sections (such
as a f t e r the climax of m. 113), and c o m p l e t e s the song w i t h an additional m e a s u r e
of loud, aggressive percussion a f t e r the text in m. 210, leaving it difficult for the
listener n o t to g r a s p his point, is
I see the w o r k as e x e m p l i f y i n g an a p p r o a c h to m e m o r y to which Boulez n o w
wishes to d r a w attention. In a text w r i t t e n on June 27, 1988 (for a special issue on
" M e m o r y and C r e a t i o n " published by Inharmoniques, a journal on w h o s e editorial
b o a r d he sits), Boulez asks, " M e m o r y or a m n e s i a ? "

It appears that in the middle of a period burdened with more and more memory, forgetting
becomes absolutely urgent. And yet not only do we not forget, but we display all the possible
libraries of all the Alexandrias: the reference should take part in the invention, serve as the
source of the only innovation still possible. Now that the time of avant-gardes, of exploration,
has passed for good, that of perpetual return, of the amalgam and the citation will come. The
ideal or imaginary library provides us with an overabundance of models; our only problem is
choice and what form to use. (p. 8)19

Indeed, as Boulez (1988, 8) p u t s it, "this is all v e r y tiresome, w h e t h e r it m e a n s

p e r m a n e n t l y consulting the cultural library or taking r e f u g e in s o m e intangible
period." T h e n h o w to f o r g e t ? W h a t to f o r g e t ? Le Visage Nuptial is one a n s w e r to
these questions. T h e w o r k recognizes the existence of history, of p r e d e c e s s o r s
w h o also w r o t e for voices and o r c h e s t r a . (For the p r e m i e r e of the 1989 revision,
Boulez e v e n p r o g r a m m e d the w o r k a f t e r w o r k s by S t r a v i n s k y and Messiaen,
p e r h a p s so t h a t audiences w o u l d h a v e these c o m p o s e r s ' music in their ears as
t h e y listened to his work.) But Le Visage Nuptial is not exactly modeled on the past.
Boulez uses the voice but e v e n t u a l l y disenfranchises it, eliminating its pitch and
its c h a r a c t e r as it disintegrates into breath. T h e m e m o r y such a w o r k e m b r a c e s is
one in which Boulez (1988, 11) c o n t i n u e s to find value today: "a d e f o r m i n g ,
faithless m e m o r y t h a t retains f r o m its source w h a t is directly useful and
perishable." " A b s o l u t e a u t h e n t i c i t y , " is still his credo; no libraries except those
"which a p p e a r only w h e n he seeks t h e m " or those "on fire t h a t are p e r p e t u a l l y
r e b o r n f r o m their ashes in an always unpredictable, elusive f o r m . "
Boulez m a y see his refusal to b o w to the p r e s s u r e s of c o n t e m p o r a r y
p o s t m o d e r n i s m as c o u r a g e o u s . 2~ Yet, given w h a t he writes, the c o m p o s e r
u n d e r e s t i m a t e s the positive role that m e m o r y can play in a work. A p p r o a c h e d
differently, m e m o r y m a y serve a v a r i e t y of p u r p o s e s , leading c o m p o s e r s to as yet
u n e x p l o r e d w a y s of connecting w i t h their listeners and creating musical
meaning. Appealing to a listener's m e m o r y is n o t necessarily a " p e r p e t u a l
r e t u r n , " and for those w h o s e use of m e m o r y implies only a r e t u r n to the past, I
question w h e t h e r their ultimate p u r p o s e is not m o r e p r o p e r l y speaking a
m o d e r n i s t one, albeit in a n e w guise.
Postmodernism in music 17

In his i n t r o d u c t i o n to the essays collected in TheAnti-Aesthetic, Hal Foster (1983,

xii) defines t w o kinds of p o s t m o d e r n i s m : a p o s t m o d e r n i s m of reaction and one of
resistance. A l t h o u g h his book c o n c e n t r a t e s on the latter, his concept of the
f o r m e r is equally enlightening, e v e n w h e n it c o m e s to musical d e v e l o p m e n t s in
the last t w o decades:

The postmodernism of reaction is far better known: though not monolithic, it is singular in its
repudiation of modernism. This repudiation, voiced most shrilly perhaps by neoconservatives
but echoed everywhere, is strategic: as Habermas cogently argues, the neoconservatives sever
the cultural from the social, then blame the practices of the one (modernism) for the ills of the
other (modernization). With cause and effect thus confounded, "adversary" culture is
denounced even as the economic and political status quo is affirmed--indeed, a new
"affirmative" culture is proposed .... Modernism is reduced to a style.., and condemned, or
excised entirely as a cultural mistake; pre-and post-modernist are then elided, and the humanist
tradition preserved.

In music, we all k n o w a b o u t the nostalgia t h a t has gripped c o m p o s e r s in recent

years, resulting in n e o - r o m a n t i c w o r k s , a festival dedicated to p r e s e n t i n g such
w o r k s at N e w York's Lincoln C e n t e r , the sudden p o p u l a r i t y of writing operas and
s y m p h o n i e s again, of c o n s t r u i n g one's ideas in tonal terms. W h e t h e r c o m p o s e r s
believe t h e y are r e c o v e r i n g musical " t r u t h " or not, the time of " t e r m i n a l
prestige "21 and aesthetic distancing is ending: m a n y of those r e t u r n i n g to
r o m a n t i c s e n t i m e n t , n a r r a t i v e curve, or simple m e l o d y wish to entice audiences
back to the concert hall. To the e x t e n t t h a t these d e v e l o p m e n t s are a t r u e " a b o u t
face,"22 t h e y r e p r e s e n t a p o s t m o d e r n i s m of reaction, a r e t u r n to p r e - m o d e r n i s t
musical thinking. David del Tredici m i g h t a r g u e in t e r m s similar to these,Z3 but in
m o s t cases, the situation is m o r e complicated.
Q u o t a t i o n in a m o d e r n i s t sense, as we h a v e seen, o f t e n implies a desire to
o v e r c o m e and surpass one's predecessors t h r o u g h cutting off the b o r r o w e d
e l e m e n t f r o m its original c o n t e x t and containing it. 24 But w h e n the choice is
Mahler and B e e t h o v e n , as has so o f t e n been the case in recent years, s o m e t h i n g
else seems to be going on. In the third m o v e m e n t of his Sinfonia (1968), for
example, Berio i n c o r p o r a t e s the scherzo of M a h l e r ' s Second S y m p h o n y , s u p e r -
imposed w i t h excerpts f r o m B e e t h o v e n , B r a h m s , Strauss, Ravel, D e b u s s y ,
Webern, and Stockhausen. O n the one hand, as Michael Hicks (1982, 209) points
out, these q u o t a t i o n s serve to illustrate the text Berio sets, Beckett's The
Unnamable, a s t o r y in which the w r i t e r "despairs of e v e r being able to decisively
separate himself f r o m [his characters] and b e c o m e s a p r i s o n e r of his art: he can do
n o t h i n g but quote." O n the o t h e r hand, the q u o t a t i o n s f u n c t i o n in the music and
text "as aspects of the total identity of the narrator. "z5 In o t h e r words, the
c o m p o s e r sees his p r e d e c e s s o r s as the various voices of his o w n m e m o r y , or
p e r h a p s as invocations of those m e m o r i e s . 26
It is with this latter p u r p o s e in mind that m a n y c o m p o s e r s s e e m n o w to be
quoting, e v e n those as radical as John Cage and John Z o r n . In m a n y of his recent
w o r k s based on mesostics, Cage i n c o r p o r a t e s long excerpts f r o m the writings of
Satie, D u c h a m p , and especially Joyce, p r e d e c e s s o r s with w h o m he m o s t identi-
fies. O f t h e m , he writes, "It is possible to imagine that the artists w h o s e w o r k we
live with c o n s t i t u t e not a v o c a b u l a r y but an a l p h a b e t by m e a n s of which we spell
o u r lives.'" (Cage 1983b, 53) 27 In m u c h of Z o r n ' s music, the collage of jazz, swing,
pop, reggae, film and T V s o u n d t r a c k s , and a r e c u r r e n t Japanese voice create a
18 ]ann Pasler

kind of musical microcosm of the composer's sound world.2s As Jon Pareles (1990)
writes, Zorn wants to "evoke a present that is choppy and unpredictable; but not
amnesiac; there are still memories, and hopes, of pleasure and romance." That
audiences come to performances of works built of such musical allusions to the
past and present, Hicks (1982, 217) posits, "is evidence of their own search for
This is not the place for a full-scale analysis of the function of quotation in
modernist or postmodernist work. I would like merely to observe that many of
those composers now incorporating other people's music tend not to diffuse the
power of their sources nor try to subjugate them through distortion or
commentary; rather, they seem to accept each source on its own terms, revel in
the association with this music, and delight in the coexistence they have tried to
create. It is no accident in recent music we hear little of Bach, who, for many
modernists, has embodied pure music free of personality. Mahler is in some ways
a more ideal model--his music is eclectic, never stylistically pure, and full of
musical quotations.
The choice of Beethoven as an even more popular predecessor to quote is
particularly suggestive. The heroic spirit and strength of Beethoven has almost
universal appeal among classical music audiences. 30 Composers may be attracted
to this and wish to tap into his musical power. Those like George Rochberg, much
of whose whose Third Quartet sounds like Beethoven (and Mahler), think they
are "abandoning the notion of 'originality,' in which the personal style of the
artist and his ego are the supreme values. "31 But are not such works still
composer-centered, many of them still power~driven and perhaps promoting
heroism of another kind, glory through association? If a postmodernism of
reaction has had influence on the musical world, it may be in its encouragement
of the romantic hero (often just another version of the modernist hero).
Foster's postmodernism of resistance (1983, xii), by contrast, "is concerned
with a critical deconstruction of tradition, not an instrumental pastiche of pop- or
pseudo-historical forms, with a critique of origins rather than a return to them.
In short, it seeks to question rather than exploit cultural codes, to explore rather
than conceal social and political affiliations." Susan McClary (1988) puts in this
camp some minimalist composers, Philip Glass more than Steve Reich or John
Adams (another composer who quotes Beethoven32), Laurie Anderson, and other
"downtown" composers. Their works address the "master narratives" of
tonality, narrative structure, Western hegemony, and male dominance, some-
times by making puns or ironic commentary on them, sometimes by deconstruc-
ting their inherently contradictory meanings. Unfortunately, as McClary points
out, the oppositional stance of this kind of postmodernism has begun to wane,
especially as critics find much of it becoming sterile language games.
Both of these postmodernisms imply that presentation is more important than
representation, that the subject of a work is less important than how it is
treated. 33 The distortion of source material and extreme speed made possible by
computer manipulations, possibly expected by a generation raised on television,
may indeed contribute to the preeminence of style over subject and the
disruption of the signifier's capacity to signify in some computer music. Still,
although it may be true in certain literature, I do not see the "death of the subject"
taking place in most music, neither for composers nor audiences. To the contrary,
Postmodernismin music 19

the "subject(s)" of a composition and its "meaning" have in some ways never been
more important. I was drawn to contemplating Boulez's Le Visage Nuptial after
rereading Susan McClary's analysis of Bach's music (McClary 1987) as reflecting
the struggle between Bach's need for self-expression and his desire to reconcile
various influences. The striking juxtaposition of the singers on both sides of
front stage with the percussion in the center back stage dramatized for me their
musical differences, one occasionally referencing the past, the other rigorously
new and original, and led me to hear the musical relationship between the two as
the structural conflict just discussed.
For our understanding of recent music to be complete, however, we cannot
confine ourselves to the study of pieces as the embodiment of pure structure,
whether specific to that piece or reflecting universal "Ideas." We may be born
with certain intuitions about structure and the organization of surface patterns,
as Gestalt theorists and contemporary scholars like Fred Lerdahl and Ray
Jackendoff have suggested. And these may reflect the inherent organization of
the mind, giving it the capacity to comprehend large-scale narrativity. Yet even as
such generative theories help composers to understand what Lerdahl and
Jackendoff (1983, 301) refer to as "the facts of hearing," they overshadow other
kinds of memory which the composer may call on and the listener may bring to a
work. It was my memory of other recent concerts of music written for female
voices by Boulez's French contemporaries that colored my hearing of Le Visage
Nuptial and oriented my understanding of it to begin with.
Postmodernist works of reaction or resistance, like modernist ones, depend on
the "experienced" perceiver's knowledge and understanding of the "cultural
libraries" to which Boulez refers, the images, gestures, and conventions of the
past repertories being revived and commented on. Increasingly today, I find what
might be called another kind of postmodernism arising in music, poetry, and the
visual arts, a far less elitist one that dramatically expands the notion of
postmodernist as bricoleur. To find it, we must look beyond the concert halls,
beyond traditional media and the university, beyond what McClary (1989, 72)
calls the "boy's club of modernism."
It is difficult to find one word to describe what from one perspective is a third
kind of postmodernism and from another is something that projects beyond the
modernist/postmodernist dialectic. What I see emerging involves an emancipa-
tion of the realm of memory, what John Cage might have called an "inter-
penetration" of different domains, and an exploration of what Pauline Oliveros
calls "relationships," connections the perceiver may come to understand not
primarily within the work itself or through the work's relationship to a precursor
work, style, or genre, but rather through his/her own memory. Like other post-
modernist aesthetics, this one is based on engaging the listener's participation,
often in an interactive process. It also encourages a mirroring effect34 that may lead
to greater self-awareness and self-knowledge. The works at issue here, however,
are not only texts about other texts; neither is the image they reflect merely the
creator's or perceiver's cultural knowledge or cultivated tastes. In response to
their sounds, images, words, and gestures, postmodernists with this perspective
expect the perceiver to recall experiences, and not only those of an aesthetic
nature. Through calling on experiences of all kinds (including the personal and
the social) and suggesting links between memories recorded in different,
20 ]ann Pasler

apparently unrelated categories, their works constitute occasions for us to come

to understand the disparate parts of our lives as fundamentally related. In other
words, those espousing this new aesthetic, as they enact their priestly function as
artists, elicit the magical power of memory not to criticize, educate, or elevate
morally, but to empower us to create our own memory palaces. Through the
recognition of similar experiences, we can discover our connectedness to others
and through the individual shape we each give to these memory palaces, we can
find meaning in our lives.
Architecture has been the dominant artform used to discuss postmodernism.
In architectural terms, the materials of the memory palaces suggested by this
third kind of postmodernism resemble those used by Frank Gehry (oddly
ordinary materials such as corrugated metals, raw plywood, chain-link fencing,
telephone poles, and cardboard) as opposed to those suggesting historical
allusions or playful pretentiousness such as in the works of Robert Venturi or
Michael Graves; 3s they tend to be common ones filled with signifying potential
instead of idealized ones pointing to abstractions. In music, likewise, sampling
elements or using sounds that are fun to identify and do not depend on elite
knowledge (such as those from daily life) is an easy way to engage listeners.
Because they understand these materials with what they already know, listeners
can entertain the meaning suggested by the order and interplay of the elements
as well as what is stimulated in their own memory. Thus, if Aristotle was right,
calling on memory stimulates higher thought processes. Perhaps for this reason,
works exemplifying this third postmodernism proceed with sincerity rather than
irony, something which distinguishes them from works by postmodernists of
In many ways, the quintessential postmodern memory palace is not a building,
but a certain kind of city. 36 David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity
begins with a discussion of Jonathan Raban's Soft City, a portrayal of London in the
1970s as a labyrinth, an encyclopedia, a theater "where fact and imagination
simply have to fuse."

For better of worse, [the city] invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live
with. You, too. Decide w h o you are, and the city will again a s s u m e a fixed form around you.
Decide w h a t it is, and your identity will be revealed, like a map fixed around you by
triangulation . . . . The city as we imagine it, the soft city of illusion, m y t h , aspiration, nightmare,
is as real, maybe more real, than the hard city one can locate in maps and statistics. 37

Such a city is not tightly defined, rationally ordered, the result of pre-
compositional planning. Los Angeles is the geographer Edward Soja's image of
the postmodernist city. To describe it, Soja (1989, 222) uses Borges' image of an
aleph, "the only place on earth where all places are--seen from every angle, each
standing clear, without confusion or blending." The analogy with an aleph
suggests the difficulty of trying to contain the city's globalism, extraordinary
heterogeneity, and fragmentation in any one image.
The experience of such a city also resembles that of a postmodernist work.
Seemingly limitless in size, constantly in motion, and traversed on crisscrossing
freeways, Los Angeles contrasts markedly with more '"modernist" cities like mid-
town Manhattan or Washington, D.C. with their grid layouts. Not that all
postmodernist works are episodic, like Los Angeles--"then and then" structures
Postmodernism in music 21

that are continually in flux--nor all modernist ones, like New York, configura-
tional structures that can be grasped as a whole, at least in the imagination. 38 In
fact, as I have shown (Pasler 1989, 244-246), many modernist works are
nonlinear, episodic anti-narratives. And without necessarily embracing overall
narrative structure, postmodern works often incorporate stories, especially
those with personal or relative meaning. There tends to be a difference in the
perspectives of postmodern and modern works, however, that mirrors the
difference in the experiences of these two kinds of cities. Italo Calvino juxtaposes
these perspectives in his novel, Invisible Cities. Marco Polo, the explorer, recounts
his travels from one city to the next as through a maze of ever-changing variety,
while Kublai Khan, the emperor who listens, maintains the distance of an all-
encompassing gaze and tries to "discern... the tracery of a pattern."39 The
postmodernist perspective more closely resembles that of Polo, because the
memories evoked by postmodern works are embedded in the perceiver's ever-
changing experiences, not the creator's control.
In his seminal article, "Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism," Frederic Jameson pushes this notion further. He uses the idea of
people living in cities to explain how our minds might represent "the coordination
of existential data (the empirical position of the subject) with unlived, abstract
conceptions of the geographic totality." This he calls "cognitive mapping." A map
is a description of what is perceived to exist, not a diagram of what could or should
be. 40 If modernist work at its most alienating, like the modernist city, is"a space in
which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the
urban totality in which they find themselves," then could not postmodernist
work, like "disalienation in the traditional city," attempt "the practical reconquest
of a sense of place, and the construction or reconstruction of an articulated
ensemble which can be retained in memory and which the individual subject can
map and remap along the moments of mobile, alternative trajectories" (Jameson
1984, 89-92).7 This sounds like a new kind of narrativity and those espousing an
aesthetic of emancipation, interpenetration, and relationships try to do just this:
they call on us to "cognitively map" our own diverse experiences onto the
ensemble of elements which constitutes the work, to create memory palaces
therewith, and thereby to imagine an interactive relationship with this appar-
ently "endless, formless ruin" over which Calvino's Khan despaired, perhaps
even to feel a collective identity through it.
Of course, there may not be a perfect embodiment of what I am calling a new
aesthetic based on the emancipation of memory, interpenetration, and relation-
ships; nevertheless, the spirit underlying this aesthetic permeates some compo-
sers' works increasingly as memory of all kinds becomes important in the
conception of recent music. For years John Cage created artistic situations
that invite listeners to bring their own meaning to his works. In his 1988-89
Norton lectures at Harvard (Cage 1990, 338), he describes his work as coming
"from ideas but is not about them but somehow brings them [sic] new ideas or
other ideas into existence." By its openness and indeterminacy, he has tried to
insure his audience's participation.
As he grew older, Cage was increasingly interested in memory. He admitted his
works are "highly suggestive" and that he "wants[s] that suggestion to oh be in a
spirit [he] agree[s] with" (Cage 1990, 16). In the opening of "Composition in
22 Jann Pasler

Retrospect" (1981-82), the first "method" mesostic, he writes: My/mEmory/of

whaT/ Happened/is nOt/what happeneD//i aM struck/by thE]facT/tHat what
happened/is m o r e conventional/than what i remembereD." Later, in the section on
"Imitation," he continues: "the past must be Invented/the future Must be/revised
/doing boTh/mAkes/whaT/the present Is/discOvery/Never stops//what ques-
tions/will Make the past/alive/in anoTher/wAy." A treatise on his composition,
this lecture suggests why memory becomes his "method" in the works that
follow, and why the past is the subject of their "imitation." The text of the
"devotion" mesostic, which describes a piano teacher who "loves the past" and the
"classics she's sO devoted to," explains the tone of reverence and sincerity that
permeates his last works (Cage 1983a, 123-24, 145, 147-48).
Cage's goal, as expressed at the end of this lecture, is to bring "the play of
intelligent anarChy/into a world Environment/that w o r k s so well everyone lives
as he needs. "41 To accomplish this, he adopts certain materials and structure.
Complicated chance operations gave him a "discipline" that could "sober and
quiet the minD/so that It/iS/in aCcord/with/what haPpens/the worLd/around
It/opeN/rathEr than//closeD. "42 But besides "noises" and"empty words," he comes
to incorporate explicitly signifying materials. These are elements from his own
memory in works like "James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet"
and standard opera arias in the Europeras 1 and 2. The narrative aspects of music
which he once underplayed or reduced to those of "Zen stories'--specific
references, the voice and rhetorical devices of story-telling, as well as clearly
defined beginnings and endings--he begins to engage more overtly.43 With these
materials and techniques, Cage entices audiences to bring their own associations
to the work's anarchical "play," the sometimes surprising order and manner in
which the chance operations place them. There he hopes audiences will
experience their coexistence. The result can be an intelligently anarchic memory
palace, a "muslcircus/maNy/Things going on/at thE same time/a t h e a t r e of
differences together/not a single Plan "44 that encourages a certain approach to
life. 45 In the last line of both "Composition in Retrospect" and "James Joyce,
Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet," Cage sums up the feeling to which he
hopes this process will lead his readers/listeners: "I welcome whatever happens
Even as Cage preached the merits of nonintention, however, "intelligent"
control and choice play important roles in determining the final shape of these
works. Aiming to communicate a message not only about music but also about
the world and its future, he carefully selected and edited the texts that served
as source material, especially in the mesostics. Through conscious reiteration
and variation of words and ideas, Cage questioned, elicited, played with, and
created various musical relationships that mirrored the linguistic, philosophical,
political, or cosmic implications of his materials. The result is not just texts
that can be read in multiple ways, but compositional shape, a playful shape that
communicates both "anarchy" and "accord". 46
A different and in some ways more representative example of this aesthetic of
emancipation, interpenetration, and relationships is the recent work of Pauline
Oliveros. To enjoy its playfulness, the audience need not possess specialised
knowledge about other artists nor the ability to recognize eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century operas. Instead what it expects listeners to start with is
Postmodernism in music 23

knowledge and experience of the human body. Works like the Sonic Meditations and
Deep Listening pieces invite audiences to listen to and acknowledge all they may
hear, beginning with their own breath. They are recipes, catalysts for invention
and increased awareness of self and other through the medium of sound.
In her recent work, DreamHorseSpiel (1990), she intends "to cue listeners into
their own experience "47 in a much broader and more socially defined sense than
in the meditation pieces. This work consists of a poem, prerecorded short stories,
referential sounds and images, and simple tunes. The text began as an image,
Dream Horse, and was conceived as a H6rspiel [radio play], commissioned by
Westdeutscher Rundfunk K61n, one of the largest public radio stations in
Europe. 4~ To the names of horse-related things ("horseshoe," "saw horse,""sea
horse," "horse manure"), she added dreams and experiences about horses she
collected from a variety of people speaking and singing in their own languages,
including German, French, and Spanish. There are also clich6s involving horses,
such as "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink"and "proud as
a horse," as well as humorous truisms like "ride the horse in the direction it's
going!" and "why kick a dead horse?" In performance, she mixed in horse sounds
(snorting, drinking water, walking, trotting, chewing).
This work is about memory and the relationship between perception and
thought. For the composer, the horse calls to mind the period before the
industrial revolution, before machines took its place, before '"the change to an
information society"; when it was a daily companion, a work animal, as well as a
source of food; when his presence was important. The work traces what the
horse has left behind in the memories and dreams of the work's listeners. Almost
no word, image, or sound is without allusion to something the listener has or
could have seen or heard--visual images like "horse face/' "horse tail," and "horse
lips," experiences like "horse ride" and the film, "They shoot horses, don't they,"
smells like "horse shit," as well as associated images like "horse carriage,""horse
whip," and tunes in different languages like "She'll be riding six white horses
when she comes." It is easy to remember and to empathize with what these
evoke, as it is with the process of dreaming herein captured, the suspense of
storytelling, and the earnest simplemindedness of clich6s and children's music.
Listening to this work is like performing it; both involve an interactive process,
calling on memory and the imagination to respond to the constantly changing
material at hand.
What makes this a work consists in the relationships both performers and
listeners make of it in real time. In its first performance, the trumpet call (from a
prerecorded tape of the beginning of a horse race) recurred again and again, as if
to announce new beginnings throughout the work. Many of the horse sounds--
trotting, drinking water, etc.--also came back, interspersed in the text. One
sequence, for example, consisted of the words, "horse carriage," the sound of
horseshoes being thrown, that of horses walking on pavement then rhythmically
trotting, and finally the expression, "proud as a horse," that together recall a time
and place in which horses played an important role in society. As material was
repeated, in complete or only partial segments, it became associated with the
images and sounds of its new context. This often resulted in unusual juxtaposi-
tions of tone, spirit, and meaning. Evoking sense impressions recorded in
memory thus became a way of stimulating thought.
24 ]ann Pasler

The constant changes, non-hierarchical order of events, and wide variety in

modes of communication make one continually reevaluate where one is in such a
piece. Yet what creates this effect is not just the materials themselves, but also
how the performers approach time and space in the work. Through the use of
technology--digital delay, artificial reverberation, etc.--the composer ensures
that performers and audiences alike will experience the past, present, and future
simultaneously. As soon as sounds are uttered, the performers know they will
return transformed by the technology. At any one moment then, what a
performer experiences is something very non-linear, that is, what the performer
is doing is affected by the past, what there is already, the unexpected return of the
past in the present, and the future, the knowledge that whatever one produces
will have to interact with whatever comes next.
The work has a regular pulse. Text entries occur every eight seconds, in part to
allow the delay processors to affect the sound. This pulse "actually regulates the
breathing. The audience will unconsciously begin to breathe more slowly, more
deeply," Oliveros explains. The regular pulse of text entries puts the listener in a
constant state of readiness as well as wondering which performer, which
speaker, what kind of mode will return next.
The digital delay process also enables the composer to create multiple spaces, to
"allow the work to go into or become any space, outdoors or indoors, small, large,
cavernous, cathedral, closet." In other words, by delaying the sound or extending
it from a millisecond to eight full seconds, the composer can use the experience of
sound to communicate different kinds of space, those associated with the
memory of different kinds of places. Sometimes she also uses this technique to
replicate the sound of acoustic instruments, aiming to create replicas that make it
"very, very difficult to tell which was the original sound and which the delayed
sound." Her ideal is "mirrors," not being aware of the technology, "getting the
reflection instantaneously" and hardly being able to tell the difference between
"what you just did and what is coming back to you." Echo is the key to the form of
such works, "as in a Bach invention," she points out. "The shape comes in the way
you use the materials and the sources you're working with; .... the form [of my
music] is more statistical," "a form of consensus," or the sense one has of the
whole when one has reached the end of the piece.
Pauline Oliveros' art is one of presence; "experience" has replaced "experiment"
as a way of describing what recent avant-garde work like hers has become. "It's
being aware in the moment and being able to reflect upon it, being able to reflect
on what has happened rather than theorizing. Dealing with what is," she points
out, rather than setting up a thesis in advance and projecting into the future. If
there is a frontier in music, she says "it's relationships, and collaboration, and an
aesthetic arena that is developed in performance."
Oliveros' work-in-progress, Nzinga, takes the exploration of memory and the
process of collaboration one step further. Like Steve Reich in Different Trains
(1988), commissioned for the Kronos Quartet, Oliveros is exploring the role
music can play in stimulating collective memory. 49 Both incorporate the
participation of people from other cultures, whether in taped recordings or live
interaction; both use analogy to emphasize cultural differences more than
similarities; both are what Reich calls documentaries as well as musical realities.
Reich's point is that his own experience of riding trains back and forth between
Postmodernism in music 25

New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942 was, though apparently analogous,
actually quite different from that of the Jews who traveled across Europe to reach
concentration camps during the same period. Recorded personal reminiscences
and train sounds provide not only engaging subject matter but also certain speech
rhythms that he incorporates into the string quartet melodies. Nzinga, a play with
music and pageantry by Ione, involves performers, instruments, and prerecorded
material, music, ritual, and dance from three cultures--Angola, Portugal, and
Salvador (Bahia, Brazil)--all linked by the character of Nzinga Mbandi. She was a
seventeenth century androgynous Angolan queen who had to dress as a king to
rule and succeeded in holding colonial powers from her country for the forty
years of her reign. The Portuguese eventually transported her people to Brazil
where they too had to adapt various disguises in order to survive. Forbidden to
fight, Angolan slaves developed the kicking games of the Capoiera as disguised
forms of self defense. Today people still dance various forms of the Capoiera and
sing chants to Nzinga, invoking her protective, redemptive role. The Oliveros
work will reflect the three hundred years of cultural interaction. It will use video
to break through the past to the present and suggest relationships between the
past, present, and future. With the help of local collaborators, Oliveros hopes to
premiere the work in Angola, Portugal, and Salvador.
Nzinga is an aesthetic model for intercultural cooperation. Its emphasis on
cultural differences rather than similarities comes from Oliveros' belief that
different cultural forms are like parts of "a map of human consciousness," with
"each one emphasizing a different aspect of this map, or a variation." This work
promises to be a stunning example of the cognitive mapping Jameson longs for,
an "aesthetic arena" which will mirror a possible relationship between individuals
and cultures, ourselves and the world we inhabit. "The fundamental thing is for
me to listen," Oliveros points out, "and not go in with my idea of how things have
to go." Such an aesthetic is quite different from that of another politically
committed composer, Frederic Rzewski, who, in his variations on "The People
United Will Never Be Defeated" (1975), maintains his modernist language and
virtuoso technique. Moreover it does not take a colonialist approach to the music
of other cultures as do recent works by Paul Simon or Jon Hassell's Fourth World:
Possible Music. Nor is this aesthetic necessarily committed to what Susan McClary
might call a space of cultural struggles, even though the spirit of Nzinga is one of
resistance to conquest. Oliveros explains, "It has to do with inter-dependence,
meaning interaction. Not as someone who is controlling the way things are going
to go, it is cooperating to make a story or make a presentation. Each performer or
collaborator has a stake in it, is aware of one another in a way that it can develop,
can happen. There is an enrichment process."
With the promise of such works, it is clear that the "time of avant-gardes, of
exploration" has certainly not "passed for good." What has changed is the
purpose and locus of exploration. With the slowly increasing acceptance of
women in the musical world has come a different message, not one of
heroic conquest, but one of cooperation and community. It is no longer
the pseudo-scientific search for the fundamentals of the medium that interests
many explorers, but inquiry into what makes people connect to and through
music. The composer's orientation toward the listener's experience is critical
in this inquiry, as are the expectations a composer may have of listeners'
26 ]ann Pasler

interactive participation, the positive value of memory and contemplation

of the past, as well as the celebration of personal and cultural diversity.

In music, it is difficult to consider modernism and postmodernism as mutually

exclusive and oppositional in every way. The purposes pursued by modernists
earlier in the century and the forms modernism took are no longer those to which
many of today's creative artists can subscribe. Some question the extent to which
music, presumably the most "abstract" and "autonomous" art, can or should help
people escape their surroundings. Others argue whether difficult music can or
has ever enriched anyone's moral fiber. Modernist values may now seem wanting
and empty, yet most composers are reluctant to give up what lies at the very basis
of the aesthetic: substantial control over the work itself.
Frederic Jameson and others have argued that there can be no more "works,"
only what postmodernists call "texts." The possibility of creating unique pieces
that reflect one coherent, consistent voice is evaporating as it becomes clear to
these postmodernists that artistic creations can only serve as pretexts for what
the reader]listener may bring to the work and create of it. The belief these post-
modernists have in the heterogeneity of any work's meanings has become a priori
as has the idea that no work can be a closed system. What I have described as works
involving an emancipation of memory, an interpenetration of different domains,
and an exploration of relationships may very well sound like "texts" in this sense.
Like other postmodernist works, they certainly depend on the meaning brought to
them by the listener. Each performance of works like Pauline Oliveros' Sonic
Meditations and DreamHorseSpiel, furthermore, is unique and very much depends on
audience participation. As I have shown, however, these performances are hardly
without structure; Oliveros herself thinks of her pieces as "works," often having
a "statistical" form. Cage too used structural devices such as repetition and
variation, ideas he said he learned from Schoenberg, to insure structural
coherence (see Cage 1983a, 124, Cage 1990, 421, and Pasler 1991a). His intent
was as visionary as that of many modernists: to teach through music and embody
a way to a better future.
My use of "memory palaces" to describe what such works evoke is an attempt
to define their structure, one resembling not the idealist "spatial forms" of high
modernism, but a non-traditional and open kind of form in whose construction
the listener plays an important role. This idea brings attention to the importance
of memory and to the order and associations--the thought--composers elicit
through it. It uses the past to suggest meaning in the present, a meaning that may
provide models for understanding the future. This is very much lodged in the
synchronic connections, the "inter-referentiality,''50 that the spatial dimension of
these palaces reveal. A musical memory palace, as I describe it here, places the
listener not in a despairing mode, like the dancer in "Blue Meterorite," nor in the
alienated and distanced mode of most modernist works, but in an active one. It
remains to be seen what new memory palaces composers will stimulate listeners
to construct from their own experiences, and what effect these structures will
have on people's lives, sl
Postmodernism in music 27


N.B. For the most part, the translation of the C h a r p o e t r y comes from M a t t h e w s
(1956, 74-83). This translation also appears in the appendix of Peyser (1976, pp.

1. As the reader will soon see, w h e n it comes to music, I do not entirely agree
with o t h e r aspects of Jameson's a r g u m e n t a b o u t p o s t m o d e r n i s m (the role of
m e m o r y , the b r e a k d o w n of the signifier, the replacement of works by texts,
2. While w h a t I am referring to shares i m p o r t a n t aspects with Jonathan
Kramer's notion of "'vertical time" (Kramer 1981), it is actually closer to Ken
Gaburo's definition of composition as an ecosystem w h e r e i n a sense of the
whole, a sense of place, is defined by w h a t is connected and what effects the
connections. G a b u r o p r e s e n t e d these ideas to m y seminar on p o s t m o d e r n i s m
in music at UC San Diego, April 12, 1990.
3. I am grateful to Stevan Key for pointing me to this book, which he says he has
found on the bookshelves of m a n y composers on the West coast in recent
4. Ibid., pp. 3-4, 34ff, 46-47, 71-72. It is Augustine w h o explains loci as "the
fields and spacious palaces of m e m o r y w h e r e are the treasures of innumerable
images, b r o u g h t into it from things of all sorts perceived by the senses." (p.
46). G e o r g e Johnson (1991, xiii) defines a m e m o r y palace more generally as "a
s t r u c t u r e for arranging knowledge."
5. In my article (Pasler 1989, 244 and 246), I define anti-narratives as " w o r k s
which rely on the listener's expectation of narrative, but f r u s t r a t e it t h r o u g h
continual i n t e r r u p t i o n of a work's temporal processes and proceed by change
w i t h o u t narrative t r a n s f o r m a t i o n ; " n o n - n a r r a t i v e s are " w o r k s that m a y use
elements of narrative but w i t h o u t allowing t h e m to function as t h e y would in
a narrative."
6. Bloom (1973, 7, 8) writes of poetic influence or "poetic misprision" as
"necessarily the study of the life-cycle of the p o e t - a s - p o e t " and the "intra-
poetic relationships" as "parallels of family r o m a n c e , " t h o u g h w i t h o u t the
Freudian overtones.
7. Leduc is planning to publish the 1989 revision, and it is this version that Erato
recorded in 1990: WE 2292-45494-2.
8. United Musicians International Productions, UM 6507.
9. I am grateful to Charlie K r o n e n g o l d for urging me to give more a t t e n t i o n to
the complexities of Messiaen's influence on this work.
10. Doorbell of the mornings's motto, dead season of the precocious star,
I come to the end of my arch, a grave-dug coliseum.
Enough of sucking the nubile horsehair of grain:
The carder, the obstinate carder is subject to our confines.
Enough of cursing the haven of nuptial images:
I am touching bottom for a compact return.
This stanza of the poem, as Charlie K r o n e n g o l d pointed out to me, has a
similar relationship to the poetic tradition as Boulez's music has to its
predecessors. It b o r r o w s from the t r o u b a d o u r s the tradition of the aubade,
which Drabble (1985, 49) defines as a " d a w n song, usually describing the
28 ]ann Pasler

regret of two lovers at their imminent separation." By reducing the

"morning's motto," the morning star, to only a reverberation, an echo, a
"doorbell," Char divests the "precocious star" from its mythic and poetic
history and its association with Lucifer. Char thus also treats the past as a
"simulacrum," merely an image of what it was. I am grateful to Charlie for
reading this article and offering many valuable suggestions.
11. This essay, "Style ou id6e - 61oge ou de l'amn6sie," was originally published in
Musique en jeu (1971).
12. If the language sung is French, the analogy is even clearer because of the
necessity for dividing one of the eighth notes into sixteenth notes in the
middle of the line to accommodate an extra syllable.
13. There are t h r e e kinds of percussion Boulez uses in this work: wood
(including maracas, fouet, claves, guiro, woodblock), skin (bongos, snare
drum, bass drum, tambourine, provencal drum, military drum), and metal
(cymbals, tam-tams, gongs, triangle, iron blocks). He also uses xylophone,
celesta, glockenspiel, and vibraphone.
14. Stevan Key suggests that the work concerns the struggle of the composer to
dominate the feminine within himself and that, as in primitive cultures, he
garners power to do this by taking on, incorporating into his body of which
the piece is an extension, the most significant male figure in the culture, in
this case Stravinsky. I am grateful t o Stevan for reading this article and
urging me to push my feminist reading a bit further.
15. His association with the Domaine Musical concerts beginning in 1949
brought him into close contact with performers specializing in contemporary
music and in that context he became sensitized to "all the problems and
resources of instrumentation" (Boulez 1975, 87).
16. Lest one think that Boulez's confrontation with the past ended with Le Visage
Nuptial, one need only consult the philosophy underlying the statutes and
programs of the Domaine Musical he helped organize. This organization,
known for its defense of the avant-garde in Paris of the 1950s and 1960s, was
founded with the idea that old and new should coexist on all programs. They
believed that new works might find "their origins, their roots, their
justifications" in very old works. (See Claude Rostand, "Un jeune compositeur,"
La Nef [November 1957], p. 90). Arguing for the simultaneous presence of the
old and the new in music was a powerful tool for suggesting mutual
legitimacy and was a common practice in concert series in France since the
beginning of the century.
17. Boulez, Par volont'e et par hasard, p. 63.
18. When questioned on the nature of Boulez's revisions, Boulez's colleague,
Jean-Baptiste Barri6re, explained that Boulez claims not to have redone the
work, but only to have expanded, elaborated and developed one of its original
themes. (Letter to the author, March 4, 1991). When Leduc publishes the
revised score, it will be possible to do a complete study of these changes.
19. "I1 semble qu'au milieu d'un temps charg6 de plus en plus de m6moire, oublier
devienne l'urgence absolue. Et pourtant non seulement on n'oublie pas, mais
on arbore en panoplie toutes les biblioth4ques possibles de toutes les
Alexandries: la r6f6rence devrait faire partie de l'invention, ~tre la source du
seut renouveau encore possible. Le temps des avant-gardes, de l'exploration,
Postmodernism in music 29

6tant d6finitivement pass6, viendrait celui du perp6tuel retour, de l'amal-

game et de la citation. La biblioth6que id6ale ou imaginaire nous fournit une
pl6thore de modules, il nous reste l'embarras du choix et la forme de
20. For further evidence of such a feeling, Susan McClary (personal com-
munication, May 1991) suggests that the reader consult a conversation
between Boulez and Michel Foucault (1985), wherein Boulez defends the
world of high modernism and rejects postmodernist concerns as a "super-
market aesthetic."
21. I borrow this expression from McClary 1989.
22. I am here playing with the title of a recent work by Jonathan Kramer, About
Face, in which the composer explores not only"multiple personality,"but also
notions of return in his own compositional language and personal life. Unlike
that of many others, his return is from a more simplified, modal style
characterizing works in the 1980s to a dissonant one reflecting "nostalgia for
the age of modernism" (from notes about the work by the composer).
23. See also Rochberg 1984..
24. It can also be driven by what Leonard Meyer (1967, 192) calls "ideological
nostalgia" though perhaps less so during the twentieth century. For the
modernist, Meyer argues that the past is a "repository of countless
potentially absorbing problems and possibilities," artistic and compositional
problems more than ideological ones (p. 193).
25. Hicks 1982, 223. See Raili Elovaara, The Problem of Identity dn Samuel Beckeff's Prose
(Helsinki: Suomalainen, n.d.).
26. The composer David Felder has been interested in a variation of this idea:
how composers can take advantage of the physical memory players can retain
of works performed by them or otherwise written for their instruments. He
wishes to call on such memory, for example, of Debussy's Rhapsodie for
clarinet or Paganini's Violin Concerto in his recent works for the clarinet or
27. In his introduction to "James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An
Alphabet," Cage (1983, 53) goes on to say that he did not follow this idea in
his text, but then on the same page he admits, "The effect for me of
Duchamp's work was to so change my way of seeing that I became in my way
a Duchamp unto myself. I could find as he did for himself the space and time
of my own experience." This mesostic was given its American premiere by
Cage and 15 of his friends at the Second Acustica International Sound Art
Festival, New York, April 29, 1990.
28. In his seminar paper on John Zorn's music, Mark Applebaum suggests that
Carl Stalling's influence on Zorn was great. Zorn himself describes the
"constantly changing kaleidoscope of styles, forms, melodies, quotations,
and of course the 'Mickey Mousing'" of Stalling's music as "broken into
shards." (Liner notes to the 1990 Warner Brothers release of Carl Stalling's
29. Jochen Schulte-Sasse (1989, 100) argues that "quotations serve as signs of
recognition; they mediate between our desire for identity, for containment
of our ego-boundaries, and for our desire for dissolution, for transgression of
our ego-boundaries."
30 ]ann Pasler

30. Today Beethoven represents our most common model of musical genius. In
France particularly, when the press wishes to praise a composer in the
highest terms, it is often to Beethoven that comparison is made, whether the
music resembles Beethoven's or not. William S. Newman (1983) examines
the origins of this phenomenon in his "The Beethoven Mystique in Romantic
Art, Literature, and Music."
31. George Rochberg, notes to the Concord String Quartet recording of his Third
Quartet, Nonesuch H71283.
32. In the last movement, "On the dominant divide," of his Grand Pianola Music.
My thanks to Richard McQuillan for pointing this out.
33. For this reason, postmodernism as an artistic style is sometimes compared
with mannerism.
34. David Harvey (1989, 336) describes postmodernism as "the mirror of
mirrors." He uses such an expression to explain an attitude which "came of
age in the midst of this climate of voodoo economics, of political image
construction and deployment, and of new social class formation."
35. See Jencks (1984) and Jameson (1991, 107-121). Also cf. Gehry's house in
Santa Monica and the new Santa Monica Museum he designed in Los
Angeles with the hotels designed by Graves at Disneyworld in Orlando,
Florida and in La Jolla, California.
36. Yates (1966, 297-298) discusses Campanella's City of the Sun as a Renaissance
memory palace. The Cit~ del Sole is a description of a Utopia, an ideal city based
on an astral religion. Such a city, it was thought, could be used as a way of
"knowing everything 'using the world as a book.'" Louis Marin (1984, 10)
also writes about utopia as "space organized as a text and discourse
constructed as a space."
37. Jonathan Raban, Soft City, pp. 9-10, cited in Harvey (1989, 5).
38. Paul Ricoeur (1984) contrasts episodic and configurational structure in
chapters 2 and 3 of his Time and Narrative, vol. 1.
39. Calvino 1974, 6. In a recent seminar paper, Tim Labor argues that the level of
distance the author takes from the work and the patterns traced by the
chapters would make the novel in effect more modernist than postmodernist.
40. In addition, Marin (1984, 211) proposes that city maps represent "the
production of discourse about the city."
41. This is an excerpt from the "circumstances" section of "Composition in
Retrospect," p. 151, of which, in his introduction to I-VI (p. 5), Cage says
Europeras 1 and 2 were "illustrative."
42. This is the first stanza of the "discipline" mesostic in his "Composition in
Retrospect," p. 129.
43. Cf. the short "Zen stories" Marjorie Perloff (1981, 310-313) cites from
Cage's Silence (pp. 6, 95, 271) with the long citations and imaginary stories in
"James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet."
44. This is the opening of the first stanza of the "interpenetration" mesostic in
"Composition in Retrospect," p. 141.
45. Perloff (1981, 316) calls this aspect of Cage a "new didacticism."
46. Cf. the analysis of Cage's lectures in Pasler (1991a) and the analysis of Cage's
Roaratorio in Perloff (1988).
47. All references to Oliveros in these paragraphs come from my interview,
Postmodernism in music 31

Pasler 1991b, commissioned by the American W o m e n C o m p o s e r s , Inc.

48. 1990 was also the year of the horse in China, a fact acknowledged by the
calligraphy for horse on the shirts of the p e r f o r m e r s at its premiere on April
28, 1990 at the Second Acustica International Sound A r t Festival in N e w
49. I use this t e r m in the sense developed by G e o r g e Lipsitz (1990).
50. The anthropologist Michael M.J. Fischer defines "inter-referentiality" as one
of the key elements of the p o s t m o d e r n sensibility, the o t h e r s being
"bifocality or reciprocity of perspectives, juxtaposition of multiple realities,
intertextuality, and comparisons of family resemblances." Cited in Lipsitz
1990, 149.
51. I would like to t h a n k the students in m y p o s t m o d e r n i s m and h e r m e n e u t i c s
seminars in 1990 and 1991 at the University of California, San Diego: Mark
Applebaum, Eric Dries, Steve Elster, Stevan Key, Erik K n u t z e n , Keith
Kothman, Charlie Kronengold, Tim Labor, Rafael Linan, Richard McQuillan,
Dave Meckler, M a r g a r e t M u r r a y , M a r y Oliver, Frank Pecquet, Linda
Swedensky, and Carol Vernallis. Their insights, c o m m i t m e n t to the inquiry,
and music were an inspiration; I dedicate this w o r k to them.

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and B. Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press ;
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pp. 13-62. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
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1993, Vol. 7, pp. 33-48 Printed in Malaysia
Photocopying permitted by license only

The stylistic perception of a musical work:

an experimental and anthropological approach
Michel Imberty
University of Paris, X-Nanterre, France

In this work the author will demonstrate, by means of a primarily experimental but also
anthropological and psychoanalytical approach, that the perception of a musical piece is a
hierarchical arrangement of changes, contrasts, and discontinuities perceived during the
auditory process. He will also show that this hierarchy depends on cultural models acquired
through acculturation or education and that, besides the different stereotypes and cultural
models, this hierarchy reveals the structure of style as a symbolic musical representation of an
existential experience of time.
The comparison of the auditory structures of two piano pieces, one by Brahms, the other by
Debussy, demonstrates that the strongly hierarchical structure of the Brahms piece develops a
homogeneous and continuous musical time, an evolutionary time. By contrast, the weakly
hierarchical structure of the Debussy develops a discontinuous and fractured musical time, a
time reduced to a series of moments which makes Debussy's work the first instance of
contemporary music.
KEY WORDS changes, perceptual hierarchy, style, continuous time, discontinuous time,
temporal ambivalence

The perception of change

W h e n we listen to a musical piece, o u r m o s t i m m e d i a t e i m p r e s s i o n is of change. In
the musical flow in which we i m m e r s e o u r s e l v e s w i t h pleasure, we perceive a
series of m o o d s which are qualitatively distinct, a series of a t m o s p h e r e s and
sound colours w h o s e c o h e r e n c e s e e m s to us to be m o r e or less evident, their
c o n t i n u i t y m o r e or less defined. Breaks and c o n t r a s t s surface and give us the
i m p r e s s i o n t h a t a change has occurred, delimiting w i t h i n this c o n t i n u i t y a
" b e f o r e " and an " a f t e r " which aim at r e c o n s t r u c t i n g connections, so t h a t the
w o r k we h e a r p r e s e r v e s s o m e of its unity.
T h e idea of change involves the p e r c e p t i o n of this relationship b e t w e e n the
" b e f o r e " and the "after", the p e r c e p t i o n of a c o n t r a s t i n g series which i n t r o d u c e s a
f r a c t u r e d time into the c o n t i n u o u s flow of music. This f r a c t u r e - r e l a t i o n s h i p ,
passing f r o m state A to state B, c o n s t i t u t e s the basis for the p e r c e p t i o n of musical
structures. T h e a u d i t o r y process a r r a n g e s e v e r y musical w o r k into "sections" of
v a r y i n g lengths, d e m a r c a t e d by the fact t h a t each p r e s e n t s , in their relationship
to the preceding section, a different quality. In a way, the change f r o m one
section to the n e x t introduces a discontinuity b e t w e e n t w o delimited and
differentiated sound groups, each of which in itself "achieves a f o r m of synthesis
a l m o s t static in its e v o l u t i o n " (Fraisse, 1957).
34 MichelImberty

Musical perception thus presents a kind of paradox. As it unfolds in time, a

work has an architectural cohesion which helps to locate it in a sort of psychological
present spread over a period of time with ill-defined contours. The listener has to
follow the successions which the changes indicate, while simultaneously
reconstructing connections outside of musical time. As he refreshes his memory,
this latter process enables her to identify repetitions of earlier themes, backward
returns, and complex references involving recall. This paradox is most obvious
when the work has a sufficient duration, but it is equally clear at the level of
simple, melodic figures. For the listener this process is identified with the flow of
sounds, which is controlled through expectations and continual reactions in
immediate memory (Imberty, 1981, 1982, 1985a, 1986b, 1990a and b). It is clear,
therefore, that in order to be coherent, the perception of change must rely on the
intervention of complex cognitive processes, w h i c h in turn depend on the
subject's ability to structure time according to segmentation and regrouping.
These are the processes which we shall study on the different levels at which
musical structure is decoded.

Style and perceptual segmentation

Let us present the case in a different way. Every work on musical semiology takes
as its starting point a process of segmentation of the musical continuum. It can also
be claimed, at least at first, that the structure of a piece frees itself of this repeated
segmentation at many levels. Ruwet (1972) and then Nattiez (1975, 1987) have
explained this process perfectly. First we examine the largest possible units
(between two silences, for example), then we segment those primary-level units
in turn into smaller units on a second level, and so on. The structure appears
through the relationships which preserve units at either the same or different
levels in the form of a hierarchy. I will formulate the hypothesis that this not only
constitutes a series of logical operations in semiological analysis, but also that the
processes at work, which are of a distinctly cognitive nature, are also listening
processes, precisely because the listener tries to control the temporal sound flow
and to organize the changes, discontinuities and contrasts that he perceives while
listening. This segmentation is primarily a perceptual decoding and an encoding in
memory of the musical form, and semiology can only explain and rationalise this
with suitable methodological criteria. It is suggested that the following aspects
constitute a reasonably well-defined hierarchy of units: the varying degrees of
clarity with which the different sections are segmented for the listener in the
course of listening; the ease with which the contrasts, breaks and thematic
entries are perceived; and the meaning of a particular element in relation to
others. Other units, however, are juxtaposed, and this provides evidence of the
intrinsic organization of the musical piece or, at the very least, of the section of
this organization which prompts the observable, perceptual behaviour in the
Thus the structure of the musical piece seems to be this perceptual hierarchy of
changes and of the units which they delimit, and this phenomenon is concerned with both
the general form of the piece and its style. The nature of the hierarchy and its
degree of organization are proof indeed of the influence of style on the perception
Stylistic perception 35

of the listener. Is not style, in the end, a particular method which the composer
employs of making audible certain original sounds derived from musical structures
and compositional processes that are more generally addressed in musical
analysis? Musical style is both a semiological, structural reality and a perceptual
reality, which fixes the cognitive organization of the musical piece in the course
of listening. This is experienced by good musicians every day when they identify,
in a few bars, the composer of a work with which they are not familiar, or when
they are able immediately to distinguish a Haydn symphony from a Mozart

The concept of macro-structure

However, this hypothesis must be refined. In a series of experiments relating to
the perceptual controls on recognition of themes in a sonata or fugue, Franc~s
(1958) has shown that musical subjects clearly have a greater facility than non-
musical subjects in identifying a thematic unit. This is not only because their
capacities for auditory discrimination are more developed but above all because
they are familiar with the general outline of classical forms, which function for
them as a "reference" for what they hear. Their perception, at the time of
listening, is determined by the implicit knowledge which forms a large part of the
structure of stimuli. It may be thought that this knowledge - implicit or n o t - of
various generalized musical forms facilitates a number of strategies in the
auditory segmentation of the musical piece: for example, forms such as the sonata,
the rondo with its refrain, or all the tripartite forms which are part of the cultural
knowledge of every Western listener. It is easy to assume that for the average
listener every musical work has something like an exposition, a develoj~ment, a
recapitulation, or a succession from idea A and idea B with an obligatory return to
idea A. This structure, which has been sustained for over three centuries of tonal
music and has been imposed by the very nature of tonal syntax, is perhaps not
very far removed from the structures of narratives which are arranged according
to a similar system (exposition, tension-crisis, denouement or catastrophe). Even
though there is necessarily something approximate about this comparison,
nevertheless it is possible to show that the memorisation, as well as the segmentation
of the musical piece, is achieved in accord or in conflict with those models
acquired by the subjects in their general culture.
On this argument style not only would be a perpetual hierarchy of change of
varying degrees of strength in each case, but it would also be a particular method
of incorporating this hierarchy into a more comprehensive system that is widely
transmitted throughout the culture.
I have borrowed the concept of macro-structure from psycholinguistic research on
the memorisation of narrative. It is acknowledged and has been proved that every
discourse is interpreted, stored in the memory, and recalled in relation to the
structure of the whole, which is accurately called its macro-structure and which
belongs to the general knowledge of the subject. The first authors to have defined
this concept are Kintsch and Van Dijk (1975). Through a series of experiments on
recall and summarised recall of memorised texts, the authors set out this macro-
structure, which they describe as a kind of general system comprising several
36 Michel lmberty

blank squares, located at different levels defined by a hierarchy of information

categories and their narrative functions. These blank squares are then filled with
specific textual information which is then semantically and sequentially ordered.
The narrative recall consists of reactivating the macro-structure, a system of
blank decoding-encoding which calls up the specific information stored in the
memory. The macro-structure thus appears as an ordering of narrative time, enabling
the reconstitution of successive episodes according to general rules of underlying
cognitive mechanisms. The concept of macro-structure can also be applied to
music: a system of structuring time, the macro-structure, is an a priori way of ordering
sound events according to rules of perceptual mechanisms, which permit the
location of changes in the sound continuum. To sum up, the macro-structure of a
musical piece is constituted through the perception and mnemonic retention of
certain changes, which are particularly important and which determine for the
listener the global progression of the piece. These changes can be attributed
either to a cultural stereotype forming part of the general knowledge of the
subject o r - a n d in this case they contradict the s t e r e o t y p e - t o a style.
So what are the cognitive mechanisms which form the macro-structure in the
course of listening? In the works already cited, I have suggested distinguishing
between two types of temporal perceptual systems: systems of literal order and systems of
relative order.
Systems of literal order involve simple successions and juxtapositions. The
time which they cause to be understood and ordered is a sequence of events,
directed towards a goal or limit which is intensified by the dynamic quality of the
succession itself. The systems of literal order direct the perceptual attention
towards the tension of a new and imprecise element; they assimilate all the
dynamic elements into a sign whose temporal meaning remains indeterminate.
Within this global progression, the sound events can remain relatively
unconnected and disunified because this very progression (growth, decay,
acceleration, slowing down, repetition) justifies them.
Systems of relative order, on the other hand, involve organic relationships
which allow the establishment of a relationship between different sections of the
work and between elements which are either contiguous or separated. These
systems allow the listener to identify themes, variations on themes, and general
syntactical relationships, and also to form a hierarchy of the sound structures in
such a way that the perceived changes appear more as sequences than as
discontinuities. These are systems which constitute the psychological present
from within, and in which time no longer moves absolutely, and where mental
operations can be effected independently of duration.
When the musical piece is being listened to, both systems are in operation, but
in different ways according to the mode of composition or the style of the work,
and also according to the presence, whether identifiable by the subjects or not,
of recognised formal stereotypes. In general, a strong perceptual hierarchy (a
strongly hierarchical macro-structure) will be created by the application of
systems of relative order. A weak hierarchy, on the other hand (a weakly
hierarchical macro-structure), will assume the application of simple systems of
literal order. The musical structures will be heard very differently, and it is these
differences which set apart the different perceptual strategies.
Actually these two kinds of temporal perception systems are both necessary in
Stylistic perception 37

order to understand every musical work. On the one hand the latter is always
more or less a series of contrasting or nuanced moments, of moods or sound
colours, of tensions or relaxations, independent of the themes or syntax (these
characteristic elements are assimilated, in turn, to the systems of literal order).
On the other hand there is a thematic organization, more or less closed, which is
dependent not only on defined cultural models but also on the perception of the
relationship between moments which follow one another in succession (these
thematic elements, variations and developments are then assimilated into
systems of relative order). According to the style, single entities may dominate
without excluding others. But this can also occur according to the level of
education of the subjects, since the identification and assimilation of themes into
systems of relative order, which tend to unify musical time, are more naturally
grasped by those who have been trained to recognise them, however skilfully the
composer has disguised them.
This distinction seems absolutely fundamental if we wish to understand what
constitutes a real hearing of a work and how certain organizations and certain
styles give rise to specific emotional and aesthetic effects. But these effects
depend in themselves on the abilities of the subjects to discriminate the musical
elements which can be integrated into the systems. It is easy to understand that in
principle, if not in fact, systems of literal order are more natural than systems of
relative order, whose cognitive intellectual nature is more pronounced because in
a sense they take for granted knowledge, or at least a certain level of education.
Systems of literal order, on the other hand, only assume a particular experience of
time, which is linked a priori to individual and collective feeling at a given moment
in a given culture. This means that systems ofliteral,order are in fact only cryslallisalions
of representations and experiences of time, part of whose origin can be found in the
general conception of time which an age or culture develops for itself. If it could
be claimed that music is "history without words", time empty of eventful
meaning, it is clear that the empty form of this history is both an individual and a
collective experience conveying temporal stereotypes which will be rediscovered
in the very conception of the music produced by that culture. It is at this point of
reflection that the experimental approach to musical perception opens up to a
more general anthropological approach.
To sum up, I have shown:
- that the perception of a musical work is a hierarchical organization of changes,
contrasts, and discontinuities perceived in the course of listening;
- that this hierarchy depends on cultural models acquired through acculturation
and education;
- that as a consequence this hierarchy depends also on the level of musical
education of subjects;
- that, apart from differences in education and different stereotypes of cultural
models, this hierarchy reveals the specific structure of an existential
experience of time whose style is symbolically manifest in the work.

An experimental stylistic comparison between Brahms and Debussy

All these theoretical hypotheses were applied to a series of experiments described
in detail in my book Les ~critures du temps (1981) and again in subsequent articles
38 Michellmberty

(1985b, 1987a). Developments concerning atonal music were set out in analysis
of and experiments with a piece by Luciano Berio, Sequenza III (Imberty, 1987b,
I will not recapitulate in detail the experimental procedure used. The selected
works are two piano pieces, Intermezzo in E flat minor no. 6, Op. I 18, by Brahms and La
Puerta del Vino, an excerpt from the second book of Preludes for Piano by Debussy.
These two pieces were chosen because of characteristics in various parameters
which were studied in previous research (melodic entropy, the length of the
metrical period, variations in intensity and duration, etc.). They were also chosen
for a certain similarity in the dynamic progression of the whole - both pieces tend
towards a central climax, a point of maximum tension, in order to return to a more
relaxed and serene mood (Imberty, 1979 and 1987a).
The experimental technique is that of the chronometric method. Twenty
subjects participated in an experiment for each piece. They were then divided into
two sub-groups, one musically trained and the other non-musical. Neither had
previous knowledge of the two pieces.
Their task consisted of segmenting the piece while listening and of indicating the
changes or the sections which they perceived. After listening once to familiarise
themselves, they proceeded with two experimental hearings. The first only gave
an indication of the major sections while the second indicated all the changes
observed by the subjects. The instructions to the subjects were precise about
what was meant by "changes" (changes of mood, rhythm, themes, etc.).

S y n t h e s i s of r e s u l t s

The segmentation of the Brahms Intermezzo is shown in Figures 1 and 2, and the
segmentation of Debussy's La Puerta del Vino in Figures 3 and 4. After the first
hearing, Figures 1 and 3 for Brahms and Debussy respectively, a fundamental
difference between the two macro-structures was apparent. Musical time in the
Debussy piece was more discontinuous, and the changes, discontinuities and
contrasts were perceived as much more frequent and close together, with respect
to the length of the piece, than in the Brahms: 60 changes in all were perceived in
the Debussy piece (which lasted 175 seconds), compared with 70 changes for the
Brahms work (which lasted 271 seconds). The density of sound events was almost
twice as great in the Debussy piece than in the Brahms. I was able to confirm this
phenomenon in the study which I subsequently carried out on La Cath~drale
engloutie (lmberty, 1985b): 226 changes were observed during 330 seconds-a
considerable figure. In the present experiment, this result was consistent from
one hearing to another, despite the different instructions given to the subjects.
Detailed statistical analysis has already been presented in a previous article
(Imberty, 1977).
There is a very marked contrast between the two composers: homogeneity and
continuity in Brahms, diversity and discontinuity of time in disconnected,
juxtaposed moments in Debussy. This result is confirmed in another important
empirical difference: the changes in the Debussy are much more striking, salient,
than in the Brahms. This is quite obvious in the comparison of tables, where a
statistical test shows (Imberty, 1977) that in the Debussy the most important
Stylistic perception 39


-----o " .01

------a - .02

i i i i 6 i ~
I0 20 30 40 50 l: lO 20 30 40 SO 2' I0 20 30 40 $0 3' lO 20 30 40 $0 1~ 10 20 30 t

Figure 1 The macro-structure of the Brahms Intermezzo at the first listening.

Abscissa: the temporal development of the musical piece.
Ordinate: N = the number of subjects immediately indicating a change.



', " '

J ' ' " 't '
J l
' ' '
' ', ;
1 lO 20 30 40 50 2 ]0 20 ?;0 40 SO 3 IG

Figure 2 The macro-structure of the Brahms Intermezzo at the second listening.

Abscissa: The temporal development of the musical piece.
Ordinate: N = the number of subjects immediately indicating a change.

changes marking segmentation were perceived by a greater number of listeners

than the corresponding changes in the Brahms. In Intermezzo the only ones which
seemed to be very marked were the section divisions which corresponded to the
formal stereotype AA'BA, recognised by all the subjects, musical and non-musical
alike. These facts are confirmed if one studies the perceptual restructuring between
the first and second hearings of each piece. Examination of the tables proves that
this rearrangement is more important for Brahms than for Debussy. In fact
taking the threshold of probability to be P= 0.01, and the value 6 as the prescribed
critical value, it can be claimed that in the Brahms, on the first listening, only two
changes of any significance were observed, while at the same time there were six
40 Michel lmberty

N 84

. . . . . o. 9 .01

. . . . . a m .05

lO 20 3o
40 $0 l' 10 20 30 40
5O 2' 10 20 30 40 50 3' t

Figure 3 The macro-structure of La Puerto del Vino at the first listening.

Abscissa: the temporal development of the musical piece.
Ordinate: N = the number of subjects immediately indicating a change.


~---a - .04

__ __u 9 . l O

ll, I , 411 I' IO 30 40i 5'o 2" io 20 30

Figure 4 The macro-structure of La Puerta del Vino at the second listening.

Abscissa: the temporal development of the musical piece.
Ordinate: N = the number of subjects immediately indicating a change.
Stylistic perception 41

for La Puerta del Vino. At the same threshold of statistical significance, for the
second listening (critical value 7), there were eight striking structural changes for
each piece. Finally, a more detailed study of the responses shows that the number
of changes observed for the first time during the second listening was greater for
the Brahms than for the Debussy. This indicates that apart from the two major
changes corresponding on the one hand to the start of the section in G flat major
and on the other hand to the return to the initial theme in B flat minor, the
changes observed in the Intermezzo did not constitute a very clear structure for
most of the subjects. The second hearing refined their perception. It also helped
to make the form of the piece more precisely heard, so that the sub-sections of the
three main sections were recognised at once. With the Debussy, however, the
salience of the changes was that the second hearing produced nothing of any
significance, despite the instructions. The structure was merely confirmed, in
complete contrast to the formal stereotype of Intermezzo.
Naturally, the level of musical education of the subjects had a clear influence on
the results; The non-musical subjects had a tendency to point out many more
changes and sections than the musical ones, at least inLa Puerta del Vino. This result
is due firstly to the confusion and embarrassment of the non-musical subjects
before the experiment. They did not have a frame of reference which could
implicitly produce even an average musical skill. They also had a tendency to lose
themselves in details of sound, whereas the musical subjects were better at
locating the changes and important sections and in discerning the architecture of
the whole piece. But this statement does not apply to the Debussy, where the
non-musical subjects succeeded just as well as the musical ones. One must also
recognise the importance of the structure of the Intermezzo, which the non-musical
subjects absorbed subconsciously, through acculturation. This structure, as has
been stated, functions as a cultural stereotype which directs their percepfion and
places them on the same level of competence as the musical subjects. But within
these clear limitations, which the majority of subjects demonstrated, hesitant
replies were equally noticeable among the musical as well as the non-musical
subjects. This is evidence of the considerable number of secondary changes
observed. In other words, as is shown in Figure 1, very few changes were
observed in the first hearing of the Brahms because, for musical and non-musical
subjects alike, the three main sections of the work were easily perceived. At the
second hearing it was apparent for each group that changes or sub-sections were
numerous. These were located with difficulty, as if the cultural stereotype was
disguising the secondary elements. But the musical subjects relied on the logic of
the stereotype, a thematic logic which was more difficult for the non-musical
subjects to follow, as shown previously by Franc~s (1958). After the first hearing
of the Debussy, however, an increase in the number of changes was noted, due in
large measure to the non-musical subjects, who no longer recognised the kind of
framework which they had learned through repeated listenings to western
classical, tonal music.

Macro-structures and musical time

If we wish to keep to the essentials of the comparison between the macro-

42 Michellmberty

structures of the two pieces, we see that the macro-structure of the Intermezzo has
a much stronger hierarchy than that of La Puerta. The former has several
important divisions and, between these divisions, sub-divisions which are not as
frequent or marked. In Figures 1 and 2 there is a clear symmetrical structure in
which it is easy to recognise the AA'BA form on which the work is based and
which has greatly influenced the auditory segmentation.
During the first hearing this sequence of three sections was clearly set out: the
exposition and development of A, the rhythmic break introduced by B, and the
rhythmic break which leads back to A. During the second hearing, the sub-
sections of the exposition and the recapitulation are held together by materials
which become units of transition, causing a perceptually oriented anticipation and
thus facilitating the symmetrical construction of time and the co-ordination
between sections. The systems of relative order unify these sections in a kind of
synthesis across the whole piece, and thus reinforce the tripartite thread of the
development of the work from the veritable phenomena of perceptual anticipa-
tion. These are triggered by the recognition of these units of transition, which are
identified during the entire structure, from the first hearing, and whose role is
strengthened at the second hearing. These brief passages correspond to the
statement of the theme between each of the main sections: 57"-1"07"; 1"57-2"07";
3"10"-3"13"; 3"57"-4"10". However, this same material can also be found at the
beginning of the piece, with the function of beginning rather than transition, 0"-08".
In each case we are dealing with a single change, although there are two
indications, a change which endures and one that evolves slowly, thus ensuring
continuity between the main sections.
But this phenomenon is completely absent from the macro-structure of
Debussy's piece. In practice its systems of relative order invoked no predictive
perceptual mechanisms. The unity of the piece is either badly achieved or not
achieved at all, because from the first hearing the divisions and the asymmetries were
unanticipated throughout the course of the music. There are no transitions to
announce a potential new sound event; rather it always arrives brutally and
suddenly. Even when this was not the case, still no clearly directed perception
took shape: the development this time was so slow and static (bars 60-66) and the
new event so drawn out (the recapitulation of the "Iberian" melody) that the
subjects later believed that something had happened although they had been
unable to predict it. This basically concerns the two composers' different styles and
their different approaches to the structuring of musical time. With Brahms, the
transitions and anticipations are co-ordinated and unified; with Debussy, the
breaks, contrasts, and gradual suspension of progression are juxtaposed and
divided up. The systems of literal order, while focusing the listener's perception,
segment the temporal continuum and reinforce the psychological importance of
the segmentations. The macro-structure here appears as a weak hierarchy,
which is evidence of the effect of these juxtapositions, in comparison with the
coordination implied by the strong hierarchy of the Brahms macro-structure. I
will later attempt to analyse the anthropological significance of this major
difference. It is interesting to note that these same stylistic characteristics of
Debussy are also found in the experiment carried out with La Cath'edrale engloutie
(Imberty, 1985b, 1987a).
A final series of observations shows how we can understand the style of each
Stylistic perception 43

piece. Most of the changes in Brahms coincide with the entry or the return of
themes. The development of melodic forms guides the subjects, and the dynamic
evolution (pp Slow; ff faster; pp slower) coincides with the thematic organization.
The central climax corresponds with the reappearance of the initial theme after
the development of the second theme, and the r h y t h m of the second theme
increases gradually by acceleration and by crescendo to the fortissimo of the first
theme, before the recapitulation.
However with Debussy, the thematic organization and dynamic evolution do
not coincide. In Figure 4 we can discern three sections whose outlines are
perceptually quite distinct but which do not at all conceal the data for a purely
thematic analysis of the work. The first section goes from 7" to 36" (bars 5-20)
and appears very homogeneous, in that few changes are perceived as significant.
Then the second section, which goes from 36" to 1"28" (bars 21-50) has the
inverse character of extreme discontinuity. The third is a return to a more
homogeneous time (from 1"28" to 2"20", bars 50-78) but which is, however, less
homogeneous than the first part. These three sections are framed by an isolated
introduction and a coda which itself is highly discontinuous. It is this disjunction
between the thematic and the temporal structures which creates the originality
of the piece. Through elaborate thematic construction, Brahms achieves the
correspondence between the dynamic movement of the work and the successive
order of development, thus unifying the temporal continuum. Debussy, on the
other hand, replaces the evolution of themes with the evolution of contrasts and
dynamic breaks.
This lack of coincidence of different structures enabled Debussy to set aside the
formal, stereotypical canon and has succeeded in making his music something of
the moment and not of temporal progression. With Brahms, it might be argued, we
have a discursive, rhetorical time, where the thematic architecture provides the
logic of a continuous flow, where every section depends closely on what precedes
it and what follows it. With Debussy, however, there is a discontinuous time in
which the sections do not acquire their power from their immediate environment
but from the power to evoke reminiscences at varying degrees of distance from
their source, suspending or destroying the flow, which then disintegrates in an
instant. This experiment has enabled us to define this process with precision, as
much on the perceptual and emotional level as on the aesthetic, a fact many critics
have pointed out, although sometimes in a confused way.

Towards an anthropological and psychoanalytical approach to

musical time
Architectures in t i m e - t h i s is how musical works are regarded by those who
listen to them and by those who compose them. If the works of Brahms are not
perceived in the same way as those of Debussy, this is undoubtedly because they
determine very different temporal orientations in the work of each composer.
These temporal orientations are those of compositions themselves, revealed as
much in live performance as in semiological analysis. Music is not only a temporal
art, it is above all an art of time, and musical composition is an activity concerned
with the organization of time. In other words, compositions organize sound
44 Michel hnberly

events in time, which leads to the creation of original and specific temporal
phenomena. Musical time is a fictitional time, created by the imagination as a
symbolic representation of unconscious experiences linked to existential time. In
the participation of the listener, music and musical styles reactivate the
unconscious when confronted with the irreversibility of life and the inexorability
of death as finality, completion, or destruction. On the one hand, Debussy's
fragmentation of time and weakly hierarchical juxtaposition of very short
sequences, and on the other Brahms's homogeneity and continuity, plus his
strongly organised hierarchies that unceasingly renew the bonds between the
past and the future of the musical development, constitute expressions signifying
unconscious, imaginary realities which are profoundly different.
In conclusion I would like to set out the profound anthropological significance
of this structural difference in the organization of temporal macro-structures,
and thus to outline an aesthetic of musical time shared by the listener, audience
and composer. But I must digress, since my approach and my references to
psychoanalysis are undoubtedly unfamiliar to musicologists. I will therefore
attempt to explain them.
Psychoanalysis is based on the idea that the first experiences, whether
pleasant or unpleasant, and also the first relationships between the child and the
physical and human environment, determine attitudes which influence the
subsequent development of personality in a most definite way. These unconscious
attitudes form the individual and social life of the adult, on the cognitive as well as
the affective level. Whatever its models and theories, psychoanalysis leads to the
conclusion that these crucial primitive experiences of childhood are to be found in
every individual in a given culture, and that the unconscious attitudes which they
engender are manifested equally at the level of the group, and indeed in society as
a whole, through myths, religion and works of art.
In our western culture, one of the essential facts in the formation of an
individual's personality is the discovery of ambivalence. In the first three or four
months of life, the baby is overwhelmed by many sensations, intense, internal,
affective experiences which he sorts out in an elementary way, separating or
distinguishing the pleasant from the unpleasant, and seeking to eliminate or at
least to avoid the unpleasant. The same objects, the same feelings, the same
people are divided into good and bad objects, good and bad feelings, and good and
bad people, in such a way that the bad or the unpleasant can never contaminate
the good or the pleasant. This unconscious yet normal psychological process is
called cleavage. But upon growing up, the child learns gradually to reconcile the
two faces of Janus, to reconcile in the same person, same object, or same feeling,
those pleasant and unpleasant experiences which each of them causes him in
turn. He discovers the ambivalence in every human being. This leads to anxiety (the
fear that whatever is good or pleasant may become dangerous or bad). This
anxiety is part of the personality. According to whatever good or evil it
overcomes, it influences the emotional and subsequent social life of the subject as
an adult. But all human life is made up of this acceptance or denial of ambivalence.
At the moment when the awareness of time overwhelms him, man tries to
protect himself against the bad aspects of time (the irreversibility that leads to
aging and death) in order to live a full and harmonious life of progress toward a
better future, or simply of personal fulfillment. The young man rejects time and
Stylistic perception 45

death, while the aging man learns to accept this ambivalence of time, a time of
promise but also of finiteness. Thus music is a means for man to express this
denial or acceptance of the ambivalence of time, of avoiding this anxiety through
the creation of a fictitional time where he can control his destiny.
Let us recall what S. Isaacs wrote (1952) when he explained that musical time is
a reflection of a definite phantasm: "The phantasm is above all the mental
corollary, the psychic representation, of instinct. There is no instinct, no desire,
no instinctive reaction which is experienced as an unconscious phantasm. A
phantasm represents the particular substance of needs or feelings (for example,
desires, fears, anxieties, feelings of triumph, of love, or of anger) which dominate
the psyche at a given moment". At the moment of creating or of listening to music,
phantasms symbolise a particular feeling: the flight of time. This feeling is obviously
linked to the instinct of death: all music is a passing of time and thus a set of dynamic
representations driven by this feeling of irreversibility of time considered as an
unconscious phantasm.
Regarding the acceptance or denial of this ambivalence of time, it is my belief
that the stylistic structures which ! am about to describe are also evidence of that
interaction of composition and time, and also of what the listener retains and
recognises. Homogeneous and continuous time, without breaks, without sur-
prises, is an integrated time where the movements of the psyche meet up and
complement each other. There is a feeling of the inevitable, and the inexorable,
accepted with a serene and tragic resignation, an indescribable yet happy
melancholy which characterises the entire Brahms Intermezzo. Discontinuous
time, however, marks the denial of passing time. Debussy checks the irrestible
temporal flow of the romantic era in order to enjoy the ephemeral moment that
he wishes to make eternal.
From this come the discontinuities and the contrasts which disrupt time, the
sound values listened to for their iridescence, the briefly flashing dynamic
images, the absence of real themes. In La Puerta the end of the piece comes as a
surprise, in La Cath~drale there is an uncertain dying away; in Intermezzo the end is
announced, foreseen and accepted. In a complementary experimental study,
which addressed the emotional mood of each piece, I applied the technique of
verbal associations to the main sequences of the macro-structures. These
associations were formulated by the subjects who had themselves carried out the
segmentation. I was able to demonstrate (lmberty, 1981, 1985b) how the climax
(the point of maximum tension in a musical discourse) takes on an emotional
meaning which is very different in the two pieces because the stylistic context
itself is very different as a result of its hierarchical arrangement in the listener's
perception. In La Puerta del Vino expectation, surprise and anxiety result in the
juxtaposition of sections, of the weak hierarchy of changes, all of which are
perceived on the same level in a kind of fundamental irreversibility, since the
piece evolves from a very sombre ambience to a kind of still serenity where time
stops and sound disperses into the void. This very semantic asymmetry is found
also in La Cathddrale engloutie, whose overall temporality is perhaps yet more similar
to that of Intermezzo; although the evolution of the Brahms piece remains very
symmetrical and suggests a constant ambivalence of feelings and impressions.
Thus the joy and the power acknowledged by the subjects can offset the
feelings of mourning and grief. These will be extinguished again and again in the
46 MichelImberty

indolence of a nostalgic, almost funereal reverie. At the climax of the Intermezzo,

these feelings emerge from the overlapping of sections and from their inter-
penetration in a fluid time which returns on itself, closes up and yet endures.
Brahms's was a romantic age par excellence, an age of great cyclical compositions in
which joy and sadness alternated in a kind of ambivalence that was the essence of
the era. It was truly the age of mourning, the age of an anxiety which characterises
both the discovery of ambivalence in one's own feelings and the assimilation of
those feelings into the psychological self. Every time a person has such a life
experience, in his life, he must overcome this anxiety by acceptance and
resignation, although at the same time he retains an awareness of his destiny.
Such is the tragic feeling which permeates Brahms's work. He discovers his
origins in the phantasm of an age closed in on itself, where the musical form
makes birth (the opening of the piece-beginning) and death (the end of the
piece-completion) coincide. It was an age o.f ambivalence because it was
concerned with living duration but also with aging and death. The great
psychoanalyst Melanie Klein identified this ambivalence with the development of
With regard to the division of time in Debussy, on the other hand, the
discontinuities and juxtapositions go as far as denying the very feeling of temporal
duration. This denial seems to be a defence against anxiety over destruction and
death. No backward retreat is possible in Debussy's time (this is precisely its
quality of being of the moment), and the composition distracts anxiety through
the feeling of time which leads to the end of the piece, to its death. How many
times have we observed in Debussy's work these final immobilities, these almost-
nothings, and also these whirlwinds of life from which all nostalgia is absent, this
immediacy of beings a n d things, of pleasures and fears! This dual nature of
Debussy's style is precisely the denial of time and death. Death is never there. It
does not come, nor is there suddenly and brusquely no more, as if life had never
existed. "I saw n o t h i n g . . . I heard n o t h i n g . . . So quickly, so quickly... She went
without saying anything!" A few ripples on the harp, a few tremolos on the
strings. M61isande is no more. There is no funeral mourning, no ceremony of
death, because death is never the existential horizon of a life that is but a
succession of moments. In Debussy's music death is denied by the quality of the
moment and by the immobility of time.
As I mentioned above, the temporality of Debussy's music is fragmented. Only
the good moments, such as those which herald death and threaten life, are
excluded in his style. The successions without organic integration-i.e., the
juxtaposition of non-hierarchical successions-give the illusion that time leads
nowhere, that it is abolished. L'lsle ]oyeuse is a static island of life in the midst of
fleeting time. Yet everything that prepares for the ending remains a mystery. What
is a coda considered as a temporal process, if not the coda of life, the last leap
before death, the end? The codas of Debussy fade away, disappear, stop, but do
not die. Sometimes it is only chance that ends the work. Consider, for example,
the tennis ball in ]eux thrown onto the ground from nowhere: it dissolves people
and things; it immobilises the three lovers; and it returns the music to the watery
sounds of death.
This denial, which symbolically establishes Debussy's music, occasionally lets
anxiety over destruction and chaos explode on the page with a rare violence (the
Stylistic perception 47

third section of La Mer, Golaud's jealous scene in Act 4 of Pelldas et M~lisande, or

"Lent et sombre" from the suite En blanc et noir). But this panicky fear is soon
followed by a return to atemporal immobility. This exemplifies what Melanie
Klein calls the development of paranoid-schizophrenia which differs from
depression (described above as an acceptance of the ambivalence of time). This
fear symbolizes Debussy's failure to introduce madness and death into his work,
to put into his music a sense of slow and inexorable destruction through death.
He was unable to carry out this intention (though there are sketches extending
over ten years for an opera based on The Fall of the House of Usher).

The phantasms underlying styles are what give a work universality, they touch
listeners of today and audiences yesterday. In the psychoanalytical and anthro-
pological interpretation of style, we come first of all to what we understand, what
we accept or deny in a given age. We are less concerned with the particular
psychological personality of the composer, which for the most part cannot be
ascertained because of insufficient documentary evidence. I would argue that the
individual phantasm represents an instinct that is both determined and general,
and that is common to every individual of a particular culture and age (for
example, the phantasm of fleeting time). A particular composer's personality
developed under the influence of familial, social or cultural conditioning; personal
values are not directly detectable in a musical style. There are only a few
indications of personality which can be identified. It is of very little use for me to
recount or to reconstruct the history of someone with whom I cannot
communicate. With Debussy, for example, I note that in recalling his childhood,
he said of his mother that he only remembered the slaps she gave him. It was
undoubtedly this lack of tenderness towards a hyper-sensitive child which helped
to strengthen those mechanisms of fragmentation and juxtaposition in his
personality. But the essential point does not lie in this story (which is a common
one) but rather in what the style of the work says to us, what is valid for us and
what the style tells us about ourselves as well as about Debussy.
Every musical work is, in its structure, a phantasmic representation of an
individual or collective experience of time. Musical time, constituted by style, is a
fictional time where dreams of man's eternity abound and where, through the
interplay of secondary, conscious development, representation removes from the
work the affectual and unbearable burden of death. However, the meaning of
this representation has changed throughout the course of history, as the
comparison between Brahms and Debussy that I am about to make amply
demonstrates. Brahms experienced the dreams, enthusiasms and fears of the
romantic mind. Debussy anticipated those of contemporary civilisation. Each
artist, because he possessed a strong, particular sensibility, spoke of himself and
others. Thus it is certain that the musical time of Brahms retains as much of the
collective phantasmal representations of the nineteenth century as individual
representations do. But these will always be inaccessible for some people, just as
Debussy's musical time is influenced by the phantasms of destruction and
fragmentation which one constantly finds in contemporary art.
48 Michel lmberty

M o r e t h a n b e i n g o n e i n d i v i d u a l ' s s t o r y , each w o r k a n d each style is a n

a n t i c i p a t e d o r r e d i s c o v e r e d h i s t o r y of a n e s s e n t i a l p a r t of m a n . T h i s is w h y w e
accept or u n d e r s t a n d , o r s o m e t i m e s reject, a t r u l y i n n o v a t i v e w o r k . T h e g r e a t
s c a n d a l s of m u s i c h i s t o r y , a n d of t h e h i s t o r y of all art, are t h e m e a s u r e of w h a t
forces u s to accept o u r s e l v e s a n d o u r f u t u r e . T h e y are t h e b e a r e r s , as P a u l
R i c o e u r w r o t e (1965), of " n e w s y m b o l s of t h e p a i n of s e l f - a w a r e n e s s " .

Translated by Deirdre M c M a h o n

N.B. T h i s article is a s y n t h e s i s of t h r e e a r t i c l e s w h i c h f i r s t a p p e a r e d i n F r e n c h
(1981a, 1985b, a n d 1987).

Fraisse, P. (1957) Psychalagie du temps, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.
Franc~s, R. (1958) La perception de la musique, Paris, Vrin.
Imberty, M. (1977) Structure perceptive du style musical. Bulletin de Psychologie, 329, 781-791.
Imberty, M. (1979) Entendre la musique, Paris, Dunod.
Imberty, M. (1981) Les "ecritures du temps, Paris, Dunod.
Imberty, M. (1985a) De quelques processus cognitifs temporels dans la perception musicale.
Communicazioni scientifiche di psichologia generale, Universit~ di Roma, 12, 231-247.
Imberty, M. (1985b) "La Cath6drale engloutie" de Claude Debussy: de la perception au sens. Canadian
University Music Review, 6, 90-160.
Imberty, M. (1986a) Suoni, emozioni, significati, Bologna, CLUEB.
Imberty, M. (1986b) Indicazioni per una psicologia cognitiva della musica. In Processicognitivi in musica,
edited by Lorenzetti, L.M. and Antonietti, A., Milan, Franco Angelli, 25-38.
Imberty, M. (1987a) De la perception du temps musical ~ sa signification psychologique: ~ propos de
"La Cath6drale engloutie" de C. Debussy. Analyse Musicale, 6, 28-37.
Imberty, M. (1987b) L'occhio e l'orecchio. In It senso in musica, edited by Stefani, G. and Marconi, L.,
Bologna, CLUEB, 136-163.
Imberty, M. (1990a) Forme per~ue, forme m6moris6e, forme analys6e. Pour une psychologie
cognitive de la musique. Ie Congr~s europ~en en d'Analyse Musicale, in Acres du congr~s, Analyse Musicale.
Imberty, M. (1990b) Come percepiamo la musica atonale? Proposte per un approccio teorico.
Musica Domani.
Isaacs, S. (1952) Nature et fonction du fantasme, French translation in D~veloppementsde la psychanaIvse,
Paris, Gallimard, 1966.
Kintsch, W. and Van Dijk, A. (1975) Comment on se rappelle et on r6sume des histoires. Langages, 40,
Nattiez, J.J. (1975) Fondements pour une s~miologie de la musique, Paris, Union G6n6rale d'Editions.
Nattiez, J.J. (1987) Musicologie g'en'erale et s'emiologie, Paris, Bourgeois.
Ricoeur, P. (1965) De l'interpr'etation. Essai sur Freud, Paris, Seuil.
Ruwet, N. (1977) Musique, langage, po'esie, Paris, Seuil.
Contemporary Music Review, 9 Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH
1993, Vol. 7, pp. 49-57 Printed in Malaysia
Photocopying permitted by license only

John Rahn
University of Washington, Seattle, USA
Repetition, r~fitition, and slavery are three aspects of repetition distinguished by their relations
to telos. The involvement of repetition (the first aspect) as an action constituting time and life
makes it equally constitutional for music. A minimal repetition as change-of-context is closely
questioned about its relation to cognition, abstraction, ontology, and intersubjectivity. Deceit
teaches us about meaning ironically, and death about time in music and other temporal arts.
Replication forms a life. The mass strategy of being-vegetable is unstable; entertainment only
steals mana. Our essential envie of the whole is folded back on itself by the deceit music practices
about death.

Learning to be a musician always involves learning to r e p e a t sounds, or m o r e

precisely, to r e p e a t in a n e w sound s o m e quality or complex of qualities h e a r d in
s o m e previous sound. Paul Val6ry, in his typically n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y poet's
a d m i r a t i o n for music, marvelled at and envied musical i n s t r u m e n t s , w h o s e like
does not exist for p o e t r y - e a c h i n s t r u m e n t a l a b o r a t o r y for producing at will
carefully m e a s u r e d quantified doses of particular qualities. (Val6ry 1961). The
musical i n s t r u m e n t is a p a r a d i g m of such quantified, r e p e a t a b l e doses: Des
Esseintes's m o u t h organ, and his " s y n t a x of smells" ( H u y s m a n s 1959). Music, like
empirical science, is g r o u n d e d on the r e p e a t a b l e experience.
All musical s t r u c t u r e derives f r o m repetition. I m a g i n e a series of sounds n o n e
of w h o s e perceived qualities repeats - w h e r e qualities include relational qualities
of a n y kind and a n y complexity, such as p i t c h - i n t e r v a l - f r o m - p r e v i o u s - s o u n d , or
i n - t h e - k e y - o f - B b , or o f - h e x a c h o r d a l - a r e a - { 1 2 5 6 9 10}. Such a n o n - r e p e a t i n g
series can h a v e no s t r u c t u r e , by definition; the series is " r a n d o m , " if as chimerical
as the unicorn (since h u m a n perception always s t r u c t u r e s , and also because e v e n
the m a t h e m a t i c a l d e t e r m i n a t i o n of r a n d o m i c i t y is problematic). M o r e o v e r , if
internal s t r u c t u r e is perceived within a series, t h e r e is necessarily repetitio n of
some sort in the series as perceived. O n the o t h e r t w o hands, a series m a y contain
repetition yet be either s t r u c t u r e d or " r a n d o m " (as in a n y computer~-generated
r a n d o m n u m b e r series, w h e r e individual digits r e p e a t h e r e and there, and an
overall algorithmic p a t t e r n repeats also, albeit a v e r y long one); and if a series is
u n s t r u c t u r e d , t h e n it m a y or m a y not contain repetition. To s u m m a r i s e these
r e m a r k s , let R stand for "is a series t h a t contains s o m e sort of r e p e t i t i o n , " a n d let
S stand for "is a series t h a t has internal s t r u c t u r e . " T h e n respectively (universally
quantifying o v e r x), ~R(x) --* ~ S(x) and S(x) ~ R(x) and R(x) --* S(x) O R ~ S(x)
and uS(x) ~ R(x) O R ~R(x). So while s t r u c t u r e and repetition are not logically
equivalent (in which case S would imply R and R would imply S), t h e y are closely
involved; if s t r u c t u r e , t h e n repetition, and if no repetition, no s t r u c t u r e . The
50 John Rahn

experience of the second or subsequent instance of any quality or relation

precipitates a structure: recognition conditions cognition.
How then is repetition associated with boredom? The goddess of repetition
shows a triple aspect: there is repetition itself, which is lively; there is r~p~tition, or
rehearsal, which is only re-animated, a zombie or revenant; and there is slavery,
which is dead. The differences among these three aspects have to do with telos, or
final cause.
Slavery lacks telos. One thing is enslaved to another when the second repeats
the first without final cause; nothing is happening; they have no future, no exit:
Sartre's hell, without possibility of transcendence. Boredom.
R~p~tition is repetition in the presence of a given global telos, a goal with respect
to the thing repeated. There is already an idea or picture of the whole thing
repeated, to which successive presentations are supposed ever more closely to
approximate. The telos, however admirable, does not change or grow, and the
thing repeated changes inessentially and perhaps only in small increments from
presentation to presentation, yet the process of successive approximation
imparts a certain wan glow of pseudo-life to the series and thus to its
components, les revenants.
In contrast, what I would like here to call "repetition" is repetition within a
larger thing whose telos is not given (as in r~p~tition), but is in the process of being
formed. Such subglobal repetition is not r~p~tition because the point is not to perfect
(rek~) the thing repeated, by accomplishing its telos, but to point beyond the thing
repeated to the thing being formed. This is lively because it escapes the dead hand
of some prefigured order; like life, it is a process of continual transcendence
toward who knows what end. The focus is always forward, un-self-ish, opening
away from the current entity in the direction of something larger and
Naturally this lively kind of repetition is what makes, say, Beethoven's Eroica
out of repeated qualities and quality-complexes such as Eb-chord-ness and Cb-
ness. Repetition is, as I hope to show, more than merely analytical in the sense of
laying out all the relevant repeatable component elements of a piece, like a
disassembled automobile engine; this would be trivial. The involvement of
repetition as an action constituting time and life from the inside makes it equally
constitutional for the spirit of music. To understand how this may be, it is
necessary first to interrogate repetition minutely as to its particulars.

Subglobal repetition: live repetition: how does it work? Let us ask a schema of
bare repetition, A = {a, then-a}. The schema A itself is outside time, but it is a
schema of a temporal experience: first I experience a, then then-a, which is a
again. The context changes: a is not then-a. (So what is it that is repeated?) A the
global thing is the change of context. The change of contextconstitutes A and reflects
back into each a.
But if a is not then-a, what do we recognize as a/then-a? Is a then-a after all? Of
course not - worse, a is not even a-of-{ a, then-a}, and then-a is not then-a-of-{ a,
then-a}. But abstract from context: a-of-{a, then-a} becomes a and then-a-of-
{a, then-a} becomes then-a, abstractly.
But is it possible to abstract from context? From this context? From any
possible context? Not only is it possible, but inevitable, as abstraction-from-
Repetition 51

context is the only kind of abstraction there is. This is the operation that makes
the notion of a thing. A thing as grasped is itself abstracted from any possible
context. A thing endures for us, temporally, by virtue of abstraction from
changes-of-context; a thing's boundaries, which hold it in existence for us as a
cupped hand holds water, are constructed for it by us by means of an act of
abstraction, drawing the thing out from its context (ab + trahere). Such an ontology
encounters problems both practical (where to draw the boundaries, the practical
problem of Sichselbstgleichheit (Koyr6 1961a)) and theoretical (the cognitive chicken-
and-egg p r o b l e m - h o w can one abstractly constitute or cognize a thing before
knowing what it is, before being able to re-cognize i t ? - a n d the problem of the
world: how can that which is for me be also for others and in itself?). Such
problems are well known; attempts at solving them form a large part of
philosophy. In the meantime, the ontology sketched above will have to do to go on
So the basis for cognizing a is there, and then-a is a with added c o n t e x t - specific
c o n t e x t - c o n t e x t of {a, then-a}. When we re-cognize a in then-a, we cognize
anew the added context that makes a then-a, a new context that is fused with and
originally presented with the a of then-a. In fact the a of then-a is secondary, derived,
an abstraction from the primordially presented cognition of then-a. So recognition
is derived from cognition: cognition gives then-a, then abstraction gives a-from-
then-a, which we recognize as a. (But remember that recognition conditions
How is the global thing A -- {a, then-a} describable as the change of context? It is
itself a context; but a change-of-context may be a context. The cognition of time
lies in the then of then-a. Time as a thing is the then abstracted from all possible
contexts-that-are-changes-of-context. (Since time is essentially implicated in
changes-of-context, this makes time an unsatisfactory kind of thing.) -
But A -- {a, then-a} is a particular context-that-is-a-change-of-context. It is
not, say, {then-a}, nor is it {a, then-a, then-again-a}. How do we recognize A?
The same way we recognize a. Play the record twice: {A, then-A}. But we have
not been thinking of a as itself a temporal thing, while A embeds within its
thinghood the then of time. To be a temporal thing is to refer to time essentially,
as A does. A temporal thing can contain other temporal things, as when I drive to
work I drive first to the freeway, then drive south to 50th Street, and so on: my-
driving-to-work, a temporal thing that contains temporal subthings.
After the foregoing remarks, the change of context that is A deserves re-
inspection. We have been notating A as the set {a, then-a}, but describing it as a
change of context. A set alone is itself a static thing. A change-of-context
manages to remain dynamic, a change, even while being a thing. It is the
neutrality of the notion of set that fits it for the foundational study of notions of
order, as in the set-theoretical definition of tuple and number in the foundations
of mathematics, or for the notion of change-of-context here. {a, then-a} = {then-
a, a} = A, which is a temporal thing by virtue of the then. As is well known, any
ordering can be interpreted in time or in other suitable dimensions. Thus {a,
then-a} is equivalent to the ordered pair K a , a ~ interpreted in time. This will
justify all sorts of mathematical manipulations of temporal relations represented
as relations of order. From the opposite perspective, the notion of order is a thing
that is abstracted from different kinds of experiences: {a, then-a}, {spatial-thing,
closer-spatial-thing}, {pitch, higher-pitch, even-higher-pitch}, and so on.
,5,2 John Rahn

It would be a mistake to question the notion of order about the nature of any of
its experiential interpretations, just because it has been abstracted from them and
has thus discarded the kind of information that differentiates {a, then-a} from,
say, {pitch, higher-pitch}. Abstraction removes us from the scene of the
experience itself in all its inherent obscurity, from the ineffability of quality and
the obstinacy of things, and their resistance to "ad'equation.'" (Merleau-Ponty
Following this line of thought reveals that the temporal experience {a, then-a}
is itself abstract in an essential way: a-for-Mary is not a-for-John. According to
the ontology referred to above, the notion of Mary-for-herself is Mary's ongoing
project of abstraction from the temporally open set of all x-for-Mary. Such a set
always has a most recent member, and may have an earliest member (though
determinacy fades in that direction), but never has a final m e m b e r - or perhaps
just once, if one can be said to experience one's own death, as opposed to the
events of one's dying.
When Mary and John are sitting together listening to music, a temporal
segment of Mary's set is concurrent with a segment of John's set. What is it that
they both experience? Let m be some musical event for both Mary and John: m is a
depersonalized, or rather interpersonalized, experience made possible by
abstraction from m-for-Mary and m-for-John. Like A, M -- {m, then-m} is
temporally recursive in n a t u r e - e a c h interpersonal musical experience is
temporal and may contain other interpersonal musical experiences.
The abstraction of m involves the problem of intersubjectivity. How can John
know m-for-Mary, or Mary know m-for-John, so that either person may
abstract m? This is the domain of music theory: the construction of the
interpersonal m. Mary and John negotiate some agreement about m. Language
(natural or formal) is essential to this process, and m is spun into being out of
language in the linguistic space between Mary and John. Any intersubjective
entity is essentially linguistic, since only communication connects "subjects."
Mary and John must then negotiate or assume from past negotiations each M
in the music, or enough of them for each person to infer the others with some
confidence. M is not M-for-Mary. What you and I are doing now, dear reader, is
an attempt to negotiate (through the medium of text) a sense of change-of-
context abstracted from change-of-context-for-you and change-of-context-
How does that change of context feel?
In an article called "What Lingers On (, When the Song is Ended)," Benjamin
Boretz opens a theory of reading-temporally out of a similar change of context in
Plato's Theaetetus, a theory which then becomes, by change of context, a theory of
music. (Boretz 1977) It is a theory of irony in that it deals with the projection of
future contexts onto past events as a paradigm of constructive deceit. Deceit, like
intention, is not possible without time. Deceit teaches us about meaning.
The relation between the elements of {a, then-a} is not one of thin succession.
I experience a, serene in its self-sufficiency, a context for itself. I experience then-
a: in retrospect, a deceived me; I may never trust a again. Two is not one, two is
the principle of division, the number of evil and deceit. Who knows where it all will
end? The context has been destabilized, opened. Meaning has descended upon it
in thick contours, like a Connecticut snowfall. The change-of-context from {a} to {a,
Repetition 53

then-a} is internal to {a, then-a}, and constitutes its meaning as a temporal being. I
have said this (almost exactly) early on in this essay. The change of context adds
"meaning" here.
Just as deceit teaches us about meaning, death teaches us about time in music
and in other temporal arts such as dance and, to a lesser extent, theater and
literature. Mary's ongoing project of abstracting and constructing Mary-for-
herself and the intelligible world-for-Mary from the open set of all obstinate x-
for-Mary is terminated (let us say) by death. Yet the set of all x-for-Mary is
essentially open. Mary skis over the unfolding terrain, interacting with the
terrain so that the terrain-to-be is conditioned by Mary's actions as her actions
are conditioned by the terrain. The quality of that particular sub-slope may be
ineffable, but its relations to Mary and the rest of the terrain are the intelligible
source of discourse. We admire the grace with which a good novel traces Mary's
flight over the terrain, with its particular r h y t h m of swoops and reverses, its
consistencies and inconsistencies of pattern, its varieties of speed, its subtle
retards into near-slavery and death only to grasp an opening over to the right
that accelerates her life in a new direction.
Only repetition can make sense of this, as Mary recognizes a similarity of slope
or pattern, recognizes that this most recent pattern fits together with other past
patterns to make a larger pattern related itself to the most recent, now sub-
pattern, by some (as it were) affine transformation. Repetition is transformation,
too, and all transformation rests on the possibility of repetition, of repeatable
qualities and patterns. The world is not a world, a life is not a life, if it makes no
sense at all. Sense is dependent on repetition, without Which nothing can be
recognized. To fail to make sense of one' s life, to give up on the project of the
world-for-oneself, is to endure its repetitions as slavery. Without sense, there is
no way to act, only the random jostlings of Brownian motion, given over to
entropy, or against this background of bored slavery the petulant, momentary,
unconnected and inefficacious- because lacking hope of telos - acre gratuit, or an
act that is meaninglessly desperate, at once overdetermined and under-
determined, such as Mathieu's driving a knife through his hand in Sartre's novel
entitled (ironically) The Age of Reason. (Sartre 1947)
This process of continual repetition, continual change-of-context constituting
meaning, creatively folding a life back over its traces as it unfolds, is a source of
great satisfaction, aesthetically desperate and desperately aesthetic, for without
this process, without hope of telos, there would be no life. Who among us is ready
to die? To be ready to die would be not to be living. As long as one is living, one's
life is unachieved, the final reconfiguration un-folded-back to give meaning to
the whole, to make a whole. Therefore no one can die happy who is still really
living, who is committed to the project of repetition, of making sense of changes-
of-context. Death is not a change of context; it is the end of changes of context
and the end of meaning. (If there is a life after death, there is no death, which
would refigure the context of this discussion radically, and ironically.)
A piece of music for Mary is the life Mary lives alongside of her life. Because
music is temporal, Mary can experience it as she experiences (abstracts,
constructs) her own life, as an ongoing project of the re-petition that is changes-
of-context that is meaning. The depth and subtlety she asks of the music will be
the depth and subtlety she has brought her own life to. If a piece of music cannot
54 John Rahn

sustain her interpretation, perhaps because its terrain is perceivably limited-

closed - and thus unlifelike, she will turn away. She will be attracted to pieces of
music whose terrain leads her into ways of refolding, of replication (Deleuze 1988),
that can teach her about her life. Aesthetic desperation is always looking for ways
to go on. Music is both temporal and abstract enough to show her the
delineaments of telos, the physiognomy of hope.
Insofar as dance, theater, and literature depict character and mythos explicitly
they evacuate the possibility of Mary's living her life in them. They expel Mary
and make of her a spectator of other lives, without the possibility of the projective
solidarity and interactive intersubjectivity that make the Other so fascinating in
"real life." Yet even a puppet-show has its fascination, its slightly horrible
fascination. This caricature of the Other, reduced to a symbol, to a fixed
constellation, who never really acts as he is acted by the "actors," following the
trenches carved out of the papier-mach6 terrain by the author who alone is really
the actor, but behind the scene not on i t - i s this the way the Other sees me? Is
this the type of abstract person from person-for-Mary, person-for-John, person-
for-Percy.., out of which (not whom) is constituted the social? Is this slavery
Dance, theater, and literature all to some extent fall into the treason of
representation. If "traduire c'est trahir," how much more must mere representation
betray, especially if what is represented is life. The Islamic prohibition against
representation is understandable. Representation is betrayed in its origins, as the
mere re-presentation which in fact it cannot attain and to which it does not even
dare aspire (the map is not the territory); but even if it did present a thing again,
re-presentation would be boring. Representation is not even slavery, which
would require that the enslaved be of the same kind as the enslaver. Representa-
tion is more like animal husbandry, the author herding her characters, playing
Marie Antoinette. In contrast, re-petition is interrogatory; it asks again, and finds
meaning from the thing as it is experienced. (Merleau-Ponty 1961) Surprise is
always possible in repetition, as the answer may not be what one expects, and the
things retain their autonomy.
Several objections to this harsh portrayal of representational art may present
themselves. Language itself involves representation, though it can be argued that
language basically has more to do with metaphor, which is creative and respects
things. Dance, theater, and literature also are metaphorical, not merely repre-
sentational, and while dance can retain the non-pre-interpreted temporality of
music, dance-as-story, theater, and literature all gain the powers of language and
narrative. Moreover, losing the temporal, art gains proportionately the con-
templative. All the arts are to varying extents temporal (because they are
experienced in life) and contemplative (because that experience can be remem-
bered). The nontemporal plastic arts have another kind of relation to representation
and to experience. But it is not my purpose here to explore, and certainly not to
criticize, arts other than music. Mary wants to find art that can teach her about
life. Mary can live herself in music with an immediacy that is lost if temporality
appears under the sign of representation.
But does Mary want to find art that can teach her about life? What about
kitsch, entertainment, the mass media? Why is MTV so popular? Jean Baudrillard
(Baudrillard 1988) has suggested that "the masses," to which each of us belongs
(this is not some term of alienation or condescension), have adopted the strategy
Repetition 55

of the appearance of passivity under the importunities of a media complex which

has hypertrophied in an age of "information," transforming itself from com-
munication to the hyper-reality of the simulacrum. The territory is the map,
which has no other reference; the feigned is. Just as strategies of becoming, such
as vigorous intellection and the actualization of self, and the whole project of
philosophy, resist the demand that we be objects, and thus are a response to
oppression and repression, so do strategies of being-object resist (in the middle
voice) the demand for speech, for the maximization of production of meaning and
participation in an increasingly rapidly changing social milieu of which the media
are at once sign and simulacrum. The deceit practiced by the couch potato is its
revenge. It is a vegetable by strategy.
Each of us is a vegetable to some extent, no doubt, but being-vegetable can only
be undertaken as a project of continually becoming-vegetable, which continually
subverts vegetablehood at its very source. To become-vegetable as a strategy
"sich aufhebt" (Koyr6 1961a,b) against its will, as the instability of becoming-being-
vegetable transmits itself to the vegetable strategy. If Baudrillard has decoded the
silence of the masses, it is (for that reason) no longer silence and the strategy has
failed. Yet becoming-vegetable as simulation of the vegetable is vegetable, as a
psychosomatic pain is pain. The media, at once re-presenting and simulating the
contemporary social and cultural scene, feigns an excess of life, while being
structured so that any response in its terms is impossible. The strategy of
becoming-being-object responds in life to this feigned excess. But representation
is dead, and in this sense the media is no different from any other dead object
presented to us. If the simulacrum is real, so is this terrace on which I sit writing.
The response of life to that which is presented to it remains, obstinately and
essentially, animal.
To be aware of oneself-in-the-world is to realize life as anima, ~,e#os, Sartre's
great wind blowing from nowhere (even if we do not follow Sartre all the way),
(Sartre 1957) the downhill ski run, that which asks again-repetition. Life's
absolute Other is death. This is the most difficult of all syntheses, an Entzweiung
dem~inding the greatest Aufhebung (Koyr6 1961a,b), the center of religion and art.
The degree to which and the style in which it is faced up to vary from on the one
hand religion, such as the naked stare of Tantric Kali-worship and the clothed
Christian strategy, to (on the other hand) the soap opera in which Jeannine has
cancer, the cop show, and the splatter flick. The Kali-worshipper (of a certain
kind) attempts to realize death-in-life by such physical-spiritual tactics as
fornication with corpses, the Christian (of a certain kind) by daily meditation on
final things. Both have as a goal of their activities a sort of folding-back of death
over life, a replication that will thicken the meaning of living and encompass a
meaning for death. In contrast, the violence depicted in entertainment reveals a
looking-towards-death that is either really an averted g a z e - t h e Amerindians
bite the dust, the robber is blasted away as mere emblems of d e a t h - o r the sick
fascination of the splatter flick, focussed on gut reactions, exteriorizing and
trivializing death, and incapable of reflecting itself back into the conduct of life.
Entertainment runs away from death. Entertainment is not in the business of
producing meaning but of intercepting life on its way to re-petition, deflecting
replication at each instant and by a sort of magic trick appropriating the mana
from life's ever-freshly-throttled corpse.
The representational cannot fully capture this life-and-death question which
56 John Rahn

essentially temporal, repetitional life poses for itself. The representational is both
atemporal and second-hand. Music is the alternate ski slope, repetitional in that
its every essence is the change-of-context which one questions for its meaning,
replicates back upon itself, and, as the result of the minutest inflection, may
recast globally in a change-of-world as dramatic as Paul's conversion on the road
to Damascus.
Art is often accused of deceit: the poem more pretty than life (or merely
different from it), the sonata jingling nicely to its final tonic resolution. Music's
problem is its finitude, in that its finitude is different from that of life. The end of
a life is not part of the life, and certainly is not its telos; merely, "that's all." The
end of a piece of music, while definitely part of that piece of music, is also not its
telos - it would be an absurd and trivial view of music that proposed a tonal piece's
final tonic as its raison d'etre (and it is a petty view of Schenker's theories that would
so misconstrue them). For both life and music, the telos emerges and changes
during repetition and replication: it is always a telos of the whole-to-that-time, a
telos always seeking a whole. The telos contains within itself at any moment not
only the complex of refolded meanings of each of its changes-of-context
(moments) and characteristics, but also the history of such complexes as they
constituted themselves at every previous moment. This process is the "live
repetition" we have been interrogating from the beginning, an active and
continual questioning of each change-of-context as it increments and transfigures
the temporal subworld of changes-of-context that is the larger context (the
essay, the piece of music, the life).
Music's essential deceit is its ability to encapsulate itself in such a temporal
subworld, which Mary can live alongside her life and learn from, but which is
bounded (however complex) and therefore is a thing. Mary's world, Mary's life, is
not a thing. It is ultimately ungraspable because unbounded, always tending to a
whole-to-that-time but never a whole. Yet the telos of repetition always seeks a
whole. Repetition envies the whole: it places the idea of the whole in life, which
naturally can never attain it. By living her life alongside her life in a piece of music,
Mary can express a whole. She "has envie" for a whole which she can never live in
life, but can in a piece of music.
Death is teaching us about music's time, but deceit teaches us about meaning.
Deceit always involves a change-of-context which is held suspended within itself
until the deceit flowers, folds out in an outward change-of-context. Repetition
asks this change-of-context for its meaning. Similarly, a piece of music always
involves (folds within itself) the change-of-context unfolded when the piece is
achieved and comes to its end. The music-that-was-alongside-life is now a whole
thing in life. The repetition in music, which was essentially unbounded, finds its
envied telos in life, but in a thing: the now bounded whole piece of music. What
can we learn from this change-of-context? What does this irony have to say?
By placing life and a thing in such an ironic relationship, music allows us
momentarily to grasp the change-of-context between the two terms as a thing
that is a change-of-context, which we can question for its meaning. The piece of
music as a whole which had been our life alongside life, within which we
questioned each change-of-context as we do in life, refolding meanings over
each whole-to-that-time in the piece, is now a whole thing in the larger context of
life. Our essential "envie" of the whole is folded back on itself by the deceit music
practices about death.
Repetition 57

Baudrillard, Jean. (1988) Selected Writings, edited by Mark Poster. Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press.
Boretz, Benjamin. (1977) What lingers On (, When the Song Is Ended). Perspectivesof New Music,
16(1), 102-109.
Deleuze, Gilles. (1988) Le pli. Paris: Editions de Minuit.
Huysmans, J.K. (1959) Against Nature. Translated by Robert Baldwick. London: Penguin.
Koyr4, Alexander. (1961a) H6gel fi 16ha. In Etudes d'histoire de la pens'eephilosophique, pp. 147-190.
Paris: Gallimard.
Koyr6, Alexander. (1961b) Note sur la langue et la terminologie h4g~liennes. In Etudes d'histoire
de [a pens'eephilosophique, pp. 191-224. Paris: Gallimard.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1964) Le visible et l'invisible. Paris; Gallimard.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. (1947) The Age of Reason. Translated by Eric Sutton. N.Y.: Knopf.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. (1957) The Transcendence of the Ego. Translated and annotated by Forrest
Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick. N.Y.: Noonday Press.
Val6ry, Paul. (1961) Poetry and Abstract Thought. In Paul Val6ry, The Art of Poetry. Translated
by Denise Folliot. N.Y.: Random House.
Contemporary Music Review, ~)1993 Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH
1993, Vol. 7, pp. 59-78 Printed in Malaysia
Photocopying permitted by license only

Citation, metaphor, and listening time

Barney Childs
University of Redlands, California, USA
Sometime, following out a sound,
the way to come back will disappear...
(William Stafford, "Attenuate")
Recent proliferation of compositional approaches and results across the arts has
b r o u g h t with it a new concern with perception of the temporal, a position
including Jonathan Kramer's concept of non-linearity:

the determination of some characteristic(s) of music in accordance with implications that arise
from principles or tendencies governing an entire piece or section... Nonlinear time is the
temporal continuum that results from principles permanently governing a section or a piece.
(Kramer 1988, p. 20)

and T h o m a s Clifton's affirmations that " O r d e r is constituted by the experiencing

person," and "the experience of o r d e r says nothing about w h e t h e r o r d e r is t h e r e
in fact." (Clifton 1983, p. 4) Can we s u m m o n up a workable analytic approach
which can be used to discuss the n a t u r e of musical perception in listening time?
The would-be analyst may well make disturbing discoveries about w h a t seems
a bewildering choice of present systems: approaches of which, in the words of
Paul Bov6, each "provides a cure for a disease which is invented only so that the
cure can be effective" (Bov6 1975, p. 6); the effect of the e s t a b l i s h m e n t of the
critic in the role of theorist; 1 and the t e n d e n c y of m u c h critical writing t o w a r d
clotted style and arcane vocabulary. 2 O n e becomes no longer surprised at the
paucity of satisfactorily applicable critical models capable of dealing with some
part of an ever-expanding canon of creative results: music, as an example, which
has escaped from, or defied, convincing analysis, 3 or w o r k which, t h r o u g h
i n d e t e r m i n a c y and improvisation, realizes process in composition and/or execu-
tion r a t h e r than elaborating a fixed narrative dramatism.
An accessible starting point can I believe be taken with so-called audience-
ordered criticism: "a wide range of c o n t e m p o r a r y critics g r o u n d their a r g u m e n t s
in the reader (or, of course, for music, the listener) as a perceiving subject r a t h e r
than in the text as an a u t o n o m o u s object." (Rabinowitz 1989, p. 81) I propose to
draw herein u p o n some of the applications and implications of this to investigate
certain questions of musical temporality. 4 T h e s e will concern citation and
q u o t a t i o n of one music with a n o t h e r considered as a version of m e t a p h o r ,
touching upon, as a particular case, that mixing and conflating of "styles"
popularly labelled "crossover". T h e paper will conclude with a discussion of
60 Barney Childs

Charles Mason's tape piece Some Find Me... and some comments arising

Given this critical position, we become concerned with, first, the nature of the
listener - who is hearing? - and then the corollary questions asking what is being
heard and what is there to be heard.

T h e major shift f r o m traditional a e s t h e t i c s . . . - f r o m r e p r e s e n t a t i o n as imitation to r e p r e s e n t a -

tion as the viewer's c o n s t r u c t i v e r e s p o n s e to s t i m u l i . . . (Krieger 1984, p. 184)
N o n l i n e a r music can induce in a dedicated and s y m p a t h e t i c listener a truly e x t e n d e d present, a
real dissociation f r o m the past and f u t u r e . . . (Kramer, p. 382)
A n y o n e w h o c a n n o t or chooses n o t to listen creatively a n d intensely (whose consciousness, in
o t h e r words, does n o t participate actively)... (Kramer, p. 389)

The assumption would appear to be that dedication, creativity, sympathetic and

intense listening, active participation, constructive response are required
qualifications for the listening process, whether consciously adapted or from
habit. Reviewing Clifton, Taylor A. Greer is concerned with a possible marring of
this ideal response: "The first problem from which Clifton's theory suffers is the
failure to suspend the listener's biases," (Greer 1984, p. 17) but the apparently
damaging presence of bias can be, we are told, eliminated (via Husserl):

Using the p r o p e r c o n s t r a i n t s , a p h e n o m e n o l o g i s t can learn to identify all biases which his

previous experience creates and to hold t h e m in check. (Ibid.)

One might ask who defines the propriety of these "constraints", this bias against
What would appear to be sought after is, as Rabinowitz outlines the
"hypothetical reader",

all those "ideal" readers w h o s e existence is created by a critic himself or h e r s e l f - for instance, as
a model to explain the ways t h a t texts ideally operate or as a n ideal for us to copy. (Rabinowitz
1989, p. 83)

I propose that any given listener response may be immediately assumed as "ideal"
for that listener including bias, whether or not recognized by the listener
him/herself, as a natural concomitant of the specific individual response and
judgment: those criteria for which we may be looking in listening, what we want
to find, the model we may seek for explanation, s Kramer's response to a
performance of Vexations-despite his affirmation of never having lost "touch
with myself or my surroundings"- includes his admission that "for a brief period
I felt myself getting bored." (Kramer 1988, p. 379) His specific listening
experience was, as any such, completely valid, but also sufficiently memorable in
his terms, despite what some might hold to be bias, to be cited as example. There
is no difference in degree of validity and completeness between two responses to
the same composition, one in which the listener visualized little animals "frisking
in a meadow" and the other characterized by the review writer as "Mr. Childs'
beastly, nightmarish pretensions."
Listening time 61

W h a t e v e r one m a y do during the time of the p e r f o r m a n c e (including perhaps

immediately before and after) shapes w h a t is heard and h o w it may appear to
"work". This complex listening screen will of course v a r y with conditions
attending the hearing (the p e r f o r m a n c e space is needlessly chilly; you cannot
keep awake; have a recently painfully-broken foot; find the music boring; are
p r e s e n t l y concerned with a perilous financial or domestic crisis; have a bad
c o u g h . . . ) and with the qualification and expectation of the h e a r e r (you have
previously p e r f o r m e d the piece yourself; it's for the i n s t r u m e n t you play; a close
friend or professional rival is p e r f o r m i n g it; you have studied it but have n e v e r
heard it; you w r o t e it; you have not heard the w o r k before but it is by a c o m p o s e r
or in a style you find personally repellent; you are a Marxist critic/a juror at a high
school band festival/a synthesizer m a n u f a c t u r e r at a trade fair; you find the piece
totally unfamiliar and a l i e n . . . ) as well as with ingrained personal taste ("I always
cry at the Cavatina"; "Here's this great oboe solo"; "I really dig the changes in the
release"; "This Ketelbey piece is just one big clich6.") A close friend affirms that
for him Milton Babbitt's Sextet really lasts six or seven minutes, the parts of the
piece he heard framing a t e n - m i n u t e nap b e t w e e n beginning and end of this 16-
m i n u t e clock-time p e r f o r m a n c e . A piece exists for us as o u r listening self
responds, freely or by design, to w h a t it produces for us, and it does so in o u r o w n
perceived time.

Recent writing on the quotation or citation of one music as part of a n o t h e r
(Ballantine 1984, Hicks 1984, Kivy 1984) extensively discusses p r e s u m e d or
stated c o m p o s e r intent in the functional or allusive purpose (political, historical,
mythical, psychological) of such citation. O f t e n this is assumed to depend on
some m a n n e r of archetypal coding and response i n h e r e n t in music.

His [Rochberg's] refusal to be tied to a single culture is consistent with his sentiments that "all
human actions and events [are] repetitions or variants of a basic script which is somehow built
into the human central nervous system... I see a curious kind of rightness in the way minds link
across millenia and cultures." (Hicks 1984, p. 37)
Long ago, I had sort of reasoned to myself that folk-music was at the origins of music; it is part of
a search for archetypal musical gestures which are the fundamental characteristics of all types
of music. I'm very interested in "archetypes"--in uncovering them and being able to reveal and
use them. (Finnissy 1988, p. 10)

We can be told that this or that is the composer's intent, that the music has been
made in t e r m s of some pervasive philosophical affirmation. Given, h o w e v e r , this
paper's concern with audience-ordered response, much of this e x p l a n a t o r y
material will be regarded h e r e simply as part of that useful information, variously
available from printed sources and studies, to be absorbed into the backlog of
t h o u g h t accessible for consideration during hearing and not automatically
assumed for any c o n s t r u c t (except, of course, that of the hypothetical ideal

Prism (by Jacob Druckman) incorporates music from three operas based on the myth of Medea
and Jason: Cavalli's I! Giasone (Jason), 1684; Charpentier's Medea, 1694; and Cherubini's Medee,
1797. Each of these works looks at the same subject from a different angle. Prism is concerned
62 Barney Childs

with the multi-layered telling and re-telling of the story and reflects on the persistent re-
emergence of this myth. (Society of Composers 1988)
In one of his own pieces, for example, Makrokosrnos III, Crumb cites the D# minor fugue from the
Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, because there is "something metaphysical almost in that
[fugue] that I wanted in my piece." (Hicks 1984, p. 39)

We m a y wish, as a p p r o a c h of this ideal or a s s u m p t i o n of it for discussion, f o r

such e x e m p l a r y material to be k n o w n to a h e a r e r , b u t m e r e l y the wish is going to
do n o t h i n g for him/her.
T h e i m m e d i a t e function of a citation as such for the listener depends on the
p r e s u m p t i o n t h a t s/he e n c o u n t e r it a s something different, the d e g r e e of familiarity
variable f r o m p e r c e p t i o n as m e r e l y v a g u e l y " o t h e r " to instant identification as
that specific Bach fugue, in each s e p a r a t e case bringing w i t h it w h a t e v e r
r e s o n a n c e t h a t personal conditions and c i r c u m s t a n c e s m a y m a k e available
(including, possibly, as m e n t i o n e d above, the c o m p o s e r ' s - a n d p e r h a p s o t h e r -
c o m m e n t a r y ) . A v a r i e t y of kinds of recognition, d e p e n d e n t u p o n listener
b a c k g r o u n d , is clearly evident in Ives" use of " o t h e r " music.

Use of a melody as principal material, close to an

"arrangement" of a specific tune: last movement of the
fourth violin sonata.
Development of initially fragmentary material to produce the
complete melody at the end (what Lou Harrison calls
"recomposition'): last movement of the third violin sonata.
Citation of many melodies, as collage: last movement of the
second symphony.
Citation of obvious and evocative symbol: "Over there" in Tom
Sails Away.
Citation about the objectness of a musical object: Beethoven
motif in the "Alcotts" movement of the "Concord" sonata.
Narrative sound effects: Three Places in New England.
Atmospheric sound effects: bell at end of third symphony.
Musical decorum, or "sounds like": the text for the song
Charlie Rutlage is about cowboys, so the music is made to
sound like cowboy music. This depends upon convention,
since if we have no idea what cowboy music is presumed to
sound like we will miss this part of the allusion.

T h e anecdote of l v e s ' h e a r i n g , in his youth, t w o rival t o w n bands m a r c h i n g past in

opposite directions, is i m p o r t a n t h e r e in that citation or replication need not
necessarily be v e r b a t i m or e v e n sound "good"; the c o m p o s e r can call for good
p e r f o r m a n c e of s o m e t h i n g t h a t by c o n v e n t i o n is held to sound "bad". With
recording a p p a r a t u s the c o m p o s e r can p r e s e n t the s o u n d itself, w h e t h e r directly
or altered electronically: the tape collage p a r t of Malcolm Goldstein's The Seasons:
Vermont/Summer includes the o u t - o f - t u n e (bad? good?) s o u n d of a N e w England
t o w n band.
Every perceived e v e n t p r o d u c e s an i n s t a n t r e a d j u s t m e n t and r e - v i e w of w h a t
has so far been heard, to " c o m p a r e e v e n t s across time," as K r a m e r says. ( K r a m e r
1988, p. 220) W h a t m u s t also be considered is t h a t e v e r y such e v e n t instantly
qualifies o u r anticipation of, and speculation about, w h a t is to come. T h e first
a p p e a r a n c e of a sound h i t h e r t o u n h e a r d in the piece, say a singly s o u n d e d police
whistle, i m m e d i a t e l y sets up the possibility that it m a y h a p p e n again. Should this
Listening time 63

sound reappear, its surprise value is in a f f i r m i n g itself as a r e a p p e a r a n c e in

relationship w i t h its initial appearance, as well as s t r e n g t h e n i n g the anticipation
of yet m o r e occurrences. P r e s u m e a third whistle blast, s h o r t l y a f t e r the second; a
d u r a t i o n ratio a m o n g the t h r e e is n o w available for listener consideration.6 As
this is going on, a t t e n t i o n to the s o u n d and its relationships can a s s u m e increase
in i m m e d i a t e listening i m p o r t a n c e at the expense of w h a t e v e r else the music is
providing, and, f u r t h e r , the idea of i n t e r r u p t i o n as such as a particular
compositional s t r a t e g y becomes available. Once the listener accepts the alteration
of familiar melodies cited in an Ives piece s/he m a y anticipate alteration to
continue. G r a d u a l changing of a p h r a s e as it is repeated functions similarly in
w o r k of Ralph Shapey.
Exploration of the possibilities of collage has been an i m p o r t a n t direction in the
2 0 t h - c e n t u r y arts: Schwitters' Merz work, Dada (with its reaching for incongruity),
and the f o u n d objects of D u c h a m p , t o g e t h e r w i t h the varieties of objectism
developed in the p o e t r y of Pound, Eliot, Williams, and Olson. T h e option was
available to cite, to r e p r e s e n t , a n y t h i n g , including the art material itself, as itself,
the " c o n f r o n t a t i o n with material." A Paris wine-list, say, included in a collage,
a p p e a r s not only as a c o n t r a s t i v e texture, shape, hue, and area, not only as a
p r e s e n t a t i o n of language as visual variety, social c o m m e n t , a m e a s u r e of the time,
and evocative text, but also exactly as a Parisian wine-list. Excerpted f r o m a
television i n t e r v i e w of William Carlos Williams:

Q . . . . here's part of a poem you yourself have written:..." 2 partridges/2 mallard ducks/a
Dungeness crab/24 hours out/of the Pacific/and 2 live-frozen]trout/from Denmark..." Now,
that sounds just like a fashionable grocery list!
A. It is a fashionable grocery list.
Q. Well-is it poetry?
A. We poets have to talk in a language which is not English. It is the American idiom.
Rhythmically it's organized as a sample of the American idiom. It has as much originality as jazz.
If you say "2 partridges, 2 mallard ducks, a Dungeness crab"-if you treat that rhythmically,
ignoring the practical sense it forms a jagged pattern. It is, to my mind, poetry... (Wagner 1964,
p. 62)

Collage calls " a t t e n t i o n to the artifice of creation, and to d e n y the v i e w e r ' s

t e n d e n c y to see the w o r k o t h e r t h a n as an object." (Clearfield 1984, p. 10). As
such, the object o u t of expected c o n t e x t can create a set of o t h e r available
significances, depending u p o n the r e p l a c e m e n t c o n t e x t s provided and g e n e r a t e d .
Objection m a y be made to m y t e r m i n g the last m o v e m e n t of Ives' second
s y m p h o n y a collage, suggesting t h a t it is instead a m o n t a g e since individual
o n g o i n g citations s e e m directed t o w a r d a similar end: t h e y b e c o m e t u n e s in a
piece a b o u t tunes. As Clearfield says, in m o n t a g e

Each of the successive images is seen as part of a temporal unity... It will, however, always
obscure, and frequently deny, chronology - the ordering of events. It may also play havoc with
causality. The only constant is succession. (Clearfield 1984, p. 10)

P e r h a p s we m i g h t label the Ires m o v e m e n t a p a n o r a m a or, m o r e accurately, since

sections are r e p e a t e d v e r b a t i m , a cyclorama.
Citation in music by 2 0 t h - c e n t u r y c o m p o s e r s is catalogued by Hicks. As one
e x a m p l e of w h a t he classifies as collage he selects Berio's Sinfonia:
64 BarneyChilds

the evolutionist composer considers that his New Quotation technique articulates a goal-
directed process in music history, that the technique is a necessary aspect of the process, and
that it is a process of the nature of the ultimate Zukunftsmusik. (Hicks 1984, p. 31)

Since we have been told by the c o m p o s e r that in hearing the piece we are realizing
his intention that the music so concern historical time, we tend to accept this for
o u r listening. We can thus even out individual r e f e r e n c e s so that no specific one
(unless we have also been told that certain privileged examples are to function
differently f r o m others) takes primacy: all cited r e f e r e n c e s c o n t r i b u t e equally in
affirmation of a basic process. T h e piece can thus become for us a high-density
t e x t u r e of equivalencies, featureless except as we are free to assemble or impose
relationships, to isolate specific citations we particularly enjoy or dislike which
can function as "signposts" during listening time. W i t h o u t externally stated
explanation, except as the c o m p o s e r felt a given selection to be that which he
w a n t e d at that particular point in the composition, we have in such a t e x t u r e no
a u t h o r i t y o t h e r than personal speculation to suggest w h y any specific Citation
was chosen: w h y for example an excerpt f r o m Rosenkavalier, and w h y that
particular excerpt? And with the equivalency of items in what t h u s can be
regarded as a catalogue comes the possibility of r e a r r a n g e m e n t and inter-
changeability 7- any o r d e r could be potentially as " g o o d " as any o t h e r - a l r e a d y
explored by i n t e n t in w o r k s in which e v e n t s given the performer(s) may be
p r e s e n t e d in any o r d e r (Bo Nilsson's Zwanzig Gruppen, Stockhausen's Klavierst&k
XI, Earle Brown's December 1952, etc.) In the case of a high density of familiar
citation, the principle will soon be established that w h a t is to c o n t i n u e being
heard will be material similar in nature. T h e p o w e r of surprise will t h e n be
successively muted, with the possible result, for the listener not extensively
familiar with the full range of concert music, a kind of parlor guessing game:
What's that piece?
Citations can be the entire work, as R o b e r t Morris' tape piece Rapport, a
m o n t a g e of bits of eighty-odd selections f r o m world music, often overlapping.

The effectiveness of what Williams called "a fascinating sort of composition" is derived from the
presentation of details without comment: "nothing 'about' the subject, a bare placing of the
matter before the attention, as an object, that which with wit a man might see for
himself-swiftly and to the point." (Wagner 1964, p. 60)

M o r e e x t e n d e d s t a t e m e n t of simultaneous citations develops in Russell Peck's

American Epic, a composition for band which is at once a history of America in folk
music and a h i s t o r y of rock, these d e v e l o p m e n t s c o u n t e r p o i n t e d with original
material. T h e inclusion of " o t h e r " material can be one of stylistic variety. Steve
Layton's Ethnic Mixes for tape each uses a recording of ethnic music (Tibetan,
Swedish, Japanese kabuki, Persian, etc.) and a pop r h y t h m i c d r u m machine figure,
both played c o n t i n u o u s l y t h r o u g h o u t . O v e r this the c o m p o s e r has mixed, in real
time in the studio, improvisation with b o t h s y n t h e s i z e r and electronic keyboard.
Gino Robair's Raoul y Anselmo is scored for gamelan and rock r h y t h m trio. Richard
Maxfield's tape composition Bacchanale provides a slowly changing t e x t u r e as
different variably recognizable sound sources appear and disappear: the poet
Edward Fields is heard " n a r r a t i n g his o w n text as well as p e r f o r m i n g the clarinet
improvisation during the K o r e a n folk music and h e a r d also on the d r u m s and
Listening time 65

t y p e w r i t e r . " (Maxfield 1969) T h e w o r k also includes treated violin and s a x o p h o n e

sounds, " u n d e r w a t e r clarinet sounds", o t h e r recorded folk music excerpts and
live jazz. " T h e r e are m a n y whole c o m p o s i t i o n s imbedded in this surrealistic
collage, and several in part, including the c o m p o s e r ' s o w n African Symphony and
A composition m a y deal with citation largely t h r o u g h r e - p r e s e n t a t i o n and re-
w o r k i n g of a single c o m p o s e r ' s music (as S t r a v i n s k y ' s The Fairy's Kiss and Pulcinella,
S h o s t a k o v i t c h ' s eighth string q u a r t e t , Elliott S c h w a r t z ' Celebrations~Reflections: a
Time Warp, Bernard R a n d s ' Madrigali). A special example is of course La M o n t e
Young's Composition 1960 #13, the printed i n s t r u c t i o n t h a t " T h e p e r f o r m e r
should p r e p a r e a n y composition and t h e n p e r f o r m it as well as he can." Michael
Finnissy speaks a b o u t his Verdi Transcriptions in Book 1:

The original Verdi material never, in any of the pieces, determines more than the general
melodic/rhythmic/harmonic contour. There are, even in the straighter transcriptions, wide
divergencies of harmony, rhythm and melody; and fundamentally, once isolated from their
dramatic context, Verdi's materials are like fish out of water: | needed to create an environment
for the music to swim in, and this inevitably means rethinking the "form" from top to bottom.
So I took the melodic (or whatever) material that I needed and reductd it to whatever Gestalt I
could then reshape and compose with as my own. (Finnissy 1988, p. 10)

Illuminating e x a m p l e s of the use of a single piece are James T e n n e y ' s n o w

classic tape collage Blue Suede and the second m o v e m e n t of John A d a m s ' e a r l y w o r k
for i n s t r u m e n t a l ensemble, American Standard. In b o t h w o r k s the source does not
b e c o m e evident until the music is well u n d e r way. T h e T e n n e y begins w i t h a
rapidly shifting t e x t u r e of bits and pieces of the original altered to u n -
recognizability by such analog t e c h n i q u e s as splicing, playing r e v e r s e d , speed
changing, and filtering. Suddenly the f r a g m e n t s are changed to recognizable bits
of the t h u s i n s t a n t l y revealed original source. At this point w h a t the listener is
h e a r i n g shifts f r o m a mosaic-like collage of electronic sound as such, n o n -
referential and in its o w n t e r m s , to a c o n t i n u i n g mosaic of n o w usually familiar
bits and pieces, made significant by the s o u n d s ' being h e a r d in overall relationship
to the h o m o g e n e o u s r e f e r e n c e of e x p e c t a t i o n and experience of the source t u n e
in its particular w e l l - k n o w n version. T h e similar point of revelation in the A d a m s
will v a r y with the individual listener; at s o m e m o m e n t w h a t has been h e a r d as an
o n g o i n g t e x t u r e of several lines of diatonic long tones will s u d d e n l y reveal itself
to be a well-beloved melody, in its traditional h a r m o n y , being p e r f o r m e d in
extreme augmentation.
T h e cited material can be developed in o t h e r w a y s to be p a r t or all of the

MN [Michael Nyman]: [I]n this In Re: Dan Giovanni, there are four sections and the first one just
has the backing [sings] which is the second violin part. The second section adds to that the bass
part [sings]. The third section adds the melody part, which is in fact a loose imitation of the bass
part, and the fourth section adds the melody that's sung in the opera melody.
VA [Virginia Anderson]: So that it's slowly revealed?
MN: Absolutely. IT/his is my method of rock- growing up in the backing to the melody and
doing it in four stages. It's also a comment on... it's taking an artifact to pieces and showing how
it works and renewing it. (Nyman 1983, p. 12)
66 BarneyChilds

T h e second m o v e m e n t of Gerald Warfield's Variations and Metamorphoses, for 'cello

ensemble, uses the beginning and end of C h o p i n ' s E m i n o r prelude h e a r d o f f s t a g e
(live or taped piano) as f r a m e for the 'cello e n s e m b l e material comprising the
m o v e m e n t . S y d n e y H o d k i n s o n ' s The Dissolution of the Serial is a p r o g r e s s i o n for b o t h
solo w o o d w i n d i n s t r u m e n t and piano f r o m parodistic " D a r m s t a d t " p o s t - W e b e r n
serialism t h r o u g h w e l l - k n o w n excerpts of "classical" w o r k s to a m o n t a g e of
c o n t e m p o r a r y allusions ("Early Beach Boys") improvised by the p e r f o r m e r s ,
ending w i t h an increasingly dense spoken c o n v e r s a t i o n b e t w e e n the players
against the b a c k g r o u n d of taped r a g t i m e piano b e c o m i n g e v e r at faster t e m p o
(and hence higher pitch).

Frank Tirro's "silent theme tradition" flourishes in 1950s jazz, in which the harmonic structure
of a popular song served as the basis of a jazz improvisation without its original melody ever
being reproduced. A new melody in the contemporary improvisatory style replaced the original
tune in the opening and closing choruses that framed solo improvisation. Thus, the original
melody, although never heard, remained implied throughout the performance by the presence
of its harmonic identity. (Budds 1978, p. 9)8
[Carl Stone's] Shibucho,takes excerpts from several hit singles, including "ABC" and "Got to Be
There" by The Jackson Five, and "My Girl" and "Just My Imtagination" by The Temptations.
Making tape loops, or their digital equivalent, of short passages of these recordings, and by
phasing and layering the loops, Stone creates a fantastic rhythmic, melodic and harmonic
complex... (Suzuki 1985, p. 42)
T h e citation need not necessarily be of the melodic material; its " o t h e r n e s s "
m a y depend on familiarity w i t h musical style.

A member of the inside audience who is able to apprehend a jazz solo historically, on the other hand,
can recognize stylistic elements from various sources, for example, "That guy sounds like Oscar
Peterson in his left hand, but his solo has a lot of Keith Jarrett in it." [Perlman and Greenblatt 1981, p.

Lester Bowie's recorded p e r f o r m a n c e (MUSE 5055) of "Hello, Dolly" sets the

o r n a t e , whimsical and fantastic a piacere t r u m p e t solo against a lushly decorative
cocktail-piano a c c o m p a n i m e n t . A similar b u t u n i n t e n t i o n a l jarring c o n t r a s t for
the initiate is Eric D o l p h y ' s recorded session (Prestige P-24070) w i t h the b a c k - u p
of conventional bop clich6s by a D a n i s h r h y t h m section.
Ronald M. R a d a n o introduces the t e r m " c o n s e n s u s s o n g s " in his discussion of
the " o t h e r n e s s " evoked as c o n t r a s t by o u r personal past familiarity w i t h o t h e r

Muzak interpretations, then, not only convey an immediate response, but refer to the range of
past meanings a song has acquired. When encountering a Muzak version of"Stardust,'" [sic] for
example, the middle-aged listener experiences more than that particular arrangement. He or
she also recalls a multitude of prior recordings: Isham Jones' popular arrangement of 1930; Artie
Shaw's big-band version (with memorable solos by trombonist Jack Jenney and Shaw himself)
from 1940; Billy Ward and the Dominoes' rhythm-and-blues hit from 1957. Together these
recorded performances have built the song's history and our culture's relationship to it. Like the
mechanism of sound recording, consensus songs occupy a familiar place in American life,
becoming fixtures in everyday experience that represent tangible forms of our history. (Radano
1989, pp. 455-6)

We are certainly h e r e dealing w i t h listener reaction in t e r m s of I.A. Richards'

useful t e r m "stock responses".
Listening time 67

These have their opportunity whenever a poem seems to, or does, involve views and emotions
already fully prepared in the reader's mind, so that what happens appears to be more of the
reader's doing that the poet's. The button is pressed, and then the author's work is done, for
immediately the record starts playing in quasi- (or total) independence of the poem which is
supposed to be its origin or instrument. (Richards 1929, p. 14) 9

N o t m u c h h a s y e t b e e n w r i t t e n c o n c e r n e d in t h e s e t e r m s w i t h w h a t is p r o b a b l y
b e s t l a b e l l e d " c r o s s o v e r " , p e r h a p s b e c a u s e of u n e a s e , e v e n d i s t a s t e , w i t h t h e
b l u r r i n g t o g e t h e r o f c a t e g o r i e s a n d g e n r e s h i t h e r t o s e p a r a b l e , n o t o n l y in m u s i c
but for the arts overall.

... a generation of people who have grown up being able to take in an incredible range of music
only widely available in the last 15 or 20 y e a r s . . . We get a lot of tapes at Nonesuch, and there's
one category of tapes we throw in a box called "Igor Stravinsky Meets Betty Boop." In a way
that's kind of what's going on; widely divergent mixtures of music have become a kind of
sounding board for a whole new generation. (Horwitz 1988, p. 22)

A n y a c t i v i t y c o u l d n o w o c c u r as p a r t o f a n a r t c o n c e p t ( a n y s o u n d in m u s i c , i m a g e
in film, l a n g u a g e in p o e t r y , a n y m i x in p e r f o r m a n c e a r t s a n d d a n c e . . . ) . T h e
power of citation, of surprise, of contrast and "otherness" was expanded and
n e w l y a f f i r m e d . A r t critic Philip F i s h e r i t e m i z e s w h a t he t e r m s t h e

tactics of short-term attention... Shock surprise~ self-promotion, the baiting of middle-class

solemnity, outrage, a subversive playfulness, a deliberate frustration of habitual expectations,
an apparent difficulty or refusal of communication, a banality where profundity and
seriousness were earlier the n o r m . . . (Fisher 1990, p. 313) 10

T h e p e r c e p t i o n of " o t h e r n e s s " t h r o u g h c i t a t i o n , in i n s t a n t f u s i o n w i t h w h a t h a s
b e e n h e a r d , c a n be p l a u s i b l y h e l d to w o r k f o r t h e h e a r e r as m e t a p h o r . W e a r e
s u b j e c t to t h a t s u r p r i s e , t h a t i n s t a n t b e y o n d - s p e e c h s p a r k 11 o r f l a s h in o n e ' s
a t t e n t i o n p r o d u c e d t h e r e b y t h e s u d d e n a w a r e n e s s , in t h e p r e s e n c e o f o n e
p e r c e p t i o n , of a n o t h e r , a s i m u l t a n e i t y o f r e a l i z i n g t h e u n e x p e c t e d a n d special
r e l a t i o n s h i p o f t h e p e r c e p t i o n s at w h i c h w e feel d i f f e r e n t l y a b o u t e a c h in t e r m s o f
t h e p r e s e n c e of t h e o t h e r .

In the mind of the hearer an image is produced that is not chosen or willed. The metaphorical
assertion brings one to see something familiar th rough this image, framed by it, and this "seeing"
persists concurrently with one's original sense of the dissimilarity of the two things here being
brought together. (Moran 1989, pp. 90-1)
We expect to see or hear A, instead of which we see or hear B, and this points to a new entity, C.
(Higgins 1984, p. 4)

A t t h e m o m e n t o f r e v e l a t i o n , o f o u r c a t c h i n g o n 12 to t h e c i t a t i o n , B, t h e n e w
m a t e r i a l , n o t o n l y s w i t c h e s o u r l i s t e n i n g a t t e n t i o n to i t s e l f in t e r m s o f A, t h e
N o w - t o t a l i t y o f w h a t w e h a v e so f a r h e a r d , b u t also i n t e r f e r e s , b y its n e w
d o m i n a t i o n o f h e a r i n g , w i t h o u r p r e v i o u s t i m e p e r c e p t i o n . B is e n i g m a t i c in t h a t it
h a s n o h i s t o r y in A t e r m s , a n d as f o o l i n g o f e x p e c t a t i o n , a t r i c k , m a y f u n c t i o n
m o m e n t a r i l y e v e n as s t a t i c , as w h i t e n o i s e . F u r t h e r , t h e c i t a t i o n ' s a p p e a r a n c e in
non-conventional context makes available a gamut of novel response growing
f r o m t h e p r e s e n c e o f A b u t alien to it, i n c l u d i n g t h a t f r o m t h e p o s s i b i l i t y t h a t B b y
68 BarneyChilds

itself m a y ordinarily have metaphorical function. This new m e t a p h o r - t i m e may

by density and activity of hearing response cause a drifting away f r o m focus on
the on-going N o w before, if at all, bringing a t t e n t i o n back to immediate listening,
d e p e n d e n t upon w h a t comes next. A, always altering, absorbs successive Bs while
continuing to function as A.
The extension of a citation will have an effect on m e t a p h o r - t i m e and the
n a t u r e of listener reaction. In the p r e s e n t a t i o n of familiar material (depending
upon the sophistication of the listener) the appearance of a few notes, usually the
first gesture, can function as synecdoche to signal the whole, to call up the full
g a m u t of individual listener response, particular stock response. In an appearance
of one's national a n t h e m , say, or music cherished by the listener as " o u r song",
any beyond the first few notes is r e d u n d a n t unless p r e s e n t a t i o n continues in an
altering version or altered c o n t e x t to hold e x t e n d e d fresh attention: one knows
h o w it will continue and will not normally be surprised if it does so in a
conventional manner. Perhaps only this first g e s t u r e will be familiar, w e l l - k n o w n
in its "consensus" existence, extracted and played as a single g e s t u r e - w h o can
s u m m o n up, or needs to, " w h a t happens n e x t " in Also Sprach Zarathustra or the last
m o v e m e n t of the Copland third s y m p h o n y ? If a citation continues past the first
gesture, the listener is given the o p p o r t u n i t y (as Keats) to " w a n d e r with it, and
muse upon it, and reflect upon it, and bring h o m e to it, and p r o p h e s y upon it, and
dream upon it." The surprise settles into the increasingly familiar A-Now.
The citation need not be specifically identifiable. Its " o t h e r n e s s " m a y be made
effective by evoking, in unexpected context, the listener's response to "sounds
like" accultured genre material: science fiction " o u t e r space", a stagecoach in the
old West, an Oriental w a t e r f r o n t , "going places doing things", a 1950s teen party,
a menacing midnight stalker with a k n i f e . . .
Clearly the f r e q u e n c y of citation will control the course of listening time, as we
can assume m e t a p h o r as functioning analogically as downbeat: the more
arresting and u n e x p e c t e d the " o t h e r n e s s " , the m o r e durably it is retained in
ongoing response. As the f r e q u e n c y and variety of examples i n c r e a s e - a s the
w o r k approaches m o n t a g e - i n d i v i d u a l quotations become structurally less
compelling. The listener m a y come to accept " o t h e r n e s s " a s a n o r m a t i v e principle
first defeating, t h e n replacing narrative substance.

Thus we do compare events across time with other events, in our memories. We do this while
we listen as well as in retrospect. Once we have risen to the challenge to remember, neither the
most pointedly kinetic nor the most discontinuous music can prevent our stepping back and
uncovering relationships that may exist between non-adjacent events or that may work by
means other than temporal implication. Linearity and nonlinearity as listening strategies are
always in operation, and the temporal continuum of every composition has both linear and non-
linear aspects. (Kramer 1988, p. 220)

A citation may be repeated non-adjacently or immediately, serving as a

signpost t h r o u g h listener time, each present hearing simultaneous with our
r e m e m b r a n c e of the past appearance, as in L o r e n Rush's Dans le Sable. Here a
M o z a r t cavatina (Barbarina's song in Act IV of Figaro) is sung several times as a
kind of ritornello. T h e w o r k also includes repetitions of Rush's original
i n s t r u m e n t a l melody which begins it, each contributing to f u r t h e r blurring of
listener time. T h e original melody acquires metaphorical status as the two
Listening time 69

passages appear and disappear, each with its imposed "stepping back" and
resultant entangling of what began as apparent narrative progression. As the
listener decides that repetition is to be a feature in the continuation of the music,
anticipation becomes an increased and focused tinge to present-moment
perception. Dans le Sable includes a reader's part, the text of which, dealing with
and dramatising the paradoxes and redundancies of personally perceived time,
serves as both commentary upon and contribution to the full effect.
With the development of electronic technology and the parallel affirmation
that any sound available, "real" or synthesized, is as "good" as any other, the
gamut of resources has been enormously extended. The range of anticipation-
"What on earth is going to happen n e x t ? " - as A for the creation of metaphor by
citation, correspondingly expanded, extends from exactly what the listener may
be expecting (a repetition, say) to the totally unpredictable. Anticipation may be
instantly resolved (in itself a possible surprise!); it may never be resolved.
A compelling demonstration of the role of expectation in listener time is
Christian Wolff's Trio I. After several minutes of generally homogenous coloristic
texture mixed through four disjunct pitches, the music stops. As silence extends
itself past breath-pause, past rhetorical pause, past, finally, any believable
fermata, expectation is turned loose. With the continuing lack of immediate
substance, measure, direction, as Now keeps coming up empty, one's hold on the
remembrance of previously heard sound, the A, becomes more diffuse, more
tenuous (could it be that the piece is, after all, over?): there is no edge of the pool
to hang on to. Acceptance of an undifferentiated and extended pause as such,
with abandonment of any overt sense of measure and substitution of one's own
scheme of pacing, may provide a possible rationale for listening, but also possible
is the chance of abandoning the listening ritual entirely and drifting in random
non-focused directions of thought.
Some writing on these matters appears to avoid concern with hearings other
than the first. Quotation, surprise, metaphor are no less effective if we know
what will happen, and when, and how. Perceiving time is now free from the pre-
emption of concentration by the unfamiliar, from the potential confusion and
interference we have remarked attendant upon "otherness'. That

dangerous power of a strong metaphor [which] is its control over one's thinking at a level
beneath that of deliberation or volition. (Moran 1989, p. 90)

becomes commodiously subsumed into the familiar. The pleasure of anticipating

includes not just what we know will happen but our own response to it as well.
As we re-hear a work, we recognize anew those signposts we marked out on first
hearing; anticipation and the elasticity of listening time are now part of free
consideration. We inform our concept of the piece-as-a-whole with our own
scheme of relationships. We have become insiders; we know all the rites and
passwords. We assemble and build on as we please what Dick Higgins calls the

the set of materials which constitute the realization of the w o r k - i t s words, its sounds, its
details and specifics, its components, its images, and all the aspects of its physical manifesta-
tion- its colours and tastes, its characters and its forms.
70 Barney Childs

and to begin definition of o u r version of the overpiece:

the work-beyond-the-work in any work of art, the idea of the work and the work stripped of
any of its flaws in realization. (Higgins 1984, p. 64)

A particular case exists in which re-hearing can become newly problematical:

w h a t about works of which, because of one or a n o t h e r sort of indeterminacy, no
two p e r f o r m a n c e s are alike in order and/or material? Unless some p e r f o r m a n c e
dramatism is included (rolling dice, shuffling and drawing cards, moving a m o n g
scores on stands) or e x p l a n a t o r y p r o g r a m notes are made available, the listener
c a n n o t tell that indeterminacy is being called upon. As m y students at University
of L o n d o n Goldsmith's College asked, on hearing Boulez' Structures la, h o w can we
k n o w it is not a version of a rhythmically i n d e t e r m i n a t e composition? In Elliott
Schwartz" Septet, instructions appear for citation in several parts (String 1: PLAY,
HUM, or WHISTLE A FAMILIAR TUNE, G major, 4/4 meter). O n a hypothetical
first hearing, the listener m a y accept as particularly i m p o r t a n t the appearance of
" B r e n n a n on the M o o r " in the violin during the first d o z e n seconds of the piece.
O n a second hearing, h o w e v e r , this does not happen; instead, t o w a r d the end of
the work, the violinist whistles " D e u t s c h l a n d fiber alles" to fulfill his instruction.
K r a m e r discusses m o m e n t form.

Moments, then, are self-contained sections, set off by discontinuities, that are heard more for
themselves as montage than for their participation in the progression of the music. If a moment
is defined by a process, that process must reach its goal and must be completed within the
confines of the moment. If, on the other hand, a section leads to another section, whether
adjacent to it or not, then it is neither self-contained nor in moment time. It is linked by linear
means with at least one other section. (Kramer 1988, p. 50)
"Form," says R o b e r t Creeley, "is w h a t happens."

To conclude, I would like to discuss a first-hearing listener-focused approach to a
specific composition. Despite the general difficulty in characterizing synthesized
sound in accurately descriptive general language, I have chosen a tape piece, Some
Find Me .... a 12-minute w o r k by the American c o m p o s e r Charles Mason.
The opening of the piece introduces not only the material upon which it is
based but also the principles upon which this will be developed. The first two
sounds can be classified as "familiar (real)" sounds, these being w h a t I have
t e r m e d the " r a t t l e " - as the noise made by dragging a stick along a picket
f e n c e - a n d a bell note. Both instantly s u m m o n up, evoke, individual personal
response. T h e y are, h o w e v e r , almost immediately altered, the "rattle" by
deceleration (with a directionality added by panning across f r o m speaker to
speaker) and the bell note by, as its resonance is fading, a rapid crescendo
suddenly cut off, b o t h thus affirming the compositional means of alteration as a
resource of development. These are followed by sustained pitches, low register
octave C#I t h e n middle register f o u r t h C#-Fr162providing the e l e m e n t of specific
pitch, and a brief u p w a r d arpeggio suggesting the rapid s t r u m of strings inside a
piano, material I have labelled "familiar (musical)" sounds. Both of these gestures
will reappear t h r o u g h o u t the piece in variously altered fashion, and b o t h too
provide the potential for evocative response, "sounds like" with musical
Listening time 71

reference, even, depending upon the listener's acquaintance with electronic

music, speculation on technical means of sound production. All of these sound-
events are contrasting, are different enough by nature each from all others to be
heard as elements in montage, complete with that potential of immediate
metaphorical affirmation previously noted. The "rattle" and the bell are repeated
even before the sustained pitches and the arpeggio have been fully heard,
affirming repetition with alteration as another potential of dealing with material.
This expectation is verified by immediate re-presentation of these sound events,
in the original order but transposed up a minor third (an important interval in
the piece).
As this dies out, the word "some" is heard twice, once spoken by a male voice
and once sung by a female voice. Listening attention is at once focused upon this
new material, with the patchwork of the now familiar complex of sound-events
(the established metaphor world, if you wish), and the sense of individual time
organization that has been particularized by the sequence of the sound-events,
becoming homogeneous backdrop against which the voices are heard. As the
piece continues, thisbackdrop is intermittently discontinued; its material is often
no longer present, often replaced by other sound-development. When it does
appear, the constituent elements are presented in seemingly random order,
repeated and mixed such that one cannot on first hearing anticipate which of
them will be next, and when. The beginning event of such reappearance, often
the "rattle", functions as a kind of aural punctuation, even a cue for expectation,
momentarily flashing into the immediate attention.
I suggest that the first appearance of the single word is of organic importance in
one's response to the work. Assuming that our hypothetical listener has no
program notes, no fore-knowledge that the piece includes a text, suddenly s/he
hears the spoken and sung words, and speculation upon, anticipation of what is
yet to be heard, and how, is extensively re-cast. If there is one "some" there may
well be others; further, since this is the first word of the work's title, there may
well be setting of its other words. The words are unlike any previous sound
qualities; they are human voices, "real" sound (yet paradoxically part of a tape
recording, mechanically reproduced and transmitted!) rather than "sounds like"
sound. What has been heard preceding the words is regarded differently, its
nature altered by its new role of "leading up to". Just as what is to come will be
heard inescapably in terms of the words, so also will past remembrance be a part
of a penumbra of relationship, be "polarized ''13 by that appearance.
After more event-background, "some" is now sung a capella by female voices in
loose floating sustained counterpoint and ambiguous tonality, accompanied only
by one "rattle" and one spoken male-voice "some". One more solo "rattle" closes
out this short vocal passage.
The next section presents the male voice speaking "some" and "some find me"
repeated in brief intermittent syllabic setting. The material and means of this part
realize many of the implications affirmed in the opening passages. The two-voice
"keyboard'-style accompaniment deals not only with textural animation into
independent lines of the two sustained chords from the early sound-events, but
also with the figure's suggestion, already obliquely touched upon with the
preceding female sung voice-lines, that harmonic relationships of pitches (here C
minor) are among the potential possible resources. Repetition functions here as
72 Barney Childs

well, both in the reappearance of the words and in the holding offthe speaker and
the accompaniment to the same steady pulse, the first such regularity of temporal
measure heard so far. Special timbral qualities affirm the other compositional
principle, alteration, introduced in the sound-events: the lower accompanying
line suggests electric bass, the upper the sound of an electric piano in octaves, and
the spoken voice is slightly blurred by digital delay. This accompaniment moves
into double-time, ending with the lower voice finishing in an upward arpeggio
figure, a version of the arpeggio from the sound-events. As here, even
moderately extended vocal "solo" passages may have their own accompaniment
in contrast with direct use of the sound-events "background" complex. Finally,
the repetition and permutation of the spoken words serve to bring about the
potential characterization of the text as sound material as such.
The arpeggio figure ending this section, a direct melodic conclusion of the
lower accompaniment line, is also the immediate beginning of the next, a
textbook example of apo koinou. 14 This double function brings to mind Kenneth
Burke's comment that the eleventh floor approached in an elevator going up from
the tenth is different from the same floor approached coming down from the
twelfth. [Burke 1945, pp. 305-6] What follows is a verbatim repetition of almost
all that preceded it: the background of sound-events, the single words by male
and female voices, the a capella sung female voice passage, and the accompanied
steady-pulse speaking.
Such extended repetition, as we have suggested, once recognized as familiar
material reappearing (and there is surely enough distinctive sound in the piece so
far to assume this recognition), ideally provides the opportunity for Kramer's
"stepping back and uncovering relationships," for speculative listening time, for
new insights. Perhaps the listener goes as far as the discovery that what's
happening is extended repetition functioning as a large-order compositional
device ("Wow, it's de'j~a vu all over again!"); perhaps instead accruing boredom
with, and even distaste for, what's being heard will further stifle any kind of
thoughtful attention to sound.
Repetition concludes, as originally, with the arpeggio, this followed now by the
"rattle" cuing reappearance of the sound-event environment as scattered
accompaniment to a solo female voice singing new text to a pattern of four
pitches. Presumably the listener will by now have made the association, here re-
affirmed, of female voice(s) (sung) with sustained lines in contrast with the male
voice (spoken) in separated syllables.
The source material of the piece has by this time been fully introduced. What
originally became familiar as isolated constituents presented in montage,
establishing and bounding a recognizable "world" of music, is progressively
mixed and metamorphosed by the similarly established compositional operations
of alteration and repetition (which may now be thought of as subordinates of the
more general concept of transformation). The metamorphosis operates to create a
mosaic-like succession of "new" contexts of generally longer durations as the
piece continues, which can be thought of in turn as elements in a larger-order
montage construct.
A consideration of the versions of one of the introductory components, the brief
rapid upper-register arpeggio gesture, may illustrate the variety of transforma-
tion used. The figure can vary in velocity, sometimes slowly enough to be heard
Listening time 73

as perceptibly specific pitches, this in turn on occasion sustained into, or

appearing immediately as, a high-speed tremolo chord (here serving to interact
with extension of the opening two sustained sounds' affirmation of the potential
of pitch relationships into extended melodic line or disjunct ostinato). Other
times it may be as a brief blurry slash of sound, serving as an exclamation, as
contrast, even as a negation of pitch solidity. It can appear in different registers,
this often related to particular different sonorities: although mostly as strummed
"strings" (evoking autoharp, giant koto, piano interior), also with the sound of
high tinkly electronic piano, a clotted bass rumble, and a tomtom-low marimba
mix, even once in "rattle" timbre. A particularly arresting event is the
compression of the arpeggio/chord into a sound suggestion of the crash of plate
cymbals and breaking glass wind chimes.
The text functions in two ways, first through fragmentation, repetition, and
varied vocal colour providing a sound-as-such resource equivalent to the other,
non-vocal material and similarly open to transformation. Listener expectation,
on first hearing vocal sounds, of implied forthcoming conventional narrative
d r a m a t i s m - t h a t the work will include an ongoing coherent statement of a
developing piece of poetry or prose - is frustrated almost immediately. Since the
words and phrases of what is heard have themselves been extracted, isolated, and
re-ordered from the original- stanzas 4 and 11 of Gerard Manley Hopkins'poem
"The Wreck of the Deutschland"- even familiarity with this original will be only
minimally helpful. However, in its second function, through connotation of
individual words and phrases, the text language casts its own variably evocative
light over the shifting but increasingly familiar "musical" material.
I selected Some Find Me ... for this discussion not just from personal interest but
also because it clearly affirms for me examples of some ways of thinking about
music and time involving "the occurrence of events as individual elements or
groups of elements without directing our perception toward formal boundaries."
[Gena 1981, p. 234] By now event-focused music is sufficiently established as one
direction of common practice, complete with attendant pedagogy, to be beyond
novelty, including also such works in which compositional intent is actually so to
direct our perception. Kramer cites Elliott Carter:
What contemporary music needs is not just raw materials of every kind but a way of relating
these-of having them evolve during the course of a work in a sharply meaningful way ....
iKramer 1988, p. 205)

A "meaningful" comprehension of a work in a specific hearing can be difficult to

define. Those particular perceptions which the c o m p o s e r - a n d analyst 15- may
wish us to draw upon, and toward what end, may depend on our familiarity with
their writings telling us what we are supposed to hear, what relationships we are
supposed to perceive, which we then of course hear and, presumably, emphasize
in our attention. Lacking this, we establish our own relationships from our
personal listening experience and biases.
A composer's "way of relating" events may be through realization of process,
inaudible as such but controlling what happens when; whether indeterminate
choice, graphic notation, response to an instructional text, improvisation, with
74 Barney Childs

no two p e r f o r m a n c e s the same, or a complex of pre-compositional o p e r a t i o n s -

stochastic, post-serial, numerological.

An intellectualism is much in the air, exemplified by structuralism, in which it is axiomatic, if

counter-factual, that disorder is anathema to the human mind. (Hobart 1986, p. 168)
Music composition may be described as the definition and creation of relational universes of
elements. In such a view, the composer forms hypotheses about what interrelationships are
then embedded in the music for listeners and analysts to discover. In the works of master
composers exist relational universes of such richness and complexity that much exploration
remains to be done. (Boretz 1984, p. 21)

A popular present approach to this sort of search-and-discover is c o n c e r n e d with

finding, quantifying, ordering, these usually discussed as " t e m p o r a l relation-
ships" and "temporal proportions." The listener may, t h r o u g h extensive experience
and training, be able to deduce established relationships t h r o u g h hearing, but
listening time is not always quantifiable, most hearers c o n t e n t to agree with A.R.
Burn's c o m m e n t that,

as Sir John Myres used to point out, in any temporal series, any object or event must be rather
near the beginning, or rather near the middle, or rather near the end. (Burn 1966, p. 26)

or, at the o t h e r e x t r e m e , with minimal previous musical concern, hear only an

e x t e n d e d incomprehensibility of sonic muddle.
Exposition of c o m p o s e r choice and a r r a n g e m e n t potentially recognizable in
hearing will deal variably with a t t e n t i o n to such p a r a m e t e r s as pitch, density,
timbre, gesture, colour, r h y t h m , duration, pace, amplitude, these subject to
various t r a n s f o r m a t i o n a l processes and m e a n s (including, as we have seen,
repetition and alteration). Late in Some Find Me... an e x t e n d e d vocal solo passage is
heard w i t h o u t the previous f r e q u e n t "rattle" sound; w h e n that sound reappears
it does so as an irregular feeble ticking. It's unlikely that on first hearing one will
notice the e x t e n d e d absence of the "rattle" and be concerned as to w h e n - a n d
i f - i t will be heard again. At the reappearance we are suddenly aware that we
h a v e n ' t heard it for a while (absence can be as vital as presence), and o u r aural
image of its original n a t u r e is instantly p r e s e n t in r e m e m b r a n c e as a constant
against which the deviant reappearance contrasts. O u r view of the vocal solo is as
instantly n e w l y polarized in our m e m o r y files, altered to include the quality of
" t h a t part w i t h o u t the 'rattle'." Once we have become familiar with the piece, we
k n o w as we listen to the vocal passage that the "rattle" will appear, and that it will
do so in its allusive altered form. We can even choose to anticipate this
reappearance, perhaps keeping in mind "It will happen p r e t t y soon n o w . "
Surprise in first hearing is replaced by the satisfaction of fulfilled expectancy, of
the pleasure of a newly established m e t a p h o r , of rediscovery. We know, watching
a 1920s film comedy, w h a t will happen w h e n those formally dressed m e n and
w o m e n sit d o w n at that dining table u p o n which are cream pies.
Kramer's s t a t e m e n t , " T h u s do we compare e v e n t s across time, in o u r
m e m o r i e s , " would appear to be a h a n d y s u m m a r y : audible events indeed appear
for us to compare in our memories. I confess to a concern, h o w e v e r , with the
concept of "across" time. A n y comparison, in fact any perceiving activity,
Listening time 75

whether summoned up by volition or imposed upon us, not only takes place Now
but can even be viewed in a definition of Now as "something happening." Borges'
"imaginary combination" ("Each moment we live exists, not the imaginary
combination of these moments") (Borges 1967, p. 51) is pertinent not because the
combination is imaginary but because we have invented the idea of such a
combination. We concede that there is no such thing but comport ourselves as if
there were: "AND if there were, here's what we have agreed it would be like." To
flesh out this convention, we have imposed a conceptual analogy with spatial
activity, extended from the nature of Now as always Here. Now is a perpetually
manned observation point from which we are able to view events (always
immediately present or as they are summoned by remembrances to exist as
immediately present) in terms of a hypothetical model of linear continuity whose
component perceptions are aggregated as "experience".16 We order this in
speaking of "before" and "after", "earlier" and "later", "long" and "short" time.
Music refines such order by drawing upon the peculiarity of the physical
universe, notably of sound itself, to operate in cycles and periodicities. Notation
further assists the concept of"musical space", 17adding "high" and "low" and even
"foreground" and "background". Music may even call for actual involvement
with physical space: performance art, half-time band shows, opera . . . .
If the listening process is thus accepted to be linear, events held as a succession
in terms of this model, then we can speak of "across time", between any two
points on a time line, and "non-linear time", presumably concerning events
whose time-line relationships have been established by ordering at a process level
other than those of conventional determinants of "continuity".


The author acknowledges the assistance of a University of Redlands faculty

research grant in the preparation of this article.


1. "They [the critics] saw each fusion of sensibility not as a process but as a
separate and definitive trend or movement, thus creating the illusion of a
concrete poetry movement, a pop art movement, a happenings movement, a
fluxus [sic] movement, and so on . . . . In many cases the critics retreated into
theory that had little or no relevance to practice, at least no relevance to the
practice of the only time they knew at first h a n d - t h e art of the present."
(Higgins 1978, p. 177)
2. Ihab Hassan includes in a few pages of the preface: fideology, maieutics, ludic,
imbrication, nugacity. (Hassan 1987, preface)
3. See Marco Stroppa's concern with the lack of any "major theorectical
comment" on tape music. (Stroppa 1984, pp. 175-6)
4. A detailed and expanded approach is the work in musical semiotics of the
Prague Team: "In contrast to synonimity, homonimity is frequent in music,
for a single composition typically yields multiple interpretations . . . . Artistic
76 BarneyChilds

polysemy activates a subject's creativity and fantasy, which in turn leads to a

multiplicity of interpretations for every artwork." (Poledfi~ik 1990, p. 5). The
explanation of "fuzzy semantics" ("The apex of the triangle representing the
[listening] subject is multiplied, indicating that a musical sign can be
perceived differently by different subjects...'9 would seem to invite investi-
gation through stochastic approaches. (p. 4)
5. Rabinowitz comments on the adaptability and variety possible from audience
theory for use with specific affirmations: post-structuralism, feminism, &c.
(Rabinowitz 1989, p. 82)
6. Kramer's investigation includes concern with duration and proportion here
(Kramer 1988, ch. 10). I have dealt elsewhere (Childs 1984, pp. 68-9) with
the role of beginnings in conditioning what may be involved in following
(ongoing) listening. Richard Toop's comments on this seem simplistic: "In the
event, the opening burst of eleven notes will have an enormous influence on
the subsequent course of the piece.., its 'banality,' such as it is, lies only in
the fact that, being a putative 'initial material,' it is as yet uninterpreted: it has
to stand as a proposition in its own right, without the secondary significance
of being a transformation of something which existed earlier in the piece."
(Toop 1990, p. 56)
7. Developed at more leisure in my Surface and Surprises. (Childs 1981, p. 23 ff.)
8. The representations usually were in the considerably "up" tempos favoured
by bop musicians. Well-known examples are the reappearance of "How High
the Moon" as "Ornithology" and the number of works based on the changes
on "I Got Rhythm." Also worth mentioning from jazz of this period is the
reference to other well-known works slipped into improvised solos, usually
as an in-joke (and sometimes as a good-natured put-down). A 1947
performance of "Star Dust" (Decca DL 701,3) includes the quotations of 'TII
Remember April" (Willie Smith, alto), "London Bridge is Falling Down" and
"Silver Threads Among the Gold" (Slam Stewart, bass) and "Pretty Baby"
(Lionel Hampton, vibraphone).
9. Eliot's "objective correlative"has always seemed to me merely a borrowing of
stock response.
10, John A. Walker investigates the connections between art and pop music,
particularly the British art-school influence and "the variety and creativity of
Britain's youth sub-cultures and street fashions": "The characteristics of
shock, social criticism, political opposition, utopianism, aesthetic radicalism
and difficulty once crucial to certain avant garde art movements have now
been taken up by young musicians working in the sphere of rock or Pop
music." (Walker 1987, pp. 7, 8-9) Lack of space and a teeming range of
material require that further discussion be regretfully left to future
investigation. Some varied examples include Jan Steele's Steele & Cage: Voices
and Instruments (Obscure AN-7031), any release by the Residents, and John
Zorn's The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays Morricone (Icon): "Imagine Morricone
put through a Vegomatic and you'll get the idea" (Schaffer 1990, p. 269).
11. The term from Helen Gardner: "'A brief comparison can be a conceit if two
things patently unlike, or which we should never think of together, are
shown to be unlike in a single point in such a way, or in such a context, that
we feel their incongruity. Here a conceit is like a spark made by striking two
Listening time 77

stones together." (Gardner 1961, p. xxiii)

12. "Does the moment that we get this joke give us the answer to what the
painting is about, or does it distract us entirely? A joke or a riddle is a
situation in which we say, 'Now I see it!'" (Fisher 1990, p. 336) "The arts all
depend for their expressive power upon metaphor: a 'trick' whereby the
inner world of the human psyche and the outer world are made suddenly to
correspond, producing a memorable image of actuality." (Bowen 1982, p. 39)
13. The term from Harold W. Watts, discussed in Childs 1977, pp. 213-4.
14. See Kramer for a discussion of "overlap" (Kramer 1988, p. 103 ff.)
15. I remember reading a short story in which Ambrose Bierce, having returned
from being presumed dead in Mexico, destroys an academic career by
explaining that the interpretations of his work by the leading expert on this
work are irremediably WRONG.
16. An entertaining feature of this format is the option to invent "past" and
"future" events, as Borges, "More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I
have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books." (Borges 1962,
pp. 15-16)
17. Earle Brown's notational investigations in the works of Folio, particularly
December 1952, are important in developing these concepts.

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chapter IV.
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interval-class 1 dyads in Schoenberg's fourth quartet, first movement." In Theory Only, 8(2).
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- - (1962). "Prologue," Ficeiones, translated by Anthony Kerrigan. New York: Grove Press.
BovK Paul. (1975). Destructive Poetics. New York: Columbia University Press.
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Budds, Michael J. (1978). Jazz in the Sixties. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Burke, Kenneth. (1945). A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice-Hall.
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Childs, Barney. (1984). "A catalogue and some comments." Percussive Notes, 22(6) 68-9.
- - (1981). "Surfaces and surprises," unpublished MS.
- - (1977). "Time and music: a composer's view." Perspectivesof New Music, 15(2). (Also 1976, in
Spanish, "Tiempo y musica," Talea 2 3).
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Clifton, Thomas. (1983). Music as Heard. New Haven: Yale University Press.
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Contact 32.
Fisher, Philip. (1990). "Jasper Johns' strategies for making and effacing art." Critical Enquiry 16(2).
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Gena, Peter. (1981). "Freedom in experimental music: the New York revolution." Tri-Quarterly
Greet, Taylor A. (1984) "Listening as intuiting: a critique of Clifton's theory of intuitive
description.'" In Theory Only, 7.
Hassan, lhab. (1987). The Postmodern Turn. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
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DMA thesis.
78 Barney Childs

Higgins, Dick. (1984). Horizons. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

(1978). "Postmodern performance: some criteria and common points." Performanceby Artists,
edited by A.A. Bronson and Peggy Gale. Toronto: Art Metropole.
Hobart, Mark. (1986). "Is God evil?" The Anthropology of Evil, edited by David Parkin.
Southampton: Basil Blackwell, Ltd.
Hurwitz, Bob. (1988). "The new music racket," edited by Judy Dalton. Ear 13(7).
Kivy, Peter. (1987). Sound and Semblance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kramer, Jonathan. (1988). The Time of Music. New York: Schirmer.
Krieger, Murray. (1984). "The ambiguities of representation and illusion: an R.H. Gombrich
retrospective." Critical Inquiry 11(2).
Maxfield, Richard. (1969). Liner notes to Advance Recordings FGR-SS.
Moran, Richard (1989). "Seeing and believing: metaphor, image, and force." Critical Inquiry 16(1).
Nyman, Michael. (1983). Unpublished interview by Virginia Anderson.
Perlman, Alan M. and Daniel Greenblatt. (1981). "Miles Davis meets Noam Chomsky." TheSign
in Music and Literature, ed. Wendy Steiner. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Poled~a'k, Ivan. 1990. "Musical semiotics: a report from Prague." In Theory Only, 11(6).
Rabinowitz, Peter J. (1989). "Whirl without end: audience-oriented criticism." Contemporary
Literary Theory, edited by G. Douglas Atkins and Laura Morrow. Amherst: University of
Massachusetts Press.
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life." American Music 7(4).
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Contemporary Music Review, 9 Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH
1993, Vol. 7, pp. 79-89 Printed in Malaysia
Photocopying permitted by license only

New and rediscovered Zeitgebers in recent music

Albert Mayr
The music of times and tides, Firenze, Italy
Timing procedures in contemporary music present a highly diversified and complex picture.
Next to the numerous new compositional techniques which have been developed and which
offer fresh approaches to the organization of time in a musical work on strictly intramusical
grounds, we notice that composers make recourse to new exogenous factors which go far
beyond the traditional ones, such as the conditions and limitations imposed by dramatic, ritual,
descriptive, or other functions assigned to a given piece. The new exogenous factors include,
among others, chance operations, biological rhythms, and manipulations afforded by electro-
acoustic equipment. Here I choose to focus on one category, which I call "Zeitgebers." In
chronobiology this term is used for the environmental agents which determine the temporal
characteristics in the behaviour of organisms; in chronosociology, where it has been adopted
too, the term applies to social agents with a similar function. This paper discusses some
significant examples of the use of Zeitgebers in avant garde music.
KEY WORDS timing procedures, endogenous and exogenous factors in the organization of
musical time, Zeitgebers (synchronizers), environmental music, experimental art

The music most familiar to me is the audible music made by humans, but the only necessary
condition I can imagine for music is time. It may be true that music can best be perceived
through our sense of hearing, by making time audible, within a certain range along the
spectrum of frequencies, and that it thus becomes our primary model. When we listen to
music, we are indeed 'listening to time.' But when we listen to, or perceive time in some
other way and react thereto, by the same token perhaps we are also listening to music.
Lewis Rowell

Times unheard of
In e x a m i n i n g t h e f a c t o r s t h a t d e t e r m i n e t h e t e m p o r a l s t r u c t u r e o f m u s i c a l w o r k s ,
a n a p p a r e n t l y s i m p l i s t i c b u t n e v e r t h e l e s s u s e f u l c a t e g o r i z a t i o n c o n s i s t s in
distinguishing between endogenous and exogenous factors. The endogenous
f a c t o r s h a v e to do s t r i c t l y w i t h t h e a b s t r a c t s o u n d m a t e r i a l , w i t h m u s i c a l g r a m m a r
a n d s t y l e , w i t h t h e c h o i c e s a c o m p o s e r m a k e s w i t h r e g a r d to t h e s e e l e m e n t s . T h e
e x o g e n o u s f a c t o r s c o m p r e h e n d e v e r y t h i n g else: b o t h c o n s t r a i n t s a n d s t i m u l a t i o n s
a r i s i n g f r o m s e t t i n g a v e r b a l t e x t t o m u s i c , or, m o r e g e n e r a l l y , f r o m a n y
d e s c r i p t i v e , n a r r a t i v e , r i t u a l , o r d r a m a t i c i n t e n t i o n s a c o m p o s e r is p u r s u i n g in a
g i v e n piece; t h e s o c i o - t e m p o r a l c o n v e n t i o n s i m p o s e d b y t h e v a r i o u s c u l t u r e s o n
s o m e o r all t y p e s o f m u s i c a l a c t i v i t y ; t h e p e c u l i a r i t i e s a n d l i m i t s of t h e s o u n d
s o u r c e s . In m o s t c o m p o s i t i o n s b o t h k i n d s o f f a c t o r s a r e p r e s e n t , at l e a s t to s o m e
e x t e n t , a n d o f t e n it w o u l d be a d i f f i c u l t t a s k to e s t a b l i s h e x a c t l y w h i c h c a t e g o r y
a c c o u n t s f o r w h i c h d e t a i l in t h e t e m p o r a l o r g a n i z a t i o n o f a g i v e n piece; b u t w e
will n o t n e c e s s a r i l y c o n s i d e r t h e t w o c a t e g o r i e s as e q u a l l y r e l e v a n t in a n a l y s i n g
t h a t piece.

80 Albert Mayr

In the case of a work such as The Art of the Fugue, we practically have no choice but
to focus on the endogenous factors, since Bach leaves undefined the aspects in
which exogenous factors could show themselves (instrumentation, overall
duration), and we cannot possibly look for a narrative or descriptive content. On
the other hand, when we look at the 136 bars of E-flat major chords at the
beginning of Rheingold, various exogenous factors can be taken into consideration
- not only the ones related to the dramatic role and weight of the long passage but
also the apparently banal fact that Wagner would hardly have written such an
unusual passage had he not been sure of having at his disposal performers who
could present the passage with the desired effect.
Usually a composer's or scholar's personal background and inclinations will
lead him to favour one category over the other. Kramer's ponderous work The Time
of Music (Kramer, 1988) is an outstanding example of scholarship delving
primarily into the endogenous temporal factors in music. This paper, on the
contrary, deals with musical and sound art works in which the role of exogenous
factors is of central importance.
The music of this century, especially of its second half, is a fertile ground for
investigations in this direction. In fact, next to the blossoming of new composi-
tional techniques which introduce hitherto unexplored approaches to the
endogenous organization of musical parameters (including temporal ones) the
last decades have seen composers make recourse to an astonishing variety of
exogenous factors. This search for and use of shaping elements and forces
belonging to areas which traditionally have been considered alien to artistic
thought and practice is part of what I have called, in another publication, the
centripetal trend in experimental art (Mayr, 1989).
Among the timing procedures based on exogenous factors we find: 1
-Timing procedures using chance operations of all sorts, from the simple
throwing of dice to elaborate p a t t e r n s where choices are made using long
strings of computer-generated pseudo-random numbers. Here I also include,
with some hesitation, procedures based on "found scores" (I use the term with
reference to the objets trouv~s in the visual arts). There are some usually spatial
characteristics of unintentionally collected material (charts, maps, patterns of
paper or plants, and the like) are translated, usually through an arbitrarily
chosen set of coordinates, into sonic and temporal values.
-Timing procedures based on human physiological times such as the breath
period, heart beat, walking speed, or brainwave periods; 2 on limiting conditions
of human motor performance (as can be seen in instructions such as "play as
fast as possible" or "hold as long as possible"); or on limiting conditions of
subjective experience ("as slow as possible").
- Timing procedures in which the performers are instructed to react in a certain
way to cues from the environment: sensory stimuli of various kinds, intentional
or unintentional actions of other performers, audience behaviour.
- Timing procedures which exploit the characteristics and mechanisms of analog
recording equipment or of electronic sound production and processing: the
various speeds of tape machines, tape delays and echoes, clocks of samplers and
sequencers. Some works present interactive situations where, for example,
environmental events trigger electronic sound events which, in turn, govern
the temporal values of the performers' actions.
New Zeitgebers in music 81

- Timing procedures or, rather, frameworks for timing procedures linked to the
modality and speed with which a performer scans through an agglomeration of
visual shapes provided by the composer. Although such works are usually called
graphic scores and make no explicit reference to exogenous factors, in my view
the processing of visual elements which are not symbolic and do not form an
established code constitutes such a factor.
- Timing procedures derived from previously established quantitative schemes
and proportions in which the numerological preferences of a composer may
come into play.
-Finally, timing procedures based on factors which fall into the category of
The term Zeitgebers was first introduced by chronobiologists to denote those
environmental factors which determine the temporal characteristics in the
behaviour of organisms: They may trigger certain activities or modulate their
frequency, phase, or waveform. The frequency of our heartbeats, for example, is
modulated by the Zeitgeber circadian cycle. From chronobiology the term
Zeitgeber-which in the English language is sometimes replaced by the term
"synchronizer"- has made its way into chronosociology, where, next to the
natural Zeitgebers governing man's biological rhythms, the numerous syn-
chronising agents created by man himself are considered. Sansot (1981), Pillet,
Leimgruber, and Bourrit (1981), and Amphoux (1981, 1987) have elaborated on a
vast variety of implications arising from taking the term Zeitgeber or, to be
precise, its literal translation into French, donneur de temps, in the widest possible
sense. Although I feel that some of their implications are debatable, these
scholars have contributed to bringing the term Zeitgeber into the interdisciplinary
discussion; thus I have adopted this term rather than"synchronizer." Regardless
of the different functions we may associate with Zeitgebers once we choose to
apply the term outside its field of origin, Zeitgebers can be said to be recognizable
agents whose effects can be clearly detected and described. They affect our lives
and the lives of organisms around us, whether we are aware of them or ignore
them. In this regard they differ from the other exogenous factors mentioned
above. In the pieces which will be discussed in this paper, we find that one or more
Zeitgebers may assume varying degrees of importance: while in one piece the use
of a particular Zeitgeber may constitute something like an artistic raison d'etre, in
another the Zeitgeber may be combined with other exogenous or with
endogenous factors. Yet in all the pieces the use of Zeitgebers is a distinctive
feature. As can be expected, the pieces belong to the area of environmental music
(although one of them is not intended for an outdoor presentation), i.e., to that
current in experimental music in which the physical and/or social characteristics
and agents of the context play a central role in the creative process. In this paper I
shall proceed from the natural to the artificial, from the more concrete to the
more abstract.

T h e w i n d as Z e i t g e b e r

From our human vantage point, nature's times offer examples not only of utmost
regularity and predictability but also of high irregularity and unpredictability. We
82 Albert Mayr

customarily associate the former qualities with astronomical phenomena and

consider meteorological phenomena as representative of the latter. For philo-
sophers, scientists, and music theorists up to Kepler, the supposedly clockwork-
like cyclicity in the motions of heavenly bodies held great fascination also in
aesthetic terms; it gave rise to the idea of the music of the spheres, inaudible and
immutable. The unpredictability of meteorological phenomena, on the other
hand, does not seem to have evoked musical associations. Yet, wind has attracted
man's attention as a sound-activating agent sinceancient epochs. This meant
accepting, grudgingly or not, its erratic appearance. Today, as many experimental
art forms emphasize indeterminacy and unpredictability, the wind has become a
thoroughly adequate Zeitgeber for artistic undertakings. Today's aeolian (i.e.,
wind-activated) instruments or aelophones have been divested of the mythical
aura which has sometimes surrounded them in the past. They take the form of
sound installations at New Music events. While some composers/builders favour
visually severe constructions, others opt for more spectacular solutions. Max
Eastley, who has also built hydrophones and hydroaelophones (Eastley, 1974),
belongs to the former category; Gordon Monahan (Ruebsaat and Westerkamp,
1990) to the latter. In order to function, aeolian instruments need, of course,
sufficient wind. Particular sonic results depend on the direction, speed, and
intensity of the wind. Usually the composer/builder can do nothing more to
control the temporal articulation of his installation than to place it in a location
where there is a certain probability that the wind will blow at times and in forms
he considers most appropriate to his work. Listeners, too, have to acquaint
themselves with the meteorological characteristics of the location if they do not
want to risk a fruitless journey to the installation. A more subtle temporal aspect
is that the variations in the wind felt through the tactile sense may not be
synchronous with the changes in the sounds coming from the instruments. As
Ruebsaat and Westerkamp note in their description of Monahan's Aeolian Piano
(Ruebsaat and Westerkamp, 1990, p. 23), "You might feel a gust of w i n d . . , but
the sound wouldn't necessarily change. The sound had a life of its own: it was a
continuous drone that changed, but the change didn't seem to have any
relationship to the way the viewer/listener experienced the wind."

T h e speed of s o u n d as Zeitgeber
Light travels far too fast to undergo noticeable delays over less than astronomical
distances. Visual reflections take place instantaneously- at least as far as human
perception is concerned-which makes them unsuitable for artistic projects
exploiting their asynchronicity with their original stimulus.
The speed of sound, on the other hand, particularly when it travels through air,
is slow enough to create perceptible delays over short distances; acoustic mirrors
(echoes) and reflections (reverberations) have a markedly temporal character.
Their quantity and quality depend, of course, also on the configuration and
nature of the reflecting material, but the speed of sound acts as the unifying
As Blaukopf reminds us, up to the nineteenth century room acoustics were
consciously taken into consideration as a Zeitgeber when composing pieces
New Zeitgebers in music 83

intended for spaces of different sizes and configurations (Blaukopf, 1982,

pp. 251-61). Harmonic rhythm was to be adjusted to the reverberation time, as
postulated by theorists and performers, for example by Quantz in his treatise on
flute playing (Quantz, 1752).
In later epochs contextual aspects such as room acoustics p l a y e d - w i t h few
exceptions - a much less prominent role. This may have also to do with the highly
increased noise level in our habitats, which has estranged us more and more from
the natural life spans of acoustic sounds in different environments. In recent
years multiple layers of sound resulting from echoes have become a widely used
(and misused) compositional device, but, tellingly, the echoes are not produced
acoustically but through electronic means. In our days acoustic echo, in spite of its
prestigious mythological past, appears to be confined to the role of occasional
tourist attraction (in its more spectacular manifestations) or of children's
One exception is to be found in Michael Parsons' Echo Piece (Parsons, n.d.). The
verbal score is written for two performers with woodblocks, to be played in a
wide open space with a marked echo. Parsons provides detailed instructions on
the beat frequencies, on how the performers have to change their position with
regard to the echo-generating element and with regard to each other, on how
they have to synchronize themselves visually in certain moments of the piece,
and on how they have to alternate periods of standstill with periods of motion.
In spite of the precise instructions, which leave little space for any improvisatory
contributions from the performers, Echo Piece is, for the listeners, a rather
indeterminate work. The two performers themselves hear differently timed
articulations of the sounds, and, unless a listener follows closely one of the
performers, he will hear yet another version of the piece. By moving around
according to a pre-established play he may, so to speak, compose his personal
listening version. While this is by no means an exclusive feature of Echo Piece, the
drastically reduced sound material and the reliance on the action of only one
distinct Zeitgeber make the work a remarkable example of how determination
and indeterminacy may be inextricably linked together. My personal fascination
with the piece has also to do with experiencing the gradual shift from feeling
trapped by the inexorably timed responses of the echo to a more dialogue-like
rapport with the delayed sounds coming from the echo-generating element and
the other p e r f o r m e r .

The tides as Zeitgeber

Strictly speaking, tides are second-generation Zeitgebers, as they are controlled

by the moon and the sun. But they play- or used to play - a role of their own in the
lives of the populations living and working on the world's coastlines. The first
part of my piece Ritmi: Mare ~ Porto ~ Cittdl (Mayr, 1977) has to do precisely with
this shift in role. As fishery has become more and more industrialized, many
coastal villages formerly inhabited primarily by fishermen and their families have
been turned into resorts following the temporal dictates of the tourist industry,
or have grown into cities where the economic, social, and cultural lives of the
inhabitants are only marginally related to marine activities and thus to the tides
84 Albert Mayr

as Zeitgeber. The first part of Ritmi, intended for a settlement on the coast which
has gone through such a change in socio-temporal identity, is a sound
installation. Loudspeakers are placed along the waterfront; an electronic tone
mixture performs an extremely slow glissando from very low to very high pitches
in synchronism with the rising of the sea level and back again. The sound level is p
throughout. The piece provides perceptual evidence, in the field of audible
frequencies, of a Zeitgeber that risks going almost unnoticed after its socio-
economic relevance has diminished.

The signal-to-noise ratio as Zeitgeber

With regard to the quality of an acoustic environment, the ratio of audibility
between intentional, informative sounds on the one hand and unintentional,
disturbing sounds on the other hand appears to have primarily spatial implications,
as it determines the physical and psychological depth of aural perception. But this
ratio also has a temporal aspect. In the audio-visual noise of the media, the
frequency and temporal location of a particular message often not so much
reflects its relevance to the listeners as it indicates the political or economic power
of its originator. In direct acoustic communication the Zeitgeber role of the S/N
(signal-to-noise) ratio is evident in the case of moving listeners and/or sound
sources. This case presents itself frequently in the streets of modern cities. The
sirens of police cars and ambulances, for example, not only have had their volume
raised to an almost unbearable level, but the sirens are sounded ceaselessly to
make sure also that the drivers of oncoming vehicles hear the signal although
their perception range may coincide only for a few seconds with the audibility
range of the siren.
The diagrams (figs. 1 and 2) illustrate this spatio-temporal relationship more
clearly and prepare the ground for the discussion of the next musical work. Both
figures show the relationship between the perception range of a moving listener
and the audibility ranges of sound events played by a moving performer. Listener
and performer are both walking in a straight line, at approximately the same
constant speed, but in different directions. For simplicity's sake, in both figures
the environment is taken to be an open field without any sound-absorbing or
sound-reflecting objects; furthermore, it is assumed that the acoustic values
remain constant. Fig. I shows the situation in a very noisy (or, in Schafer's (1976)
terminology, lo-fi) soundscape; both the perception range of the listener and the
audibility ranges of the sound events are limited. When he crosses the
performer's path, the listener hears only one sound event. In fig. 2 exactly the
same action takes place, but this time in a quiet (or hi-fi) soundscape. The greater
extension of his perception range and of the audibility ranges of the sounds
allows the listener to hear three louder events.
As far as the basic elements are concerned, this is the kind of setting we find in
Paul Burwell's verbal score Bird Proximity Piece (Burwell, 1976). In Burwell's piece
the situation is more complex than the one represented in figs. I and 2, as there
are more actors participating, who may walk in any direction and at any speed.
Sound sources of different loudness are used, and the environmental conditions
may not remain constant during the performance. The piece may be performed
New Zeitgebers in music 85


P ~




Figures 1 and 2 Spatio-temporal relations between the perception range of a moving listener
(L) and the audibility ranges of percussive sounds (black triangles). Time is assigned to the x-
axis, space (with two directions) to the y-axis. The broken line shows the path of the performer
(P). Fig. 1 shows the action taking place in a noisy environment; only one sound event falls into L's
perception range. Fig. 2 shows the same action taking place in a quiet environment: three sound
events are heard by L.
86 Albert Mayr

by any number of players larger than six, each using one very quiet and one loud
portable instrument. The main instructions of the score read as follows:

The musicianresponds to and enters into dialogue with the one or two other musiciansthat he
can hear. He should move as much as he likes, but never in such a way that he can hear more
than (say) 1/3 of the total performers. This is first done with the quiet instruments and then
repeated with the louder instruments.

Unlike Echo Piece, Bird Proximity Piece is not governed by a single exogenous factor,
but the Zeitgeber S/N ratio acts in combination with various other factors,
including endogenous ones; its performance requires in fact that the players act
within numerous feedback loops-placed in series, in parallel, and nested-
involving: the SIN ratio of the moment, loudness and density of the sounds
produced by the other players, walking speed and direction, and the individual
interpretations of the instruction to enter into dialogue with other musicians.
In urban environments the S[N ratio is primarily dependent on the presence
and density of motor vehicle traffic. This density undergoes periodic changes
according to various (mostly circadian, weekly, and annual) cycles of economic
and social activity in a population. The vehicle counts carried out in the context of
the World Soundscape Project show how these cycles may differ between
locations in various countries (Schafer, 1977). In Distributore di suono, a computer-
generated sound installation designed for a downtown square or street, Gruppo
FORMAT uses the variation in traffic density as a Zeitgeber controlling the
density of sound events. The piece lasts four hours and is divided into eight
sections of thirty minutes each. The probability for sound events to happen in a
given section is weighted in direct proportion to the average traffic density
during the corresponding period of time (Gruppo FORMAT, 1983).

A lighthouse signal as Zeitgeber

The pre-electronic communication devices used in seafaring are the only ones to
employ, among others, strictly time-based codes directly addressed to human
perceivers. For a seacraft a given location along the coast is identifiable through
the specific signal sent out by the lighthouse or foghorn installed on its shore.
When looked at from the necessary distance during night hours, the coastlines
could appear as a huge assemblage of time marks, each pulsating with a different
pattern. These temporal I.D.'s, however, are strictly confined to their functional
role, whereas nations, cities, and villages make widespread and often exaggerated
use of their spatial I.D.'s: flags and coats of arms.
One may object that the temporal I.D.'s., beside being present only in marine
locations, usually are less attractive than their spatial counterparts. At present
this is true, but sometimes I like to speculate about the possibility of assigning to
each settlement of a certain size its temporal "flag": a not too complex and easily
recognizable yet aesthetically satisfactory rhythmic mode.
It is to this perspective-rather than to the actual way in which lighthouse
signals affect the temporal and spatial behavior of o b s e r v e r s - t h a t the second
part of Ritmi: Mare --* Porto ~ Citth is related. It calls upon any number of players to
perform the temporal pattern of the respective lighthouse signal with musical
New Zeitgebers in music 87

instruments and portable light sources (flashlights, for example). At the premiere
in Pescara the lighthouse signal corresponded to the Morse code of the letter P:

On ls 3s 3s ls
Off ls ls ls 9s

At the beginning the players gather in the harbor and play in synchronization
with the signal. Then they spread into the adjacent city, still maintaining the
rhythmic mode of the lighthouse and keeping in aural or visual contact with at
least one other player. As the distances between players increase and the actual
lighthouse signal becomes less and less visible to them, phase shifts, accelerandos,
and ritardandos begin to occur.

The Western time order as Zeitgeber

We may not, at first, think of the time order in a particular civilization as a

Zeitgeber. But if we pause to consider to what extent the very structure of our
time order- the subdivision of the year and of the day, the grouping of smaller
units, the many discrepancies with environmental cycles-affects the temporal
organization and planning of our activities, how it makes us take for granted that
certain durations and cadences should be more widely used than others, how, in
brief, it conditions the way we "time (our) minds and mind (our) times," to quote
Michon's (1989) phrase, then we realize that time orders do in fact act as
Zeitgebers. We also know that our time order is but one among a rich variety of
other solutions adopted by other cultures. This is not the place to try to explain
why, in spite of its many incongruities, our time order is still hardly questioned
and the more or less skillful attempts at changing it have had so little effect. But
for practitioners and theorists of a time-based art such as music, it seems an
appropriate issue to confront.
In his Sequenzen-Projekt, Stephan Wunderlich does so not by proposing or
experimenting with alternative solutions, but by linking, almost exasperatingly,
all aspects of the work to the Western time order, albeit through a very personal
use of it. The Sequenzen-Projekt (Wunderlich, 1988) is scored for different sound
sources and various activities, such as walking and other body movements. It
began at 00h 00"00" GMT, on February 29, 1988, and terminated at midnight
GMT, on February 28, 1992. This total timespan has been converted into seconds
and divided, following the series of prime numbers, into alternating periods of
activity and rest (for example, 07"-11" activity, 11"-13" rest, 13"-17" activity,
etc.). Every performance makes one segment of this series audible and/or visible,
so to speak, and unfolds along its corresponding, unique string of second
groupings. Thus for every performance a specific score is written which cannot
be performed at any earlier or later moment. Perhaps we can consider this a
secular version of the belief, present in many cultures, that certain musics are
appropriate only for particular moments of the day or the year, in accordance
with the respective time order. In Wunderlich's piece other, related procedures
are used to determine the length in minutes of sections, the number of
88 Albert Mayr

performers, and the type of performing activity in each section, plus the various
parameters applying to them.

Listening to time

In The Time of Music Kramer writes, "Just as time does not exist apart from
experience, so musical time does not exist apart from music" (Kramer, 1988, p. 3).
In the light of the works discussed above, I would like to turn the second part of
the sentence into a question: "Can there be musical time apart from what we call
music?" Some brief reflections on how one could go about answering this
question may adequately serve as a conclusion to the present paper. 3
Cage and his followers and, from a different perspective, Schafer have
suggested that we apply the perceptual behavior we adopt for musical sounds (or
sounds that have been organized according to recognized musical procedures) to
all sound events, even the humblest and most erratic. Whoever follows this
s u g g e s t i o n - w h e t h e r or not he is in accord with the further implications put
forward by Cage and Schafer-realizes that such an approach does bring us
insights about sound in general and our relations to it that other disciplines could
hardly offer. We may take this a step further and extend the suggestion to
temporal configurations, including inaudible ones, and listen to time as if we were
listening to music.
One the one hand such an approach to time will, I believe, lay the ground for
valuable contributions to the interdisciplinary study of time; on the other hand it
may help re-establish a dialectic rapport between the temporal organization of
music and the multiform concert of audible and inaudible times in and around us.
To a large extent, Western art music of the last two centuries has eluded such a
rapport, on a more superficial level by staging its public events in spatially and
temporally secluded venues, on a deeper level by clinging to the primacy of
musical grammars based on endogenous factors and by erroneously equating this
primacy with the assertion of music as an autonomous art form.
As we all know from experience, music in itself often acts as a powerful
Zeitgeber. Furthermore, until not so long ago, sound was the privileged medium
through which we perceived (or were made to perceive) many natural and social
temporalities in the environment. Today it is up to musicians to find possible links
between musical and environmental times. The pieces discussed in this paper give
some indication in this direction. Thus I was heartened by an old man who had
spent all his life at sea; he came to listen quietly to the first part of Ritmi in Pescara.

1. What follows is, inevitably, a sketchy and by no means exhaustive overview of
exogenous factors. But I hope it may clarify the context in which Zeitgeber-
based music is to be placed.
2. In traditional dance music we find an example of an elaborate interaction
between the exogenous factors consisting in a set of highly stylized human
motor rhythms and the endogenous musical factors.
New Zeitgebers in music 89

3. For a more elaborate approach to this question from the angle of the extended
concept of music, see Mayr (1983, 1985).

Amphoux, P. (1981). L'architecture comme donneur de temps. In Les donneurs de temps, edited by
G. Pillet and P. Amphoux, pp. 151-201. Albeuve: Editions Paul Castella.
- - (1987). Donneurs de temps sociaux, donneurs de temps sonores. Paper presented at the
colloquium Les temps sociaux, Louvain-la-Neuve.
Blaukopf, K. (1982). Musik ira Wandel der Gesellschaft. M/inchen and Z/irich: R. Piper and Co.
Burwell, P. (1976). Bird Proximity Piece. Unpublished.
Eastley, M. (1974). (Untitled). In New/Rediscovered Musical Instruments, edited by D. Toop,
pp. 18-21. London: Quartz/Mirliton.
Gruppo FORMAT (1983). Distributore di suono. I n . . . Umgangsmusik, p. 8. Firenze:
Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini.
Kramer, JD. (1988). The Time of Music. New York: Schirmer Books.
Mayr, A. (1977). Ritmi: Mare ~ Porto --* Citt~. Scade il .... 1.
- - (1983). Creative Time Organization versus Subsonic Noises. Diogenes 122, 45-63.
- - (1985). Sketches for a Low-Frequency Solf6ge. Music Theory Spectrum 7, 107-13.
- - (1989). Social Time in Experimental Music and Art. In Time and Mind, The Study of Time VI,
edited by J.T. Fraser, pp. 217-28. Madison: International Universities Press.
Michon, J.A. (1989). Timing Your Mind and Minding Your Time. In Time and Mind, The Study of
Time VI, edited by J.T. Fraser, pp. 17-39. Madison: International Universities Press.
Parsons, M. (n.d.). Echo Piece. In Visual Anthology, p. 7. London: Experimental Music Catalogue.
Pillet, G., Leimgruber, R., and Bourrit, A. (1981). Les donneurs de temps. In Les donneurs de temps,
edited by G. Pillet and P. Amphoux, pp. 23-149. Albeuve: Editions Paul Castella.
Q u a n t z , J.J. (1752). Versuch einer Anleitung, die Flute traversi~re zu spie[en. Cited in Blaukopf
(1982), p. 252.
Rowell, L. (in press). Ideologie culturali i la metafisica della musica. In La musica delle sfere e l'ascolto
del tempo edited by A. Colimberti, A. Mayr, and G. Montagano. Roma: SEMAR Editore.
Ruebsaat, N., and Westerkamp, H. (1990). Gordon Monahan: Aeolian Piano. Musicworks 45,
Sansot, P. (1981). Donneurs de temps, donneurs de sens. In Les donneurs de temps, edited by
G. Pillet and P. Amphoux, pp. 13-22. Albeuve: Editions Paul Castella.
Schafer, R.M. (1976). The Tuning of the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
-- (1977), editor. Five Village Soundscapes. Vancouver: World Soundscape Project/A.R.C.
Wunderlich, S. (1988). Sequenzen-Projekt. Program notes, Festival GAMO, Firenze.
Contemporary Music Review, 9 Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH
1993, Vol. 7, pp. 91-104 Printed in Malaysia
Photocopying permitted by license only

Determinism and the false collective

about models of time in early computer-aided
Horacio Vaggione
University of Paris VIII, Vincennces, France

The late John Myhill's talk, delivered at N o r w e s t e r n University's 1978 Inter-

national C o m p u t e r Music C o n f e r e n c e (Myhill 1979a, 1979b), contains some
interesting ideas concerning the meaning of such pairs of oppositions as
stochasticity vs. determinism, periodicity vs. non-periodicity, and c u l t u r e - r o o t e d
vs. "trans-cultural" facts, in relation to such problems as stylistic coherence and
the nature of music.
Being a mathematician interested in musical m a t t e r s as well as in philosophical
questioning, Myhill was aware of the multiple levels on which music seems to be
articulated. This awareness lead him to f o r m u l a t e questions about the musical
meaning of formal procedures used by such composers as Hiller and Xenakis,
contributing in this w a y to elevating discussion within the field of early
computer-aided composition.
I believe that this conceptual universe can be revisited today, in o r d e r to clarify
the role of the c o m p u t e r in a more highly developed compositional e n v i r o n m e n t .
Accordingly, the purpose of this essay is to recall some ideas Myhill exposed in his
talk, accompanied by a cluster of references to o t h e r thinkers and musicians, as
well as some extensions reflecting my o w n opinions on the subject.

"Although there is probably a p r e t t y general consensus (modulo some minor

musical and mathematical details) as to w h a t a r a n d o m sequence of pitches or
durations is", there remains a problem in finding " w h a t one could possibly m e a n
by deterministic music". (*) To put it roughly, t h e r e "seems no objective reason
w h y we should contrast 'random pitches' with, e.g., 18th c e n t u r y c o m m o n -
practice at the o t h e r end of the spectrum, r a t h e r than with, say, 16th c e n t u r y
polyphony, d o d e c a p h o n y or the ancient Korean style".
Consequently, it must be admitted that there is "a fairly well defined notion of
random pitch, but seemingly no c u l t u r e - i n d e p e n d e n t notion of n o n - r a n d o m or
deterministic pitch-structure".

*in what follows, words between quotation marks are direct renderings of Myhill's text, unless
indicated otherwise.
92 HoratioVaggione

So, though we have an idea of what it would be like to make music 'more and
more' random (for example by increasing fragmentation) "what we mean by
making music 'less and less' random seems totally culture bound and lacking
anything approaching a precise mathematical definition". As an example of the
difficulty of achieving the second task, Myhill refers to Lejaren Hiller's
solution- see for example the Computer Cantata (Hiller and Baker 1964) - based in
the idea that "a non-random melody consists of a mere reiteration of one
frequency". This solution seems at first glance to make "impeccable musical and
mathematical sense". However, Myhill adds: "I personally would feel happier
with something more sophisticated and subtle than this".
Where did Myhill first turn, in order to build a model of "determinstic
m u s i c " - a n d further on to make it coexist with the already well defined
indeterministic model? To something closer to his assumption that there is no
culture-independent notion of non-random structures. Thus he wondered about
defining computer instructions like:

write a lute piece which begins in the manner of Dowland and 'modulates' to the style of 18th
century Japanese koto music".

Consequently, he considered that "a starting point in this direction might be the
analysis of Pousseur's Wild Horse Ride which takes us from Mozart and early
Beethoven via Schubert, Brahms and Wagner to Schoenberg and Webern". But
Pousseur's procedures proved to be quite "arbitrary", in the manner of culture-
dependent behaviour, and appeared as intuitive and difficult to formalize.
So Myhill declared himself unable, in spite of some elementary suspicions, to
find the proper way to describe them to the computer. "I know the 'modulations'
are implemented by means of certain permutations of integers 1 through 12
which take, e.g., major triads after a sufficient number of applications into
'Webern-triads' like CFB or CF#B, but have no idea whether this technique can be
programmed". However, Max Mathews was already in the sixties proposing a
structural cross-fade between popular tunes via interpolation techniques.
Mathews was at this moment explicitly concerned with an "algebra for
combining functions" which he thought "specially useful for computer-aided
composing" (Mathews and Rossler 1968, reprinted 1972). By means of this
"simple" algebra, the computer can, for example, "average between two melodic
or rhythmic lines or gradually convert one rhythmic pattern into another" (ibid.)
A first example of application of this technique was the one in which The British
Grenadier is gradually converted into When Johnny ComesMarching Home and back- in
Mathews's terms, "a nauseating musical experience but one not without interest,
particularly in the rhythmic conversions" (ibid.). This direction, which has been
growing in the meantime (see Barri6re 1990 for an account of the latest
developments) is concerned primarily with the means to realize gradual
exchanges of parametrical data using interpolation algorithms. However, it does
not face the problem concerning an explicit formalization of culture-rooted
musical expressions, considered as one of the poles of the spectrum between
randomness and determinism.
At this point, an insidious question might arise: are we reaching here the limits
of the possibilities of formalization of complexity by means of the definition of
The false collective 93

rules? Should we enter, if this is the case (but this reveals a n e w paradigm being
explored today), into the realm of connectionism (Loy 1989, Todd 1989) in o r d e r
to speculate on the possibility of finding an a n s w e r by way of holism r a t h e r than
of formal analysis?
This is indeed a v e r y old dichotomy, in fact as m u c h as theoretical reason itself.
But the times have been bringing a plethora of n e w situations, especially those
related to symbolic computation and cognitive science. T h e r e is an i m p o r t a n t
recent polemic on this question b e t w e e n O t t o Laske and some "connectionist
composers"; yet surely we are at the v e r y beginning of this v e n t u r e (see Laske
1990). T h e connectionist approach looks to embrace a whole thing in a non-
analytical m a n n e r (in a " b r u t e force" strategy), prescribing to the machine (to the
neuronal computer) to "learn", that is, to clone a given musical f o r m and to
reproduce it later with the desired variants. But, as Laske's polemic shows, there
is at least an a r g u m e n t r u n n i n g against this procedure, an a r g u m e n t that stresses
the lack of invention allowed by the paradigm itself. Will composers, as Laske
asks, be merely copying existing musical objects and no longer creating n e w
forms t h r o u g h the invention of new rules?
Since Myhill was working with the formal definition of rules, he was less than
deeply concerned with the problem of cultural complexity, in spite of the fact that
he was able to see it. Q u e s t i o n i n g himself a b o u t the pertinence of his
computational tools to deal with the whole question* he chose r a t h e r to
concentrate on "something less unapproachable, namely the contrast of regularity
and r a n d o m n e s s in regard to r h y t h m . H e r e the o t h e r end of the spectrum is
simply and trans-culturally periodicity". We will see h o w this " s o m e t h i n g less
unapproachable" indeed contained the entire problem. But as he focused his talk
on this matter, I will begin m y c o m m e n t s by r e f e r r i n g to some basic concepts
concerning music and time.

"Does music exist in time or does time exist in music?" This question, as put by
Jonathan K r a m e r in his book The Time of Music (Kramer 1988), is not "simply a
semantic game", since "if we believe primarily that music exists in time, t h e n we
take time as an absolute, as an external reality, as s o m e h o w apart f r o m the
experiences it contains"; and on the o t h e r side, "if we believe in the time that
exists uniquely in music, then we begin to glimpse the p o w e r of music to create,
alter, distort, or even d e s t r o y time itself". In this latter case music can be viewed

*In fact Myhill's questioning seems to stand directly against the assumptions of cognitive
science, at least in its pure computational direction. A recent paper by Peter Kugel,
appropriately titled "Myhill's Thesis: There's More than Computing in Musical Thinking" (in
Computer Music Journal 14(3), Cambridge, MIT Press, 1990) gives us some cues to clarify the
core of the problem as envisaged by Myhill, as well as to understand the reasons by which
"Myhill's Thesis" has been largely ignored. Unfortunately, Kugel's article appeared when my
paper was already written; thus I cannot incorporate here these developments. But it would be
interesting to note that his source comes from a paper presented by Myhi]l in 1952: "Some
Philosophical Implications of Mathematical Logic: Three Classes of Ideas" (in Review of
Metaphysics 6(2): 165-198).
94 HoracioVaggione

as "a series of events that not only contains time but also shapeit" (Kramer 1988,
p. 5).
Both sides of Kramer's dichotomy have had their adherents in aesthetics and
music theory. As an example of the use of the idea of time as an active force in
itself, we can recall Victor Zuckerkandl's Sound and Symbol: Music and the External
World (Zuckerkandl 1956). And as an early example of theorization of "musical
time" as an independent force existing only in and through music, we can cite
Gis61e Brelet's Le temps musical (Brelet 1949).
However, there is still another possibility to be considered, manifested in the
thesis (see Charles 1978, 1987) that affirms the status of co-existence (we can
also say inter-penetration, or, in more logical terms, non-contradiction) of time as
external force and time as shaped by musical syntax. Further support for this
thesis can be found in the writings of J.T. Fraser- cited by K r a m e r - who holds
that "time is not bound by the law of contradiction" (see for example Fraser 1975).
Kramer states as much when he says that "time can be many things, and it can be
them at once". Similarly, we can recall the demonstration by I. Prigogine of the
inherent multiplicity of time's functionalities (Prigogine 1980). However, what is
important for our present subject is Kramer's assumption that "through time,
music's meanings become both internal (syntactical) and external (symbolic)"
since it is "from the conflict between time taken and time evoked" that comes "the
richness of musical meanings" (Kramer 1988, p. 15). I agree with this last
orientation, although I would prefer not to qualify the opposition in terms of a
conflict, for this would reduce t h e m - a n d with them, the whole "richness of
music m e a n i n g s " - t o the reasoning mechanism of pure dialectics. However, I
believe that Kramer refers here not to the reduction of a plurality into a synthetic
unity, but rather to the possibility of articulating this plurality into different
interactive levels. If this is so, the more we take into account these different
interactive levels, the more we preserve the "richness of music's meanings". A
key concept appears here, on which I will insist throughout this paper: that of
interaction. Assuming different and simultaneous temporalities would not have
any concrete consequence - other than to show a dubious way of thinking, having
fallen into "the seduction of the unarticulated" (to use Michel Bernard's
expression-but see Charles 1978) if not by the presence of the concept of
interaction, which opens for us the ground to articulate-to structure, to
compose-the different functionalities of time.
Time "taken", that is, "external", occupied, filled with something. And, on the
other side, time evoked, "internal" (to musical form), created, syntactical time. In
order to avoid any reductionism by the way of a dialectic synthesis, we can
consider them as poles that appear in the building of the idea of music, as we look
to understand it as a complex phenomenon. Once this is assumed, we can
consider the "internal meaning" of musical time as belonging to music itself (as it
is expressed in music), that is, belonging to the "syntactical" nature of music,
which can be equated with form. Now, if we hold - as I do - the idea that, in music,
form and content are indivisible, then we can consider all temporalities present in
music in a non-contradictory, pluralistic manner, and still retain syntactical time
in order to articulate them all - because any articulation (any articulated thinking)
is expressed in form, and form is precisely the result of a multi-level interactive
articulation. I will stress in a moment the difficulty of doing this within a
The false colleclive 95

paradigm (information theory) that refers to only one level of articulation, and
that is therefore unable to integrate "the richness of music's meanings". In this
way I intend to approach, avoiding reductionism, the polarities of musical time
referred to by Myhill.
Hence, our central question will be: how to understand Myhill's problem
(namely, a lack of symmetry between a well-defined working concept of
indeterminacy and a fuzzy culture-dependent idea of determinism) in relation to
our concern with syntactical time? And, furthermore: how is syntactical time
actually shaped by means of both stochastic and deterministic strategies?

But perhaps it will be pertinent at this point to recall Wittgenstein's famous

remarks: there is always a "form of life" involved in the emergence of any
"language game"; thus, any syntactical universe is by nature an expression of
"the culture of one period". This is the major concern of the Philosophical
Investigations (Wittgenstein 1953), which cannot be regarded as an expression of
crude historicism, or crude organicism, causalism, or any of the orientations
traditionally related to determinism, but rather as a formulation of a non-
metaphysical primitive, stating a kind of "neither arbitrary nor grounded" status
in respect to the nature of any formalized thinking.
Now, if we create an example in the manner of the "imaginary anthropology"
which Wittgenstein delighted so much in using, and imagine any musician of the
past centuries coming to our time and listening to some electronic music piece and
asking for its function and meaning (that is, for an explanation in terms of his
own universe): our most straightforward answer to this situation would be "we
call this music" (but see Bouveresse 1971, 1988, for a discussion of this "un-
grounded reality" in relation to the status of creativity and cultural complexity).
In any case, the pertinent question (for our subject) would be: given the
complexity of cultural practices (and taking into account the fact that formal
tools - of any kind- are part of these practices), can we build up a set of rules to
approach this complexity? If we answer in the negative, then we must state the
existence of an intangible borderline between "trans-cultural" (infra-cultural?)
formalism and cultural multi-level complexity. Or, if we choose the contrary
option, then we must ask: is there a continuum between these two poles, and, if it
is the case, should we re-present it? Or should we rather talk uniquely about the
appropriate "sampling rate" to be used to match the complexity of anything?
This is the not-so-simple problem faced by Myhill when he asked about the
other pole opposed to indeterminacy, and concluded that there is no clear formal
definition of what a deterministic sequence might be: "there seems no objective
reason" why we should contrast "random pitches" with a certain culture-rooted
musical system rather than with any other. But precisely this is what, after
Wittgenstein, stands at the heart of culture-rooted phenomena: they are neither
arbitrary nor grounded in some kind of objective causal reason; and they reveal,
by this very fact, that they belong to a particular "style of thinking" (Wittgenstein
96 Horacio Vaggione

The problem faced by Hiller while composing the Computer Cantata by means of
stochastic algorithms was: what might be the opposite pole to a totally random
melody? Or, in other terms: what might be a totally deterministic melody? The
solution he found was to reduce the variety of pitches as they appear in a random
distribution to the repeated enunciation of only one pitch. Doing so, Hiller
equated total randomness with maximal information, and, converseley, total
redundancy with pure determinism, following the paradigm of information
theory (Hiller and Isaacson 1959, Hiller and Fuller 1967). Of course, a totally
random melody contains the minimum of predictability: hence, if we keep
reasoning within this paradigm, the maximum of predictability must be equated
with zero information. In this way, information theory equates the pluralistic
appearance of the living universe with diverse orders of probability. Therefore a
probability of order zero would maximize information because all terms would be
weighted with equal probability. And the existence of very singular things, such
as the musical systems in the world's music, are manifestations of particular
weighted orders of probability between zero and one.
The first thing to notice in this description is the crossing of the two scales of
predictability and redundancy. Thus, zero-predictability (zero-order in a Markov
chain) equals maximum of information, and hence absence of regularities or
periodicities, e.g., chaos. The opposite pole of chaos would be total order, equated
with total redundancy, thus with zero-information. Life, and all existing things,
would be somewhere in the middle, theoretically described as particular weighted
probabilities of first, second, third.., nth order Markov chains. Reasoning along
these lines, Hiller equated a totally deterministic melody with the repetition of
only one pitch, following the equation zero information = total predictability, that is, total
redundancy = total determinism.
I have already alluded to the Myhill's claims for"something more sophisticated
and subtle than this". So what is wrong with Hiller's information-theoretic
solution? There are here several answers. To begin with, as Kramer points out,
"it is impossible in practice to specify a maximum order (in Markov chains) that
would account for all meaningful probabilities in a given composition" (Kramer
1988, citing Wayne Slawson). And, more specifically, "a major problem of
information-theoretic analysis of music is the impossibility of isolating the
appropriate Markov order. If event C depends on even B and B depends on A,
then there may nonetheless be a functional relationship between A and C, despite
an apparent first-order construction" (Kramer 1988, citing Justin London). For
instance, we can easily consider the case in which a sequence consisting of one
repeated pitch can be non-predictable within the musical context in which it
appears. That is, the orders of probability can be not only musically irrelevant,
but logically incoherent, and hence totally dissociated from the arrangement to
which they seem theoretically to belong.
I believe that we are facing here a conflict of dimensions, or, as I have said
before, of levels of articulation. Information theory has failed totally in its
attempts to explicate any structure of real complexity, because it allows the
description of only one level of articulation. And there seems to be no possibility
of dealing simultaneously with more than one level of articulation because the
The false collective 97

paradigm inside of which the t h e o r y works is concerned only with an a-

syntactical (or infra-syntactical) approach to the facts that it describes. H o w e v e r ,
the limitations of i n f o r m a t i o n t h e o r y to deal with c o m p l e x i t y - a n d especially
with c u l t u r e - r o o t e d c o m p l e x i t y - seem to be a case of a m o r e general situation,
concerning epistemology in its broader sense. A f u r t h e r d e m o n s t r a t i o n can be
taken f r o m fractal processes (Mandelbrot 1975). These processes generate,
t h r o u g h the iteration of a simple formula (a fractal code), a f o r m exhibiting an
infinity of details: but these details are not created as singularities but produced
by a global causal law.
I am not denying the utility of these procedures, in that t h e y are used by
scientists looking for regularities. A composer, h o w e v e r , k n o w s h o w to g e n e r a t e
singular events, and h o w to articulate t h e m in bigger and bigger chunks w i t h o u t
losing the control of the singularities: this is w h a t Myhill calls stylistic coherence,
and K r a m e r syntax. This is w h y it is always problematic to utilize global causal
laws (e.g., stochastics) in music composition, if their a u t o m a t i s m is not
compensated by compositional choices concerning o t h e r levels of articulation.
This is w h y Xenakis, after being concerned with M a r k o v chains, s u b s e q u e n t l y
adopted a consistent silence about his m o r e recent compositional procedures, a
silence not broken by his claim that he has i n t r o d u c e d an " a r b i t r a r y " (that is
"composed") manipulation of the data provided by his stochastic canons (Xenakis

Curiously, Myhill comes (in his talk) to consider the psychological aspects of the
duality determinism/indeterminism t h r o u g h a straightforward reference to Hans
Eisler's writings about the "false collective". In w h a t follows, I will quote directly
the rendering of Eisler's ideas in Myhill's words:

Eisler states as a problem (in his book about film music): how does one make music to describe
the mobilization of an army? At the beginning one sees, say, a mobilization notice and observes
people reading it, going home, preparing to depart for the war, bidding farewell to their families,
etc. The subjectivity is shocked, and erratically numbed or painful. As they go out into the
streets, their subjectivity becomes more organized and anonymous, they think of themselves
less and less as individuals, more and more as parts of One Thing (the B~se Kollektivitiit)'.

H o w e v e r , 1 am not echoing here Eisler's problem in o r d e r to raise any extra-

musical (meta-symbolic) agenda. It is with the formal (syntactical) implications of
this situation that I intend to deal. Myhill himself cites this problem in the c o n t e x t
of his efforts to deal with stochasticity versus d e t e r m i n i s m in the reduced field of
r h y t h m i c relationships, as a preliminary step in the search for a " c o n t i n u u m "
b e t w e e n these two poles. I will refer to these efforts in a m o m e n t . But first let me
recall the example of Xenakis - see his book Formalized Music (Xenakis 1963) - which
makes a parallel b e t w e e n stochastic laws and the kind of global p h e n o m e n a f o u n d
in nature, such as the noise of rain, or that of bubbles of champagne, or street
noises, or m o v e m e n t s of a h u m a n mass in a s t r e e t political d e m o n s t r a t i o n , etc. -
which he claims are "described" and "controlled" by Poisson's statistical law of
98 HoracioVaggione

Xenakis states that this kind of global law gave him the inspiration to bypass
the "crisis of serial music" (which he explicates by the existence, in totally-
ordered serial works, of an excess of complexity that destroys the sense of linear
polyphony) by proposing the concept of mass-polyphony, which consists roughly
of the application to musical processes of such formal descriptions of natural
global phenomena. But in doing so, Xenakis eliminated theoretically the
possibility of a truly polyphonic, multilayered discourse, restraining himself to a
kind of homophony (his "clouds" or uniform textures). Manipulating sound
events as statistical "populations", Xenakis negates the singularity of these
events, retaining only their external, one-sided aspect of elements governed by a
global law, and hence devoid of any intrinsic formal property.
What is also important, however, is the fact that Xenakis tried in this manner to
compose a "trans-cultural" music, in the sense stated by Myhill. Xenakis himself
cites the reaction of Hermann Scherchen concerning Metastasis, that ran more or
less like this: what is interesting in this work is that it seems to come from
another world different from the world of music (Xenakis 1979). That is, this
work is interesting ("new") because it comes not from the cultural but from the
natural (trans-cultural) side of reality, of which it seems to be more than a
metaphor, but a kind of direct translation.
But despite this approach being effectively new for its time, it was to be
surpassed by the composer himself. So from the "polyphony of masses" Xenakis
moved on to integrate into his compositional world the other pole, the
"arbitrary", that is, the musically composed, as opposed to the stochastically
generated. I used to refer to this other pole, by way of illustration, equating it
with the so-called "cocktail-party effect", that, as everybody knows, describes a
situation (roughly opposed to global stochasticity) in which is involved an act of
direct, focalized perception, that is, an act of selection of singularities out of a
given statistical globality.
At this point, I remember a conversation at the University of Paris between
Messiaen and Xenakis: the former explained to the latter that, while collecting
"bird songs" in the forest, he used simultaneously two media: music written on
paper and the tape recorder. Once at home, he was always struck by the
difference of content between the two documents, the recorded tape being a kind
of global soundscape, while the written examples corresponded to the composer's
reading of his own focalized perception, concentrated on some special events of
this soundscape. Messiaen was always surprised to hear the recorded soundscape,
because he did not remember having heard it at all when he was in the forest; he
had only selected the bird calls that had attracted his attention.

So our question now is: can we equate the oriented, selective listening we have
referred to with determinism? Can we say that it is a deterministic listening?
Determinism would have here the meaning of: to focalize a specific- singular-
Messiaen's way of listening is indeed not very different from his way of
improvising at the organ or writing his compositions. We are always confronted
The false collective 99

with an activity of selection. To formalize- and Messiaen had been formalizing

quite a lot in his compositional microworld - is to select rules of selection, in other
words, to make choices and to make rules that allow certain choices to become
To compose would mean therefore to exercise a generalized activity of
selection, comprising all possible levels of articulation and all scales of time (from
the micro-local to the macro-global). But this activity is only generalizable if what
is to be selected corresponds to singular events (of any size), and if the rules
chosen to make selections at any level of a time scale are interactively connected
and implicated. Any formalization that regards only a single level, for example a
single non-interactive law of global distribution of points into lineal time, is
simplistic and reveals a flat way of thinking.
The statement above, formulated in a very abrupt fashion, certainly does not
correspond to the manner in which Xenakis considered the compositional
process. In this context, there is one point in my critique of Xenakis' early ideas
that needs to be stressed: Xenakis negates the status of singularities of the events
he manipulates, considered only as "populations" submitted to a global law. By
retaining only the external aspect, namely, the capacity to be governed by a global
law, he rendered them devoid of any intrinsic formal properties. But this is only
one side of his composing strategy. The other side, which appears in his works
more and more clearly after Eonta is, as I have said, the "arbitrary" activity of
(deterministic .7) selection.
In fact, what Xenakis has been doing can be related to the problem stated by
Myhill in his talk: a quest for a continuum between stochasticity and determinism.
Xenakis, in his "Opening Address" to the same 1978 International Computer
Music Conference at Northwestern University, called it "the new diapaison'.
This was the object of Myhill's reflections: "in this continuum, randomness or
stochasticity is one end, and there is no such uniformity, given the density of
musical cultures and styles, as to what to put at the other end". But in spite of this
awareness, Myhill's considerations centered "on the definition of a music that
would be at once deterministic and stochastic, or else stochastic in some parts and
deterministic in other parts, without any loss of stylistic coherence".
The two last statements are indeed contradictory, because if we do not know
what a deterministic music might be, how would it be possible for us to affirm the
said continuum?
And, if we admit that the so-called deterministic side of the continuum should
be equated with arbitrary selection, then are we not cutting the compositional
process between a one-sided formalization and an unrelated and inconsequential
procedure of selection,7 If we negate a singular event's capacity to contain
intrinsic formal properties, from whence might the "stylistic coherence" come?

Myhill claimed to have been assisted in his talk by "a serendipitous cross-
fertilization between Xenakis and Eisler'. So, after referring to Eisler's problem
as stated in the "False Collective", Myhill comments: "I ask myself, specializing
Eisler's questions, how this is reflected in the rhythmical character of the
100 Horatio Vaggione

accompanying music" (of a film scene dealing with the transition between the
mobilization of the individual and its integration in the B'6se Kollektivit~t). The
answer runs: "increase the degree of periodicity!"
So, if we understand this example, the continuum thus envisioned runs from
the aperiodic rhythms manifested by an individual behaviour (globally viewed as
a disorder, but coherent at the level of each singularity) to the periodic rhythm
manifested in the behaviour of an army, appearing as One Thing, namely, the -
"False"- Collective, globally viewed as an order where singularities are negated
as to give coherence to the whole. Of course, Eisler can qualify this whole as a
"false" collective, because it is one-sided: a whole formed not by the qualities of its
parts, but standing uniquely by its self-affirmation as a whole.
Is this false collective a good model of determinism? Can the increase of
periodicity-which I agree well represents an increase of homogeneity, and
subsequently a decrease of diversity- be said to be (more) deterministic? Only in
that it is (more) simple. But in equating determinism with simplicity we remain
inside Hiller's model that assimilates pure determinism with pure redundancy.
And thus we are coming back to the "not-so-subtle" solution that Myhill was
trying to avoid.
At this point, I would like to ask: which is the model of time of the marching of
an army? For the sergeant charged which the order of marching, the scheme is
"one-two", as it is also for the soldier who must follow this order and hence count
"one" and "two" to be integrated in what Zuckerkandl calls "a metric wave". To
understand this point we can recall Zuckerkandl's thesis about music and time.
As explained by Charles: "if in the simplest of metric waves, namely the two-
phase wave, 'two' (present) follows 'one' (past), the 'past' character of 'one' is not
synonymous with non-existence (even if, according to the hourglass concept of
time, such a 'past' ought to be already extinguished); if 'one-as-past' were
extinguished, 'two' would simply be a second 'one'. The wave says 'one-and-two',
not 'one-or-two'. The past is never absent from the wave-as-a-whole. And on the
other hand, the 'future' two is no more absent when one beats the 'one' of the
beginning of the wave" (Charles 1986).
This demonstration accounts for Zuckerkandl's thesis of active time, of time as
a force existing in the external world, and of time as a category of reality that does
not know any "equality of times". Applied to the "deterministic" music of the
past, it explains why there is so much repetition (e.g., in Beethoven's Eroica
Symphony): in music (unlike in language) things can be stated again and again,
because time is "always new" (Zuckerkandl 1956; see also Vaggione 1980).
In Charles' explanation, the "simplest wave" is taken as a means to demonstrate
the motion of time itself. But in order to be applied to the phenomenon of music,
we must complexify it to the point of modeling a polyphony of waves. This polyphony
makes music not a pure periodic phenomenon, but a quasi-periodic one. The
difference is essential, as we will see in a moment, in order to caracterize music as
a highly interactive field of co-present temporalities.
In the case of the marching army, however, we remain roughly inside the
simplest metric wave: one-and-two. A huge mass of people behave in a way so
simple that it becomes a single sustained wave (and this is not only a metaphor: a
marching army actually creates a single low frequency which has caused the
collapse (by an acoustical phenomenon of "bad sympathy") of houses and
The false collective 101

I agree that this simple behaviour can be called deterministic because it is

extremely easy to predict. However, it is better called globally ordered. The
t e r m s - the elements- involved in this globality are not taken as individuals, as
singularities: their intrinsic (formal, i.e., relational) properties - the personalities
of the soldiers, in this c a s e - d o not count for the whole. Only count the
effectiveness of the (global) r u l e s - a s few in number as possible, and as
redundant as possible, to create a total order: only one-and-two.
But the same can be said of a Xenakis's polyphony of masses (the concept is in
itself a contradiction: a mass is by nature the contrary of a coexistence of very
differentiated things). The famous "thesis of the minimum of constraints"
(Xenakis 1963), which was implemented as an algorithm for his work Achorripsis,
was certainly stochastic (and theoretically very informative, as it was dealing
with equal probability). Furthermore, this stochasticity was expressed, among
other things, by the aperiodicity of its rhythmic content. However, the
relationship between the whole and the elements of the same nature as in the
example of the marching army: no singularities-and hence no specific formal
(relational) properties-are here allowed.

The model of time of a marching army, as well as that of a stochastic cloud, can be
regarded as a kind of global time. Concerning the marching army, the global time
clearly coincides with the local time at any point, the "one-and-two" being
present locally, but established globally. Global time implicates a self-similarity of
the local with the global, established as a unique top-down order. But we cannot
say that this order is hierarchic, because its one-to-one simplicity gives no room
for any interaction to take place; so it is roughly a one-sided domination of the
local by the global.
But also a stochastic cloud is imbedded in global time. In one case as in the other,
an interaction of levels cannot take place. In Xenakis's manner of composing,
global law generates the material; later on, this material is arbitrarily arranged in
sections, providing lineal cues in order to make the clouds directional, by
increasing, decreasing, or changing abruptly the values of some parameters, such
as intensity, for instance. So we have here a strategy involving the definition of
the global law as well as the arbitrary manipulation of the products of the global
law, without however establishing an explicit structural relationship between
the two levels.
By contrast, consider the case of hierarchic time relationships as they appear
often in tonal m u s i c - o n e of the common musical practices confused with
determinism. As Kramer states, "most tonal music is metrically regular on the
surface level. On deeper levels, however, irregularities are common. Relatively
rare is the piece that consists entirely of four-bar phrases grouped into eight-bar
phrase pairs, 16-bar periods, and 32-bar sections". In other words, the (local) time
of a phrase is not often "exactly coextensive with a four-bar 'hypermeasure".
This formulation leads Kramer to state that, in the most general case, "a phrase is
not a large-scale measure but rather a rhythmic group" (Kramer 1988, p. 83).
Hence, a phrase is not simply self-similar to the whole or to any hypermeasure
(global time): the hierarchy implicated by the ensemble of levels of articulation is
102 HoracioVaggione

one on which these levels, being not simply self-similar, are clearly interactive. A
further demonstration comes if we consider that, while "a measure is cyclic, in
that after the music has moved through beats 1,2,3, and 4 (for example), it goes
back to (another) beat 1", the "rhythmic groups are not usually cyclic, because
they vary considerably and because they are comprised of music, not just beats. It
is because meter is cyclic that it is more resistant to change than rhythm. Rhythm
is the force of motion, while meter is the resistance to that force" (ibid.) What is
alluded to here is a state of interaction between the temporalities on different
levels of organization, interaction that allows the definition of formal possibilities
between the two poles of the local and the global, and hence an activity of
deduction of articulated configurations.
This reference to tonal metric organization is not intended to be more than it is:
a remainder of the multi-level organization of a common musical practice. But it
lead us to an important conclusion: in the extreme opposed to this organization
we find the entire stochastic field and its inherent one-level status. Any of the
"non-stochastic" (we cannot consider as pertinent the use of the term "deter-
ministic") music practices, as the ones considered by Myhill, is organized in a
plurality of levels which contribute interactively to the emergence of a highly
articulated form.
Confronted with the impossibility of establishing a continuum between
randomness and determinism, Myhill's questions.actually show that music is not
a one-dimensional fact.
It is in this perspective that the efforts of the pioneers of computer sound
synthesis (Mathews 1969, Risset 1969) are to be placed. Their efforts were very
important to the emergence of compositional microworlds, understood as
generally concerned with the shaping of time on all possible levels, including the
temporal structure of the sound itself (for an account covering the varieties of
approaches dealing with micro-time, see Risset 1986). Mathews's "logic for
combining functions", mentioned early in this paper, was conceived as an
extension of the sound synthesis program MUSIC V, pointing to the use of the
digital computer as a general tool in every domain concerning music structuring.
And it is in regard to the entire compositional process that the shaping of the
micro-time of sound is to be understood - integrated in this process as a carrier of

In composing music, we are composing time, that is, we are articulating it into a
variety of temporalities. I believe that this affirmation acquires a very concrete
meaning through the use of the computer, which constitutes a tool for shaping
time at all possible levels.
I have been concerned here with the problem of computer-aided composition at
the beginning of its history. I have directed the attention of the reader- using as a
frame Myhill's comments - to some points that were not much discussed in those
early times. I think that this discussion is important in order to clarify the role of
the computer in a more developed compositional environment. The relation
between determinism and stochasticity is a very important part of this clarification,
The false collective 103

as it is the n a t u r e and the role of c o m p u t a t i o n a l rules in the u n d e r s t a n d i n g and

the realization of g e n e r a t i v e processes. If music is to be increasingly f o r m a l i z e d
(see Barribre 1990), we need to k n o w w h e r e this f o r m a l i z a t i o n can take place,
and, fundamentally, w h a t this formalization means. Simple a u t o m a t e d techniques
of e v e n t g e n e r a t i o n , simple symbolic m a n i p u l a t i o n by m e a n s of linear c o m p u t i n g
m e c h a n i s m s , are not concerned e n o u g h with the p h e n o m e n o n of music; this is
the r e a s o n w h y I stressed the " n o t - s o - s i m p l e " aspects of formalization.
I have e m p h a s i z e d the t e m p o r a l aspects of this p r o b l e m , looking f o r w a r d to the
ultimate use of the c o m p u t e r as a tool for articulating time. As this a r g u m e n t has
taken m a n y pages, I will n o t r e f e r h e r e to the c u r r e n t w o r k in the field (but see
Vaggione 1984, 1987, 1989). 1would r a t h e r like to conclude by an a f f i r m a t i o n : the
role of the c o m p u t e r in the shaping of musical t i m e - w h i c h m u s t be viewed as
being the m a t t e r of c o m p u t e r - a i d e d c o m p o s i t i o n - n e e d s to be f u r t h e r w o r k e d
out, f r o m the t e m p o r a l b e h a v i o u r of the partials of a s p e c t r u m , to the multiple
temporalities involved in a complex sound-object, to the m a c r o - t i m e of the
(causal and/or e m e r g e n t , lineal and/or non-lineal) global f o r m , w i t h o u t forgetting
all the fractional d i m e n s i o n s in b e t w e e n , n o r the s t r u c t u r a l relationships
established at each level by interaction with all o t h e r levels.

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Photocopying permitted by license only

Relations between musical and scientific

properties of time
Jeff Pressing
La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia

The origin of time is considered to be experienced change, which, coupled with scientific
method and instrumentation, produces an objective clock time. Musical time differs from
scientific time in several ways: it is composed rather than received; its subjective interpretation
is not necessarily bound by physical experience; it can be regarded as multidimensional; it has
intrinsic cyclic aspects; and it draws on a wider range of sources, such as culture, environment,
the body, conceptual operations, and interpersonal interaction in performance. |ts similarities
include: the property of ordering of events; measurability; divisibility; the existence of
characteristic time scales; relationships with number. Change is classified into rearrangement
change and attribute change, a split shown to apply to both musical and scientific time. The utility
of two scientific procedures in establishing the nature of musical time is addressed:
mathematical formalisms (which may model the temporal processes used by composers), and
techniques of cognitive psychology (which may examine the mental representation of time).

KEY WORDS time, change, dimension, temporal structures, sources of musical timing,
science and music

Fundamental properties of time

Although some philosophers, including such luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton,
have argued against it (cf. Sorabji 1983), I take as a starting point that the very
notion of time comes about from the experience of change, sensory or otherwise.
Time is not a stimulus but a construction, an inference. In particular, our sensory
experience allows us to infer the existence of such things as events (experiences
with a start and finish), material objects (sensations with physical extension and
some permanence), and qualities (aspects of events or objects). When events,
objects, or qualities change or are transformed, and when this process shows
repeatable properties, we infer that the nature of change has underlying
commonalities, many of these subsumed under the idea of time. Phenomeno-
logically, there are certain definite elementary temporal experiences, including
simultaneity, non-simultaneity, succession, the subjective present, and duration
(P6ppel 1989), upon which many of the subjective and objective properties of
time are based. Scientific method and scientific instruments allow these
properties to be generalized and systematized in certain ways.
The commonly agreed upon properties of objective or scientific time are
usually considered to include:
1. Time provides an ordering of events. In classical physics and ordinary experience, this
ordering is unique for any given set of events and chosen observer. Agreement
106 Jeff Pressing

between observers is only limited by resolution of measurement or perceptual

error, except in the domain of relativistic physics.
2. This ordering has a unique direction. The unique arrow of time is noticeable at the
ordinary macroscopic level in nearly all phenomena. This empirical arrow is
expressed by the rise in entropy of isolated systems, as promulgated by the
Second Law of Thermodynamics. On the other hand, at microscopic level,
virtually all physical processes obey equations that are time reversible (a few
processes of fundamental particles, lacking so-called T-invariance, do not). The
reconciliation of these two opposing facts can be achieved in the physical sciences
by the use of statistical mechanics, where it is shown that the properties
experienced by humans are the result of the statistical averaging over a very large
number of particles (of the order of 1023). The averages show unique time
direction properties which their underlying microscopic processes do not.
Other sources for the unique arrow of time are also found in science. Those of
geology (the fossil record), cosmology (properties of the expanding universe) and
biology (biological clocks, ontogeny) are perhaps best know.
3. Time separates events into three distinct categories: past, present, future. This separation is
directly experienced, in that our connection with the past is through memory
(including inanimate storage media), our connection with the present is through
perception, and our connection to the future is via such things as intention, plan,
expectation, and extrapolations of existing knowledge.
4. Time is measurable. The existence of clocks that agree to high accuracy (in non-
relativistic surroundings) provides the utility of this notion. Clock time is
virtually synonymous with scientific time. Time's measurability means that in
mathematical terms it acts as a metric space, i.e. a space with a distance-defining
function (a metric).
5. Time is continuous (but also discrete). If the construction of time is based on
change - i.e. motion, then, since classical physical motion is continuous, classical
scientific time must be continuous too. The continuity (arbitrary divisibility) of
time is a hypothesis of classical physics that is supported by much ordinary
sensory experience. Years are divisible into months and months into days and
days into hours and hours into minutes and minutes into seconds and seconds
into fractions of seconds, and so forth in principle without end. This is not only an
intellectual construction, for we can learn an ability to gauge the passing of such
clock time. This type of time sense is of course of critical importance for musical
The exceptions to the continuity of time in the sciences have to do only with the
quantization implicit in the Uncertainty Principle. Such effects are normally only
appreciable at the subatomic level, governed by the equation AEAt~ h/27r, which
indicates the coarse graining of time measurement. Quantization or minimal
uncertainties in time (At) are related to uncertainties in energy (AE), where h is
Planck's constant.

In addition, there are distinctive properties of most processes that create a class
of events of special relevance to the discussion of time. These include particularly
the unique time points or zones labelled endings, beginnings, and transitions.
Although these properties - as descriptions of scientific time - will likely seem
Musical and scientific time 107

incontestable to many, it is well to remember that dispute over the nature, indeed
the very reality, of time has a long history. Differing views of the fundamental
properties of time and the dating of events have been a central point of
contention in many religions, and in the Hellenic period the split between those
who saw the world as essentially static (e.g. Parmenides, Archimedes) and those
who saw it as essentially flux (e.g. Heraclitus, Aristotle) was already well-
developed. A reconciliation of the experienced realities of change and permanence
was not really achieved until the discoveries of modern science, where unchanging
entities (the atoms of Democritus, later empirically observable molecules, atoms,
and fundamental particles) undergo movement and rearrangements which
account for the change and variability of matter.
Of course, we now know that these 'unchanging' particles have substructure,
and also behave as waves of probability, and that their wave properties depend on
the manner of observation in a way which brings into question their entire status
as unchanging objects. Nevertheless, these aspects are hidden from our normal
experience and we may consider that all that matters from our macrosopic
vantage point is that the constituent objects appear to be unchanging, or exhibit
highly repeatable characteristics. To generalize, the conceptualization of objects
as unchanging typically implies a certain separation of vantage point from those
objects. The theory appropriate to this vantage point will then be based on the
generic properties of these objects, and change or time will be founded on
changes in their spatial relationships or characteristics. Much grosser or finer
levels of structure will be to first approximation irrelevant. To take an extreme
example, we can safely ignore both submicroscopic level quantum mechanical
effects, and the influence of the earth's rotation (e.g. the coriolis force), when
playing billiards. Of course, it has been often commented that the peculiar
relations of the fundamental particles can be made macroscopic by suitably fine-
tuned experimental design (e.g. the Schr6dinger cat paradox, the Einstein-
Podolsky-Rosen experiment).

Music-specific phenomena
Few would disagree with the idea that music has a special relationship with time.
Music's scientific reducibility to a plot of amplitude of air density versus time is
one sign of this. Another is the plethora of time control methods (or attitudes)
inherited from traditional musical culture and developed further by conscious
compositional innovations: meter, pulse, rhythm, duration, tempo, timeline (in
African music), tala and tihai (in Indian music), rubato, swing, polymeter,
polytempo, metrical modulation, temporal serialism, Fibonacci proportion
systems, moment time, nonlinear time, vertical time (Kramer 1988) etc. Music is
indeed "the art of the audible now" (Fraser 1985)-its potentials for long-term
temporal structuring notwithstanding.
This time connection is not without parallel in other expressive arts; drama,
film, dance, and performance art all involve timed performance. We do, however,
have good grounds for supposing that even among the time-based arts there are
special attributes to sound. We know that the ear is a better device than other
sensory organs for extracting many types of temporal nuance from perceptions
(e.g. Pressing 1987a). There are also unique sensory qualities of engagement
108 ]eft Pressing

found in sonic time structuring: for example, the experience of engaging

rhythmic activation occurring with a 3:2 acoustic polyrhythm is not matched by
an equivalent visual display or tactile sensation.

Relations between musical time and scientific time

Despite the many music-specific time phenomena, the five properties of scientific
time mentioned above have ready parallels in music, which will now be discussed
in order. First, in any given performance or recording, the musical events have a
unique time ordering. Second, the unique direction of time is "accepted" in nearly
all music, but may be vitiated to some degree by various techniques, most
commonly by the use of retrograde, which, to be sure, still consists of events
occurring in a unique order at the time of presentation. (The actual propagation
of sound from sources outward is not being retrograded, of course, although
such effects might be simulated by multichannel computer treatments of sound.
There are also distinctions between sound retrograde-playing music back-
w a r d s - a n d note or rhythm retrograde.)
Third, past, present and future remain useful concepts, within whose ambit
the recurrence and development of sonic material operates. Backwards and
forwards hearing is how Kramer (1973) has described it. Fourth, in common with
scientific events, all realized musical events are subject to clock measurability and
much of their effect is gained through this kind of temporal perception. (The
utility of different metrics for measuring musical time has been discussed by
Tenney and Polansky (1980).)
Finally, the continuity or arbitrary divisibility of time applies without doubt to
sound perception. But quantization of time enters in a much more universal way
in music than in science, and not only via the pervasive influence of such things as
pulse, meter, rhythm, phrase and subdivision. Evidence for categorical (i.e.
quantized) rhythmic perception has been presented (Pressing 1987b). Various
electronic synthesis procedures (notably granular synthesis) propose the coarse-
graining of time in music. There is also a temporal course-graining in perception
of pitch: for a note to be possibly perceived as having a definite pitch, it must last
at least a certain significant fraction of one cycle of the fundamental pitch. (How
large this fraction must be depends on the intelligence built into the pitch
extraction system.) This limitation applies both to the human auditory system
and to electronic pitch trackers (e.g. pitch-to-MIDI converters).
A number of further points emerge from a comparison of scientific and musical
time. One is that musical time, except that found measured out in the metronome
markings of scores, has a subjective, experienced, psychological component. This
much-discussed subjective impression of time is affected by various qualities of
the musical texture, notably activity level, and to a lesser extent, timbre, pitch,
etc. This dichotomy between clock or objective time and experienced or
subjective time has had considerable discussion in music (e.g. Childs 1977), and has
also played an insistent role in a number of historical dichotomies, such as that of
the Indian kal~ and k~la (Rowell 1978), the Greek chronos and kairos, and
McTaggart's A- and B-series (McTaggart 1972). Other historical divisions of
approach have contrasted the concepts of event-dependent relative time with
Musical and scientific time 109

absolute time, independent of events. This dichotomy was a point of contention

between Leibnitz and Newton, for example.
A further fundamental distinction is that musical time is designed by composer
and articulated by performer, not empirically received by the listener as the result
of natural processes governed by physical laws. This time is a "virtual time" (de
Selincourt 1920, Langer 1953) that shapes the perceptual processes of the
auditor. Such timing design has certain intended functions, normally including
one or more of the following: shaping individual events; establishing distinguish-
ability and appropriate perceptual connectedness of events; expressing number
and proportion; and activating the body for dance.
These are the most common functions, but the nature of a creative field is that
such lists can never be complete. Instead, they become targets for compositional
subversion: some composers inevitably design music that attempts to subvert or
completely negate the physical attributes of time, cognitive predilections, or the
intended functions of timing. Thus the ordering property of time is challenged by
mobile form (Kramer 1988), as in John Cage's Piano Concert (1957), where the order
and inclusion of parts is at the performers'discretion. The uniqueness of the time
arrow is challenged by the use of retrogression, as mentioned above, as well as by
scores that have certain novelties of time progression. Among these may be
numbered those exhibiting Kramer's (1988 p. 453) nonlinear time, "a temporal
continuum characterized b y . . . [a] principle of composition and of listening in
which events are understood as outgrowths of general principles that govern
entire pieces." Another subversive orientation might be found in pieces that
move from complex polyphony to strict repetition, thus acting (in superficial
analogy) in violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as for example the
passage between rehearsal numbers 141 and 147 of Witold Lutoslawski's
Symphony No. 2.
Systematic repetition of patterns can dull time perception, stretch or even
eliminate (cf. Kramer's "vertical time") the apparent time, eliminate the effects of
transitions, beginnings, and endings, or force attention to focus on certain
temporal details or scales. Many works of Steve Reich and Philip Glass a r e o f this
kind, as is Frederic Rzewski's Les Moutons de Panurge. Other composers have made a
feature of the now in their descriptions of perception: e.g. John Cage's "hearing in
the present tense", Stefan Wolpe's "an unfoldment of nows" (Wolpe 1962/86).
With this perspective it is possible to find (and perhaps re-hear) precedents in
much earlier works which feature unusually large amounts of repetition or
textural stasis. Examples are readily discovered in early music, such as Perotin,
and in the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata K.422 contains two
passages consisting of 16 literal and sequential repetitions of a decorated three
note motif, and the Fuga K.417 shows an extremely static textural design, and is
primarily constructed from repetitious sequential figures that repeatedly move
around the diatonic circle of fifths.
Continuity can be undermined by many traditional musical procedures, such as
unexpected staccato chord blocks or rapid sectionalization. Certain conceptions,
like La Monte Young's "stopped time", or the "stop time" of jazz, also act against
continuity. Kramer (1988) refers to moment time to describe music made up of a
mosaic of moments, as Messiaen's Chronochromie (1959/60). Contemporary music
videos also use fragmented time constructions, both in musical sampling and in
110 ]eft Pressing

frame e d i t i n g - a l b e i t generally within a conservative and repetitious musical


Temporal hierarchy and scale

The hierarchical n a t u r e of time is v e r y well established in music, f r o m the
stratified ensembles of Southeast Asia to the Schenkerian structural levels of the
large scale tonal "masterpieces." Processes occur simultaneously, each with its
characteristic time scale (Yeston 1976). O f course, this is not confined to music,
but occurs in m a n y if not most physical and biological systems. But again, music
has its special aspects. We may point to " h o r i z o n t a l " aspects of time, w h e r e the
focus is on time succession within one part, and such things as juxtaposition and
distance are p r i m a r y experiences, and c o n t r a s t it with "vertical" aspects of time,
w h e r e the focus is on coordination b e t w e e n parts, and s y n c h r o n y , a s y n c h r o n y ,
overlay, and r e i n f o r c e m e n t qualify as p r i m a r y experiences.
Any temporal h i e r a r c h y offers a set of characteristic time scales corresponding
to its f u n d a m e n t a l processes. In music, these are the time scales of the p r i m a r y
musical p h e n o m e n a : w a v e f o r m s , envelopes, modulation (vibrato, tremolo, etc.),
notes, measures, tempi, motives, phrases, melodies, sections, m o v e m e n t s , entire
pieces, etc. Table I illustrates, v e r y roughly, the c o m m o n time ranges that these
concepts entail.

Table 1 Musical time scales

Typica I Corresponding
Phenomenon time s c a l e frequency range
single waveform ,00005-.05 sec 20-20,000 Hz
envelope attack component .0005-10 sec .1-2000 Hz
single note .001-10 sec .1-1000 Hz
steady note production .05-10 sec .1-20 Hz
vibrato/tremolo .1-.5 sec 2-10 Hz
tempo/pulse .1-5 sec .2-10 Hz
motif .5-5 sec .2-2 Hz
phrase 3-30 sec .03-0.3 Hz
melody 5-100 sec .01-0.2 Hz
movement 30-1000 sec .001-0.03 Hz
piece 30-30000 sec .00003-0.03 Hz

In the final column the frequencies corresponding to these time scales are given.
A different perspective on the time ranges of f u n d a m e n t a l musical p h e n o m e n a is
given by Bielawski (1981).
One area of (admittedly esoteric) similarity b e t w e e n scientific and musical time
is their shared difference in t h e reversibility of micro- and m a c r o - t e m p o r a l
p h e n o m e n a . If, in analogy to the structural descriptions of physics, we consider
the c o n s t i t u e n t "particles" or "wave packets" of music to be sine waves, in line
with the fundamental t h e o r e m of Fourier, t h e n we have the following comparable
situation: sine waves are symmetrical (aurally identical) u n d e r time reversal,
w h e r e a s their weighted sum (the composite sound) is not. The resolution of this
Musical and scientific time 111

seeming paradox proceeds along the lines of the scientific case: the summation of
the phase relations and weightings of the constituent waves produces emergent
irreversibility from reversible components.

On linear and cyclic time

The recurrence of the same or related sonic events in music is often considered to
create a kind of cyclic time that stands in contrast to linear time. This idea is
widespread in non-Western music (e.g. the West African time-line, the Indian
tala) and in the music of our own culture (e.g. passacaglia, ostinato, strophic form,
theme and variations, rondo form). Since it is repetition that allows cyclicity to be
perceived, it can be useful heuristically to classify the nature of repetition used in
music, as an index to the degree of cyclicity of time. Thus we may view a certain
passage as being periodic, quasi-periodic, or aperiodic. It may feature exact
repetition of all parts, exact repetition of some parts, varied repetition, exact
repetition of abstract properties of all/some parts, or contrast. Exact repetition
has often been considered to suspend musical time. Perhaps this would be better
viewed as reducing the scale of time to the scale of the repeated pattern.

Multiple time dimensions

A related issue is the notion of the dimensionality of time. Time is virtually
always pictured as linear and one-dimensional in traditional scientific con-
ceptualization or graphs. This applies to four dimensional space-time as well.
Philosophical theories of multidimensional time do occur, however. Jaques (1982)
identifies two dimensions of time, corresponding respectively to succession and
intention. Heidegger (1972) argues for four temporal dimensions: past, present,
future, and an "interplay" of the previous three. From the standpoint of science,
such formulations tend to lack clarity and adopt a metaphorical attitude to the
word dimension. Bielawski (1981) develops the idea of two time dimensions more
systematically by identifying one with the succession of temporal intervals, the
other with duration or frequency.
In music an independent two-dimensional formulation may be made as follows,
based upon a combination of the ideas of linear and cyclic time. We consider first
the case of metered music. Here there are two primary time positions that affect
the function of notes: absolute time position, and placement within the bar.
Hence we can consider that there exists an axis for overall clock time and an axis
for distance from the start of the bar. The natural geometrical shape for this is a
coil or helix (Figure 1). In the figure, a uniform 3/4 meter is assumed, with beats
indicated by ticks along the helix. With changing meters, the helix would have
loops of correspondingly variable size.
Notice that this is a two dimensional time space that is embedded in three
dimensions. This helical structure is reminiscent of the cognitive structure of the
diatonic order, as proposed by Shepard (1982). It could be readily embedded in the
two-dimensional plane for the case of constant meter if the coil's radius were
increased by a consistent amount during each turn and then the entire coil
compressed flat to become a spiral (as shown in figure 2).
112 ]eft Pressing

(CYCLIC) succession


Figure 1 Two kinds of musical time: 1-D linear and 2-D cyclic.

It may be objected here that in many contexts it is not only position within the
bar that matters, but also position within the phrase, within the section, etc. This
is true, and these distances might possibly be given the status of additional
"weak" dimensions, although there is no obvious limit to the process. Correspond-
ingly complex diagrams could be drawn to illustrate this, again showing analogies
with Shepard's diagrammatic extensions of pitch to the double helix and higher
dimensional structures. However, the degree of clarification afforded by such
diagrams seems limited in the case of time.
It may also be asked whether unmetered music has this same basic 2-
dimensionality. The answer seems to be that time without hierarchic rhythmic
cyclicity is in fact 1-dimensional, while non-metric music which nevertheless
possesses clear patterns of recurrence might have a "weak" second dimension,
whose strength might be indexed by assigning a fractional dimensionality for
time. In other words, the self-similarity of the temporal design would create
fractal time, with dimension d satisfying 1~d~2.
Musical and scientifictime 113

time Beat 3


t~eat z . . . . ~ssion

Figure 2 The two kinds of musical time compressed into a two-dimensional form.

T w o o r i e n t a t i o n s to m u s i c a l c h a n g e

Let us now examine the nature of change in music. It is clear that the information
in traditional Western musical scores is very largely about the rearrangement of
objects that have fundamental unchanging properties: notes. One oboe F#4 is a
lot like another oboe F#4. Indicators of timbral change, dynamics, and pitch
deviation are, in many styles, nuances applied to a basic framework, designed to
clarify structural relations or make the parts maximally effective for projection in
performance. While change at the micro-level is under the unnotated control of
the performer, score-based change comes from the distinctive stringing together
of notes. This is analogous to the usual perspective on scientific change, where
fundamental particles (here notes) undergo motion and rearrangement. This
approach may be called rearrangement change. Yet the microvariation of the
constituent notes is responsible for a certain portion of the musical effect in any
style. Some contemporary scores featuring highly developed articulatory mark-
ings and extended technical demands, and indeed, the fine detail of amplitude vs.
time plots of sound, show a different orientation, which we may call attribute
change. Here stable sound objects do not feature prominently; all is parametric
change and flux. This approach is commonly found in computer controlled sound,
or certain meditative musical practices. In summary, the two types of change are:
rearrangement change: time expressed through motion or changes of position of
unchanging sound objects-e.g, notes or recurring sound complexes
attribute change: time expressed through change in the attributes of sound
objects-e.g, parametric change of qualities of sound
114 ]eft Pressing

Clearly, these two orientations are not irreconcilable, but occupy endpoints of
a continuum: the defined sound objects can incorporate micro-motion (of course
this is already present in the fundamental vibrations), or macroscale motion, as in
repeating patterns, that by repetition define themselves as composite objects
with internal time structure. For example, some pieces by Steve Reich and Franco
Donatoni feature such combinations of attribute and rearrangement change.

Musical time as a carrier of number and structure

The relation of time to number in music is both well-established and ancient.

According to Plato: "These are the forms of time, which imitates eternity and
revolves according to a law of number." (Timaeus) In Western culture, number is
enshrined in musical time in the harmonic series, the Medieval penchant for the
perfect number 3 (representing the Trinity), talea, meter, tempo, polyrhythm,
subdivision, time point series, the symmetrical compounding of classical phrase
structure, Golden Mean and Fibonacci proportion schemes, the equations of
classical physics describing vibration, information theory interpretations, and so
forth. Yet even though time's relationship to number forms a significant part of
its relation to structure, systematic temporal organization that does not rely on
number is widely found: for example, in timbre, dynamics, the temporal nuances
of interpretation, the processes of thematic development, and works based on
"gestural time" (Kramer 1988).
The relation of time to number and structure also provides the commonest
path for the display of parallels with other musical parameters. Cultural
numerological fixations, multiserialism, rhythmic/pitch dissonance, and cognitive
isomorphisms between cross-cultural pitch and rhythm patterns (Pressing 1983)
are prominent examples. Yet time has been much less investigated theoretically
than pitch, perhaps because it is harder to represent change than spatial
symmetry on paper. Although the taxonomic approach of classification of
temporal pattern type is one that has an obvious analogy with certain con-
temporary procedures like pitch class set analysis, this has not been pursued in
any convincing depth with rhythm. Here the apparent stumbling block is the
arbitrary divisibility of musical time, making the establishment of a core of
fundamental rhythmic patterns problematic. Analytical studies of non-number
based parametric parallels are particularly rare, though such parallels do feature
in certain compositional orientations: multimedia composition software (e.g. Max
or Ovaltune), musical mapping (e.g. from natural phenomena), and gestural
correspondences between music and dance.

Mathematical formalism and musical time

Time structure in music has its own conventional terminology, that can readily
indicate simple numerical ratios and time scale (tempo). However, more complex
contemporary processes-and even such traditional things as swing and
accelerando - cannot readily be so specified. And while a number of workers have
looked at issues of timing in live performance, we may also ask what possibilities
exist for the systematic description of time structure through the construction of
Musical and scientific time 115

mathematical formalisms for the temporal operations used or usable by

composers. The goal here would be to obtain a more unified view of the aural
designs of composers, and perhaps suggest unanticipated extensions to current
practice. Yet such formalisms are of little musical value unless they are grounded
in what can be musically perceived.
Xenakis (1971) considered time theory in music briefly in such terms, defining
concepts of in-time and out-of-time structures, and introducing formalisms for pitch
based upon the mathematical theory of sieves that can readily be applied to time
(Bel 1990). David Lewin (1987) has propounded a quite general theory of musical
structure, using his formal model of Generalized Interval Systems. This model
can treat time structure, and Lewin's approach is used successfully to interpret
musical examples of considerable diversity. He develops the idea o f musical
transformation, via graphs and networks, in a systematic way. Another
formalism for time modelling is developed by Bel (1990). This approach is based
on the idea of mapping between physical time and a symbolic set of dates. In the
work of both Lewin and Bel, the starting point is the consideration of time as a
metric s p a c e - t h a t is (to the detail required here), just a space with a function
defining the distance between two points. While a definitive discussion of these
approaches is beyond the scope of this paper, it will be perhaps useful to indicate
how an independent formalism can be erected from a small set of definitions that
specifically consider musical perceptibility and compositional practice. Examples
are given as the definitions unfold, referring to both the traditional musical
practices found in scores and the possibilities of the new generation of
microcomputer compositional environments (sequencers and intelligent music
Let us consider time to be a continuous one-dimensional metric space T which
contains time points t i and time intervals (spans) Ii, where Ii -- the time interval
containing all times at and between specified endpoints, say tj and ft. Time
intervals can be partitioned and compounded. Let the distance between two time
points tj and tkbe defined by a metric (distance function) D(ti, tt). The most common
distance function is
D(tj, t~)= I tk-tjJ.
For example, we might have a regularly spaced set of time points, with D being
used to measure the resultant pulse. Such a metric may be called Euclidean (it will
measure objective durations) (Bel 1990). Non-Euclidean metrics might be useful
in describing musical passages involving rubato or accelerando.
Let S be a time point structure. S is an ordered set of time points S = {tl, t2, t3,...tn}
such that t i ~ ti+1 for all i~n. We write S = {ti}. Time point structures may exist
without any associated musical events. In such cases S may act as a perceptual grid
for the perception of overlaid patterns. Time point structures that are formed
from the repetition of a small number of repeating cells or units are most likely to
be used as perceptual grids, due to the limits~of perception and memory, and the
traditions of musical culture. Such grids, when based on systems of common time
units and simple whole number ratios, generate such familiar phenomena as
musical meter and subdivision. With more complex ratios, and with overlays of
multiple time structures, the rhythmic innovations of African music, Elliott
Carter, and Conlon Nancarrow become the subject of discussion.
Time point structures may also have musical "events" (notes, motives, and
116 Jeff Pressing

processes like crescendo, etc.) associated with them. A time point structure that
has events associated with more than one of its time points will be called an event
sequence E. Event sequences correspond to the familiar musical phenomena of
patterns, motives, phrases, etc. A time point sequence that has at least one event
associated with each time point will be called completely filled. These events may be
drawn from any source, such as a temporally unordered list L. Such events
typically have their own internal time structure, but their starting point (on-
time) is assignable. Their ending point (off-time) may also be assignable,
depending on the nature of the event (Van Benthem 1983). The process of
assigning events from a list to a time point sequence to produce an event
sequence (i.e., assigning starting p o i n t s - a n d possibly ending p o i n t s - t o the
selected events) will be called event mapping.
Operations involving the combination of two or more time structures may be
defined. For example, two time point structures may be merged if their time points
are combined and reordered to satisfy the ordering property. Thus if
S 1 = { I . 0 0 , 1.20, 1 . 6 6 7 } , and
S z = { 1 . I 0 , 1.20, 2.0}, then we may write
S~ + S 2 = {I.00, I . I 0 , 1.20, 1.667, 2.0},
where units may be in beats or seconds and the '+' operator denotes merging. The
same may be done with event sequences (where the only difference is that events
at the same time point do not collapse to a single event, as occurs here with time
points). This is a procedure commonly available in music sequencer software, and
in the MIDI merge function in electronic music hardware.
A "vector product" of two event sequences may also be defined, as follows.
Consider two event sequences:
EA = {Ei(ti) , Ei+l(ti+l) . . . . Ei+n(ti+n)}, with n events, and
EB = {Ej(tj), Ej+1(tj+1). . . . Ej+m(tj+m)}, with m events.
Define their vector product as follows:
EA * EB = {Ei(tj), Ei+l(tj+l), Ei+2(tj+2). . . . Ei+r(ti+r)},
where r = rain(n, m), so that EA * EB ~ EB * EA. In other words, the events from the
first sequence are allocated to time points of the second event sequence, and the
process stops when we run out of either events or time points. This process is
found in commercial electronic music software, as for example the "generated
sequence" option in Opcode's Vision.
Weights Wi may be assigned to specific time points t iin time structures or event
sequences. For example, in classical 4/4 meter, weights 3, 1, 2, 1 might
respectively weight the accents given to the 4 main beats of the bar. In Afro-
American music the weightings might be more like 2, 3, 1, 3. Such weights may
then allow a more refined interpretation of familiar musical phenomena.
Consider the case of composite rhythm. The usual problem with the analytical
technique of composite r h y t h m is that it rapidly "saturates" in any but the
simplext textures, so that, for example, in a 4-part fugue by J.S. Bach all the 16th
note positions may fill up, and little information is left. By putting a weighting to
each 16th note position based on incidence and perhaps accent, greater resolution
can be achieved.
Musical and scientifictime 117

We may also define the concept of a time map M(C, F), that operates on a time
structure S, or event sequence E, where C is the set of criteria of inclusion
defining the range of application of the map, and F is the function applied to the
selected time points (or events). A time map acts to stretch selectively the fabric
of time. Time maps can correspond to such diverse things as rubato interpretation
of notated rhythms, swing (in jazz), accelerando, conditional editing in sequencers
(where criteria like proximity to a certain part of the measure structure or
dynamic range limitations are invoked before a musical transformation is
applied), and retrogression. For example, figure 3 shows an excerpt for piano
transformed as follows (via conditional editing):
C = all notes belonging enharmonically to the Db major scale that do not lie
within a sixteenth note of beat 3;
F = transpose the selected events down a perfect fifth, delay them by one
quarter note, and quantize to the nearest 16th note.

ori~naJ ' I

tig". I

ifM ikl ~.


rJ~ lr~ ~ tL -,IE --i iI 9

t/ i ~1
111 i~-I i i i 9

Figure 3 An example of the use of a time map: conditional editing.

Such maps can also be used to define temporal temperaments, where the basic
structure of subdivision in metered (or at least pulsed) music is stretched
according to a specific plan. An example of this is shown in figure 4, where a 4/4
sixteenth-note structure has had imposed upon it highly variable quantizations:
the first two sixteenth-note positions of each bar are quantized to septuplets, the
last sixteenth of each beat is quantized to quintuplets, and so forth, as indicated.
While the listener will not be precisely aware of the details of structuring, the
distinctiveness of temporal organization is immediately perceivable, and from my
experience with such compositional designs, readily usable as a basis for
compositional coherence. Execution of such effects usually requires computer
assistance, either by MIDI control, direct digital synthesis, or by the preparation
of special tapes (with click tracks exhibiting different tempi and subdivisions) that
are listened to by performers through headphones during performance.
118 Jeff Pressing

Q7 Q5 Q9 Q5 Q5 QI 1 Q5
rO ,,: /'-.. I /'~.. I I i' I \ 1 I
rrrr rrrr

Figure 4 A second example of the use of a time map: design of a temporal temperament. Qx
means that the given notes are quantized to x-tuplets. Where no indication is given the value is
Q4 (normal 16th note).

On internal representation of musical time

It seems a l t o g e t h e r likely that music could n e v e r have come into being w i t h o u t

sound: the n a t u r e of the auditory experience shapes the v e r y f o u n d a t i o n of
musical possibility. Yet despite this, music can exist w i t h o u t sound, a position
supported by sources as diverse as Benjamin Boretz, Charles Ives, Arnold
Schoenberg, Nada Yoga, and traditional Sufi writings. Factual support for this
r a t h e r disconcerting position is quite strong: skilled musicians can internally hear
a score w i t h o u t experiencing vibrations in the air; o t h e r p e r f o r m a n c e media can
and have adopted the s t r u c t u r e s of music; some deaf persons are able to f o r m a
relationship with music; and Cage's 4"33". If, then, mind is the absolutely
essential medium in which music plays out its games, we m a y wish to consider
that the cognitive r e p r e s e n t a t i o n of musical time is of special relevance to its
study and provides a point of contact b e t w e e n musical and scientific (in this case
psychological) procedures.
One standard way to look at time psychologically has been to ask subjects to
estimate clock time. H o w e v e r , this provides little i n f o r m a t i o n about the more
complex cognitive r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s of musical time. A more general way to
examine the properties of an internal r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is by examining the
t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s we can mentally apply to it. This is an approach with a
considerable literature in cognitive psychology, for example in the study of
mental rotation of objects, but w o r k referring in detail to musical time has not to
m y knowledge used this perspective. This paper can only a d u m b r a t e by a few
considerations the possibilities 9 f such an inquiry, as follows.
Consider a piece of music you k n o w well and can readily hear internally. It
exists then as a mental representation, apart from score or sound, but not apart
from mind and time. To elucidate its temporal properties we ask: w h a t kinds of
time t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s can you p e r f o r m on it? (The a n s w e r to this will both
e m p o w e r and limit w h a t kind of music you can make or hear.) The most obvious
control possibilities are global and local changes of tempo, and the shifting of
elements to different times (within certain familiar limits). What can we use to
model this? O u r mental r e p r e s e n t a t i o n clearly differs from an analog tape
recording (even t h o u g h it also stores audio spectral information), because if you
speed it up the pitch doesn't change, just the tempo. Also, we can leap ahead to
different sections (though usually not with a r b i t r a r y specificity) w i t h o u t fast
forwarding t h r o u g h intervening material (as is possible with digital storage
media). Is it then more like a MIDI sequence? In some ways, yes - tempo and pitch
can be independently changed, and we can mentally p e r f o r m some operations like
selective editing or applying 'swing' to groups of notes. H o w e v e r , m a n y M|DI
sequencers can invert or retrograde material, and these operations are far from
Musical and scientific time 119

automatic mental commands. Furthermore, MIDI sequencers lack information

about acoustic spectra. Perhaps a closer analogy is the sequencer/signal processing
workstation, such as Opcode's Studiovision. (This is an active area of technological
development). All these analogies clearly have imperfections; the mind's repre-
sentation of musical time is a thing unto itself. Further exploration is needed

Sources of musical timing

Scientific thought and culture are obviously not the only extramusical influences
on musical time. It seems therefore useful to set what has gone before into a
greater context by giving a schematic general look at the possible sources of
musical time. From the standpoint of the individual, these sources are either
exogenous (the listener/performer responds to external stimulus) or endogenous
(internally generated). The following listing describes major sources, and gives
examples and clarifications where necessary.

Environmental sources
seasons-e.g, the invariable 4/4 meter in traditional Chinese music has been
linked to the inviolate regularity of the four seasons (Rowell 1978)
astronomical motions- e.g. lunar and circadian cycles, motions of the stars and
other natural processes-e.g, wind, flow of liquids, the life cycle, radioactive
decay, the tides
properties of materials-e.g, resonance, distensibility, granularity

Cultural sources
cosmology-e.g, the life-rebirth cycle has its parallel in the tala of Indian music
special time points-e.g, beginnings, endings, transitions
the performing arts
science-e.g, spectral analysis, the concept of space-time

Technological sources
the clock
machinery - e.g. industrial polyrhythms, temporal peculiarities of note production
from different musical instruments. The industrial revolution facilitated the
possibilities of indefatigability and strict repetition
audio storage and editing - facilitating memory and comparison, and destroying
uniqueness of the moment. Audio tape permitted splicing, promoting dis-
continuity, moment form, juxtaposition, the editing orientation. Digital
editing has increased the resources for editing
120 Jeff Pressing

the computer-enabling the programmable but humanly unperformable and

sophisticated control of processes
public media-linking music's time scales to those of visual phenomena

The body: physiology and motor processes

internal experience
biological clocks-e.g, sources for both exact and quasi-periodicity
gait-e.g, as a source for pulse or tempo
instrumental performance
speech-e.g, logogenic rhythm

Conceptual operations:
stretching- e.g. swing, note in,gale, accelerando
temporal hierarchy-e.g, meter
change of scale
overlay-e.g, of different time scales, of patterns
metrical modulation
time serialism
resultant rhythm
mapping- e.g. from other phenomena: paintings, planetary motion, epigenesis;
explicit mathematical mappings
interaction between time series-e.g, vector product (defined earlier of two
time structures

Interpersonal interaction:
timing consensus between performers
timing as a mode of communication between performers
This last area is of considerable practical interest to performing musicians, and
various systems of time coordination in ensembles are employed. With larger
ensembles a master clock system is usually used, whether it be visually produced
by a conductor, as in the symphonic tradition, or aurally by a time keeper part, as
in the traditions of new and old world Black music. In rubato pieces of music,
timing can be non-clocked, but led by a performer singled out for this purpose.
Such designs can be compounded, as where multiple conductors are present. An
alternative organization of ensemble time is via chains of musical cues. For
Musical and scientific time 121

example, in Witold Lutoslawski's Symphony No. 2 we find the conductor's role in

performance largely reduced to indicating a series of cues, which are virtually the
only points of defined synchronization between parts. Between these cues all
instrumentalists proceed at their own uncoordinated tempi (although the range
of these tempi is established by explicit descriptions). With smaller ensembles, for
example the string quartet, a conductorless interactive timing system can be
used, where players primarily align themselves by knowing their relations to
each other's parts and the felt meter (often assisted by visual cues intrinsic to
performance), so that no one fixed source exists for timing, even if timing
leadership at certain points may be allocated to a particular performer.
These different orientations can result in certain kinds of playing difficulties
for mixed tradition ensembles. For example, in Western classical music, tempo is
most commonly phrase-driven, with the results that ritardandi are commonplace
at cadences and some other points of melodic emphasis. Hence, when performers
in this tradition check the relation of their parts to others, as regularly happens to
ensure the precise placement of notes, they synchronize to the known melodic
relations with other parts. On the other hand, most Black musics are pulse-
driven; tempo is constant, and when performers periodically check their note
placement, it is usually to synchronize to the underlying strictly metronomic
master clock. This difference between the referents of rhythmic placement is
responsible for a large degree of the difficulty traditionally experienced by
ensembles containing musicians from both the classical and jazz traditions.


It is a pleasure to acknowledge the helpful comments made by Jim Sosnin, John

Stinson, and especially Jonathan Kramer on an earlier draft of this paper.

Bel, B. (1990) Time and Musical Structures. Interface, 19(2-3), 107-135.
Bielawski, L. (1981) The Zones of Time in Music and Human Activity. In The Study of Time IV,
edited by J.T. Fraser, N. Lawrence, D. Park. Springer Verlag: New York.
Childs, B. (1977) Time and Music: A Composer's View. Perspectives of New Music, 15(2),
Spring]Summer 194-219.
de Selincourt, B. (1920) Music and Duration. Music and Letters, 1(4), 286-93.
Fraser, J.T. (1985) The Art of the Audible Now. Music Theory Spectrum 7, 181-4.
Heidegger, M. (1972) On Time and Being, trans. J. Stambaugh, New York: Harper and Row.
Jaques, Elliott (1982) The Form of Time, New York: Crane, Russak & Co.
Kramer, J. (1973) Multiple and Non-linear Time in Beethoven's Opus 135, Perspectives of New
Music, 11(2), Spring]Summer 122-45.
Kramer, J. (1988) The Time of Music, New York: Schirmer.
Langer, S. (1953) Feeling and Form, New York: Scribners.
Lewin, D. (1987) Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations, New Haven: Yale University
McTaggert, J.M.E. (1927) The Nature of Existence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
P6ppel, Ernst. (1989) The Measurement of Music and the Cerebral Clock: A New Theory.
Leonardo, 22(1), 83-89.
Pressing, J. (1983) Cognitive isomorphisms in world music: West Africa, the Balkans, Thailand
and Western tonality. Studies in Music, 17, 38-61.
122 Jeff Pressing

Pressing, J. (1987a) Improvisation: Methods and Models. In Generative processesin music, edited by
J. Sloboda, pp. 129-176. London: Oxford University Press.
Pressing, J. (1987b) The Micro- and Macrostructure of Improvised Music. Music Perception, 5(2)
Rowell, L. (1978) Time in the Musical Consciousness of the Old High Civilizations - East and
West. In The Study of Time Ill, edited by J.T. Fraser, N. Lawrence, D. Park, Springer-Verlag,
New York/Heidelberg/Berlin.
Shepard, R.N. (1982) Structural Representation of Musical Pitch, in The Psychology of Music,
edited by D. Deutsch, New York: Academic Press.
Sorabji, Richard (1983) Time, Creation and the Continuum. London: Duckworth.
Tenney, J. and Polansky, L. (1980) Temporal Gestalt Perception in Music. Journal of Music
Theory, 24(2) 205-41.
Van Benthem, J.F.A.K. (1983) The Logic of Time. Dordrecht: Reidel.
Wolpe, S. (1962/86) Lecture on Dada. Musical Quarterly LXXII(2) 202-215.
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Contemporary Music Review, 9 Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH
1993, Vol. 7, pp. 123-138 Printed in Malaysia
Photocopying permitted by license only

Tempo curves considered harmful

Peter Desain and Henkjan Honing
Nici, University of Nf/megen, The Netherlands; University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In the literature of musicology, computer music research and the psychology of music, timing or
tempo measurements are mostly presented in the form of continuous curves. The notion of
these tempo curves is dangerous, despite its widespread use, because it lulls its u s e r s i n t o t h e
false impression that a continuous concept of temporal flow has an independent existence, a
musical or psychological reality, and that time can be perceived independent of events carrying
it. But if one bases a transformation or manipulation of timing on the implied characteristics of
such a notion, one is doomed to fail.
KEY WORDS representation of time, tempo curves, expressive timing

In which we decided to have a good time, invited an expert, and had our first
Not so long ago we decided to spend a Christmas holiday studying music and its
performance. One of us is an a m a t e u r m a t h e m a t i c i a n (M) and the o t h e r one likes
to delve into old psychology textbooks (P), and because we enjoy impressing each
o t h e r with n e w facts and insights, we o f t e n find ourselves in v e h e m e n t
discussions. T h e r e f o r e we t h o u g h t we might have a pleasant and peaceful time by
putting our beloved hobby horses aside and e m b a r k upon a subject about which
neither of us k n e w much: the timing aspects of music. We became interested in
this field because we had noticed, while playing with the c o m p u t e r , our favourite
toy, that adding just a bit of r a n d o m timing noise to a p r o g r a m that played a score
in an o t h e r w i s e metronomically perfect way, made the music much more
pleasant to listen to. It seemed as if we could make m o r e sense of it. But we
suspected that there was m o r e to timing and expressive p e r f o r m a n c e t h a n adding
bits of noise, so we invited a mutual friend w h o is a retired professional pianist to
spend Christmas in o u r small but well equipped laboratory. O u r friend has a
great love for the piano and its music, but is completely i g n o r a n t of the advances
of m o d e r n technology. To d e m o n s t r a t e to him o u r latest s e q u e n c e r p r o g r a m we
asked him to play the t h e m e f r o m the six variations composed by Ludwig van
Beethoven on the duet Nel cor pih non mi sento, the score of which we had lying
a r o u n d (see Figure 1).
Even t h o u g h he was s o m e w h a t disturbed by the touch and harpsichord-like
sound of the electronic piano, he was quite fascinated with the possibility of
recording and playing back on the same i n s t r u m e n t . Enthusiastically we told him
that this system was more than just a m o d e r n version of the pianola: 'You can
examine and change e v e r y detail you want; for instance, inspect the timing,
accurately to the millisecond, add and r e m o v e notes, make notes longer or
124 Peter Desain and Henkian Honing

Figure 1 Score of the theme of Nel cot pit~ non mi sento.

shorter, or louder or softer, and so on and so forth.' O u r friend became quite

excited and asked: 'Could y o u r machine play my p e r f o r m a n c e in a minor key?' We
were a bit put off by the simplicity of his demand, but patiently d e m o n s t r a t e d the
key-change features. After hearing his p e r f o r m a n c e with the key changed to G
minor o u r friend was not impressed. 'O dear, I'm afraid this sounds much too
hasty. For example, the "dramatic" e-flat in bar 3 needs m o r e time. Let me play it
in minor for you.' When we looked at the timing data of his n e w p e r f o r m a n c e it
indeed showed a different pattern. Upon noticing our disappointed faces our
friend remarked 'this was not a minor change; it really t u r n s it into a n o t h e r piece.
We did not expect y o u r device to k n o w about that, did we?" We kept silent. 'But
y o u r machine can u n d o u b t e d l y play the same piece at a faster tempo.' T h a t set us
in motion again. We changed the setting of the t e m p o knob one-and-a-half times
as high and pushed the play button. The face of our friend again did not show the
expression we had hoped for. ' I ' m awfully sorry, but this is not right! It sounds
like a g r a m o p h o n e record played at the w r o n g speed, but w i t h o u t changing the
pitches.' Suspiciously, we w a n t e d some proof for his crude s t a t e m e n t and asked
him to play it the way he t h o u g h t it o u g h t to be p e r f o r m e d . His version at the
higher tempo was indeed different. We had to admit that it sounded m o r e natural
than our artificially speeded-up version. What made it sound so m u c h b e t t e r ? We
tried to unravel this m y s t e r y by examining the timing of the onsets and the
offsets of the notes, since these were the variables that could be altered with o u r
electronic keyboard, just like a real harpsichord.
O u r sequencer, a v e r y recent version, had a separate tempo track. In this track,
the tempo can be changed from f r a g m e n t to f r a g m e n t , even from note to note.
With this feature we could put the original score on one track and the timing of
the performance, expressed as tempo changes per note, on the tempo track,
although it took quite a bit of calculating and editing by hand. After a while we
had completely recreated the original p e r f o r m a n c e , but n o w as a score plus a
separate track of expressive timing information. This t e m p o track looked like the
graph in Figure 2a (for clarity we show only the timing of the melody). We could
now compare the timing of this p e r f o r m a n c e with the one played at t e m p o 90 (see
Figure 2b). T h e i r form was quite different even by visual inspection, although
our ears were, of course, the only valid judges.
Harmful tempocurves 125

Tempo, metre and beat

Temporal pattern is a series of time intervals, w i t h o u t any i n t e r p r e t a t i o n or
Rhythm is a temporal p a t t e r n with durational and accentual relationships and
possibly structural interpretations (Dowling & H a r w o o d , 1986).
Beat refers to a perceived pulse marking off equal durational units (Dowling
& Harwood, 1986, p. 185). T h e y set the most basic level of metrical
organisation. The interval b e t w e e n beats is sometimes called a "time-span"
(Lerdahl & Jackendoff, 1983), or, less abstract, beat duration, beat period or
metrical unit (Longuet-Higgins & Lisle, 1989).
Metre involves a ratio relationship between at least two time levels (Yeston,
1976). One is a r e f e r e n t time level, the beat period, and the o t h e r is a higher
order period based on a fixed n u m b e r of beat periods, the measure. It
imposes an accent s t r u c t u r e on beats, because beats initiating higher level
boundaries are considered more important.
Tempo refers to the rate at which beats occur (often expressed as beats per
minute), and is t h e r e f o r e closely linked to the metrical structure.
Density is used to refer to the average p r e s e n t a t i o n rate taken across events
of different duration (i.e. events per second) w h e n a piece has events of
different durations and the beat is hard to d e t e r m i n e unambiguously, if at
all (Dowling & H a r w o o d , 1986).
It is i m p o r t a n t to note that r h y t h m , tempo, m e t r e and density can be
conceived independently: it is possible to maintain the same tempo while
changing density; for example, a musical f r a g m e n t can have a lot of
embellishments (i.e. have a high density) and still be perceived as having a
slow tempo. F u r t h e r m o r e , r h y t h m can exist w i t h o u t a regular m e t r e and
any type of rhythmical grouping can occur in any type of metrical s t r u c t u r e
(Cooper & Meyer, 1960).
Tactus is the tempo expressed at the level at which the units (beats) pass at a
moderate rate (Lerdahl & Jackendoff, 1983). This rate is a r o u n d the
" p r e f e r r e d " or " s p o n t a n e o u s " tempo of about 100 beats per minute (Fraisse,

What had happened? The sequencer had speeded e v e r y t h i n g up by the same

a m o u n t (which we all agreed sounded awkward), while in the p e r f o r m a n c e the
expressive timing appears not to scale up e v e r y w h e r e by the same factor. O u r
friend adapted his r u b a t o according to the tempo, which he explained to us as:
'My timing is very much linked to the musical s t r u c t u r e and what I want to
communicate of it in an artistic m a n n e r to the listener. If I play the piece at
a n o t h e r tempo, o t h e r structural levels become more important; for instance, at a
lower tempo the tactus will shift to a lower level, the subdivisions of the beat will
get more "in focus", so to say, and my phrasing will have much more detail.' After
some scratching with pen on paper, M found a quite elegant way of representing
126 PeterDesain and Henkjan Honing
I 5 I0 15 20
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -m . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . + . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ql, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . + . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

a . 6 0

b. 90
Figure 2 Tempo deviations in the performance of the theme at tempo 60 (a) and at tempo 90 (b).
these changes using simple m a t h e m a t i c s . We t o o k the time interval b e t w e e n the
onsets of e v e r y t w o succeeding notes and calculated the ratios of these time
intervals in the t w o tempi. If the expressive timing p a t t e r n would scale-up
linearly, we would find the ratios for all the notes to be a r o u n d the ratio b e t w e e n
the t w o tempi, and m o s t ratios w e r e indeed a r o u n d 1.5. T h e r e was s o m e variance
a r o u n d t h a t factor, t h o u g h , and we t h o u g h t t h a t could be explained by the m o r e
elaborate s h o r t - s p a n p h r a s i n g at the lower tempo. But, e v e n m o r e noticeable was
the fact t h a t for some notes the ratio was close to 1. We f o u n d that these notes
w e r e notated as grace notes in the score. T h e y did not change at all w h e n
p e r f o r m e d at a n o t h e r tempo. We also f o u n d that not all grace notes b e h a v e d like
this. For example, the t w o grace notes t h a t c o v e r an interval of a sixth, in bar 7
and 19, w e r e timed like a n y o t h e r note: t h e y w e r e actually played in a metrical
way. O u r pianist got really excited a b o u t o u r o b s e r v a t i o n s . He pointed at grace
notes in the score t h a t w e r e n o t a t e d in the same way, but t h a t needed a different
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , and he started to lecture a b o u t the d i f f e r e n t kinds of o r n a m e n t s ,
so popular in the e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , the difference b e t w e e n acciaccatura and
appoggiatura, ' o r n a m e n t s that "crush in" or "lean o n " notes', a b o u t their possible
h a r m o n i c or melodic function changing their p e r f o r m a n c e , and so on and so
forth. W h e n he noticed t h a t we w e r e getting bored w i t h his l e n g t h y historical
observations, he w o k e us up again w i t h a new, s h a r p attack on o u r beautiful
sequencer p r o g r a m : 'It m i g h t be forgivable t h a t y o u r p r o g r a m c a n n o t play the
onsets of o r n a m e n t s correctly, but it also m u r d e r s the articulation of m o s t notes,
especially the staccato ones. And have y o u h e a r d w h a t the p r o g r a m did to m y
detailed colouring of the t i m b r e of c h o r d s ? ' Well, in fact, we had not, but we could
well u n d e r s t a n d t h a t the timbral aspect b r o u g h t a b o u t by the chord spread
(playing some notes in a chord a tiny bit earlier or later t h a n others) was not kept
intact w h e n all timing i n f o r m a t i o n is just scaled by a certain factor. And we did
not even dare to play the p e r f o r m a n c e again at a lower tempo, afraid that each
chord would t u r n into an arpeggio.
So o u r sequencer was not so w o n d e r f u l a f t e r all. It could not be used to change
s o m e t h i n g , not even such a m i n o r thing as the key in which the piece was played.
Again o u r pianist explained t h a t a change of key w a s not a m i n o r thing. The
minimal variation that he could think of was the repetition of bars 5-8 at the end
of the theme. ' T h e only difference b e t w e e n t h e m is the fact that the second
s e g m e n t is a repetition of the first, and I e v e n e x p r e s s e d that minimal aspect by
timing. This p r o b l e m is e x a c e r b a t e d if the difference b e t w e e n t w o sections is the
overall tempo. T h e n detailed k n o w l e d g e a b o u t s t r u c t u r a l levels, articulation,
timing of o r n a m e n t a t i o n s and chords, is indispensable.' We had to agree. H o w
Harmful tempo curves 127

Tempo, timing and structure

In principle, timing can be linked to any musical structural concept. T h e

most concrete of those are the following.
Although the most obvious metrical units are bar and beat, this strictly
hierarchical s t r u c t u r e may e x t e n d above and below these levels. Special
expressive marking of the first beat in the bar, either by timing, dynamics or
articulation, is a c o m m o n p h e n o m e n o n (Sloboda, 1983).
Phrases may not be ordered in a strict hierarchy, and may cut across metrical
structure. Phrase final lengthening is the most w e l l - k n o w n way in which
they are treated (Todd, 1989).
A large p r o p o r t i o n of the timing variance can be a t t r i b u t e d to rhythmical
groups (Drake & Palmer, 1990). Some standard rhythmical patterns, like
triplets, seem to have a p r e f e r r e d timing profile (Vos & Handel, 1987).
Small timing asynchronies within a chord (called chord spread) are perceived
as an overall timbral effect - the actual timing p a t t e r n is hard to perceive.
Ornaments, like grace notes and trills, can be divided in acciaccatura, so-called
timeless o r n a m e n t s , and appoggiatura, o r n a m e n t s that take time and can have
a relatively i m p o r t a n t harmonic or melodic function. The f o r m e r normally
falls outside the metrical f r a m e w o r k , the latter tends to get p e r f o r m e d in a
metrical way.
The independent timing of individual voices is sometimes hard to perceive
because their c o m p o n e n t s are immediately organised by the perceptual
system in different streams (Bregman, 1990). This is not the case with
(almost) simultaneous onsets that result in clear timbral differences, this
can be heard in ensemble playing w h e r e often the leading voice takes a small
lead of around 10 ms. (Rasch, 1979).
Any associative relation, e.g. b e t w e e n a musical f r a g m e n t and its repetition, can
be given intentional expression by using the same or different timing

dumb of us, after all, to assume that a tempo knob on a commercial sequencer
package could be used to adjust the tempo.

Wherein we looked at multiple performances, learned from a

conductor and tried different hierarchies but had no success

But we were convinced we could make our friend happy, and proposed to
program some additions to the sequencer ourselves. We showed him a video tape
about research done at MIT by Barry Vercoe and his collaborators on c o m p u t e r
accompaniment of a real musician. In this project the c o m p u t e r is given a score
128 PeterDesain and Henkjan Honing

and several p e r f o r m a n c e s of the piece. With that i n f o r m a t i o n it can be "trained"

to follow and accompany the musician. Not that we w e r e trying to do that, but we
could use the idea to a n n o t a t e each note in the score with its deviation in the
performance, in our case in different tempi. O u r friend agreed to p e r f o r m the
Beethoven t h e m e at four different tempi that w e r e musically acceptable to him.
We saw again that some notes exhibited a large change w h e n t e m p o is changed,
while o t h e r s w e r e less influenced by the tempo. But we could n o w use statistical
methods to derive the right timing i n f o r m a t i o n for each tempo f r o m this data.
O u r friend, w h o started to develop a little bit of suspicion, asked: 'Will that solve
playing at different tempi t h e n ? ' We were not q u i t e s u r e . We definitely had more
information now, but the r e p r e s e n t a t i o n of the music was still flat; no structural
information was provided. It seemed we could not avoid incorporating some
organisation above the note level into our program. O u r friend agreed with a
smile that was almost saying: 'are you stupid or am I?' We got a bit nervous. But
after some discussion he agreed to concentrate on the timing of simple structural
units like beats and bars only, leaving the note by note details aside for the
T h e n we remembered Max Mathews working at CCRMA, Stanford University,
w h o does i m p o r t a n t w o r k in c o n d u c t o r systems (sort of the opposite of what
Vercoe is doing). He made a system w h e r e one can conduct a sequencer on the
beat level, which was just what we needed. The idea of a c o n d u c t o r shook our
friend up; that sounded a m u c h b e t t e r approach than all those statistics we tried
to explain to him before. We gave our friend an electronic baton, connected to our
sequencer, and asked him to conduct the piece. In the score in the sequencer the
beats were marked. The p r o g r a m followed the c o n d u c t o r by aligning each
conducted beat with the corresponding mark in the score, and it tracked the
tempo indicated by the c o n d u c t o r in doing so. At the high tempo, beating the
baton very quickly, it seemed all right, but at the moderate tempo it was impossible
to steer the timing deviations within the beat. 'It sounds too jumpy,' our friend
complained. Since the beat level of the system of M a t h e w s is arbitrary (he calls it
'generalised'), we a n n o t a t e d the score with marks at a lower metrical level, which
alleviated the problem a bit. But, as our friend was still complaining about the
controlability, we eventually ended up by marking each note in the score. This
gave complete control at last, t h o u g h o u r poor pianist, out of breath by the
acrobatics needed to draw each note out of the sequencer by means of a single
baton, made a cynical r e m a r k about the w o n d e r f u l invention, which we may have
heard of, called a keyboard. We became a bit vapid and proposed to help o u r
c o n d u c t o r by connecting three MIDI batons to the c o m p u t e r , the first two used
by us to time the bars and the beats, and the third to be used by o u r friend to fill in
the details, using batons i n t e r - c o n n e c t e d with a complex mechanism of wires, to
keep the timing at all levels consistent. We fantasized for some time about a
whole orchestra of conductors, leading one pianist before them. It was clearly
time for a tea break.
Over tea our friend told us about a series of p r o g r a m m e s on BBC radio,
presented by the English c o n d u c t o r Denis Vaughan, on the composer's pulse he
used in conducting. The pulse is a hierarchical, composer specific way of timing the
beats. This pulse was an idea proposed and actually programmed by someone work-
ing in Australia. We w e n t to o u r library and looked for some reference t h a t might
Harmful tempo curves 129

Timing and tempo, patterns and curves

In studying timing deviations a first distinction should be made between non-
intended motor noise and intended expressive timing or rubato. The first category
deviates in the range of 10 to 100 ms; the latter can deviate up to 50% of the
notated metrical duration in the score.
Expressive timing is continuously variable and reproducible (Shaffer,
Clarke & Todd, 1985) and clearly related to structure (Clarke, 1988; Palmer,
It is important to note that there is interaction between timing and the other
expressive parameters (like articulation, dynamics, intonation and timbre). For
example, a note might be accented by playing it louder, a fraction earlier
than expected or by lengthening its sounding duration. Which method of
accentuation is used is difficult to perceive, even when the accentuation
itself is obvious.
To refer to expressive timing, in computer music the term micro tempo is often
used, comparable to the term local tempo used in the psychology of music (the
tempo changes from event to event, expressed as a ratio of a performance
time interval and a score time interval). For clarity, the term timing would be
more appropriate here. It specifies the timing deviation on a note-to-note
basis and is often referred to as the expressive timing profile (Clarke, 1985;
Shaffer, 1981; Sloboda, 1983), timing pattern or rubato pattern (Palmer, 1989).
In these patterns, points are often connected, either stepwise with straight
line segments or with a smooth interpolation, yielding a timing curve: Only
the first representation maintains a proper relation with the time map in
which points are connected with line segments. These continuous time
maps are used by Jaffe (1985) and most people of the computer music
community. Time maps can be superimposed, using one for each voice.
Time maps can also be constructed for uniformly spaced units in the score
like bars or beats. The corresponding duration patterns form a true tempo
pattern. The points in these patterns can be connected by line segments,
yielding so called tempo curves. Some authors insist on stepwise tempo
changes, like Mathews (Boulanger, 1990), in which they are linked to one
level of the metrical structure.

tell us more on this composer's pulse. We ran into a collection of articles by

Manfred Clynes, who had invented the notion. This pulse, coincidentally, had
precisely the characteristics we were looking for: hierarchical tempo patterns
linked to the metrical structure. Basically it entailed a system of automated
hierarchical batons, and reduced the complexity f u r t h e r by postulating a fixed
pattern for each baton. We took a final sip of our tea and hurried back to the lab
and added Clynes' Beethoven 618 pulse as tempo changes in the tempo track to
our sequencer. It divided the time for each bar into two unequal time intervals for
130 Peter Desain and Henkjan Honing

t h e first and second half-bar and divided each half-bar into 3 unequal parts, one
for each beat. With some adjustments here and there, we had our p r o g r a m
running in no time. We called in our musical friend f r o m the library to provide
some professional judgements. He was definitely not u n h a p p y with the result.
"This sounds much b e t t e r than the things I've heard before,' he said.

a ~ ~ 7

1Q lq ?n

Figure 3 Score of the first variation of Nel cor pid~ non mi sento.
'Let's do the first variation, and see h o w o u r system p e r f o r m s it,' our friend
said, far more optimistic now. He was talking about " o u r " system. This was a
good sign. 'This variation is w r i t t e n in an o r n a m e n t a l style,' our friend explained,
while we loaded the score of the first variation (Figure 3) into our system and
created the tempo track containing the B e e t h o v e n pulse for this material. ' T h e
metrical and harmonic s t r u c t u r e is the same for both t h e m e and the first
variation. T h e only difference is that t h e r e are more " o r n a m e n t a l " notes added,'
he said in a patronizing tone. When e v e r y t h i n g was set we played him the result.
'Well, this is disappointing,' was his short and decisive anwer. A f t e r seconds of
u n c o m f o r t a b l e silence he added, 'it lacks the general phrasing and detailed
subtlety I think is essential to make it an acceptable p e r f o r m a n c e . T h e rhythmical
materials of the t h e m e and the first variation are different. The sixteenth notes
of the variation ask for a different kind of timing than the mainly short-long,
short-long, short-long r h y t h m of the theme. This pulse plays only with the
metrical structure, but musical s t r u c t u r e has far m o r e to offer than that.' So the
composer's pulse could not just be mapped o n t o any r h y t h m i c material.
F u r t h e r m o r e , it only linked timing to the meter, and, as our friend made clear,
phrasing and o t h e r musical s t r u c t u r e was ignored.
T h a t rang a bell. We r e m e m b e r e d one of the articles by Nell Todd on a model of
rubato, linked to phrase structure. His proposal is v e r y similar to Clynes; it
explains timing in terms of a hierarchical structure, but n o w phrase s t r u c t u r e is
the basic ingredient. The beat is again the lowest level; below that no timing is
Harmful tempo curves 131

modelled. The abundance of mathematical n o t a t i o n in Todd's article did not put

off our a m a t e u r mathematician. Q u i t e the contrary. 'This, on first sight, will
give us a solid basis to work with. What he states h e r e is that, if you r e m o v e all
the constants f r o m the formula, it is actually quite simple,' M said. 'Todd
proposed to attach a parabola to each level of the hierarchical phrase s t r u c t u r e ,
and sum their values to calculate the beat length.' He simplified a formula, f o u n d
an e r r o r on the way and finally the model became easy to implement. We were
quite conscious of the fact that we were the first really to h e a r Todd's model (he
himself had n e v e r listened to it). It did not sound v e r y pleasing because this model
was expressed in terms of the phrase s t r u c t u r e only (based on the idea of
systematically lengthening the end of a phrase in ahierarchical way), and because
it lacked all expressive timing below the level of beats.
Longing to show our collaborator that the c o m p u t e r could, in principle, also
calculate detailed n o t e - b y - n o t e timing, we looked for a model that would provide
these. Happily we found masses of rules for those subtle nuances in the articles of
Johan Sundberg and his colleagues. T h e s e rules f o r m u l a t e d simple actions, like
inserting a small pause in b e t w e e n two notes or s h o r t e n i n g a note. T h e actions
had to be p e r f o r m e d if the notes matched a certain pattern, such as constituting a
pitch leap or forming part of a run of notes of equal duration. In fact t h e r e w e r e so
m a n y rule sets proposed in his articles that we got a bit lost in the details, but it
has to be said that some rule-cocktails really seemed to w o r k for o u r piece.
Especially if their influence was adjusted to effect a subtle change only, the music
gained some liveliness. But because these rules are based on the surface s t r u c t u r e
of the music only, we could predict the j u d g e m e n t of o u r musical e x p e r t by now.
And indeed he did not even b o t h e r to c o m m e n t on the artificially produced

Generative models

Clynes (1983; 1987) proposes c o m p o s e r specific and m e t r e specific, discrete

tempo patterns. This so-called composer's pulse is assumed to c o m m u n i c a t e
the individual composer's personality. E.g. in the B e e t h o v e n 6[8 pulse the
subsequent half-bars span 49 and 51% of the bar duration and each half bar
is divided again in 35, 29 and 36%. Clynes is opposed to analysis of
p e r f o r m a n c e data: the pulses stem f r o m his intuition. Repp (1990) has
u n d e r t a k e n a careful evaluation of this model.
Todd (1985; 1989) proposes an additive model in which beat duration is
calculated as a s u m m a t i o n of parabola shaped curves, one for each level of
hierarchical phrase structure. He c o m p l e m e n t e d the model with an analysis
m e t h o d that calculates phrase s t r u c t u r e f r o m beat durations.
Sundberg et al. (1983; 1989) proposes a rule system to g e n e r a t e
expression from a score based on surface structure. His research was done
in an analysis-by-synthesis paradigm and captures e x p e r t intuition in the
form of a large set of these rules. An example of a rule is "faster uphill": A
duration of a note is s h o r t e n e d if it is preceded by a lower pitched note and
followed by a higher pitched one. Van O o s t e n (1990) has u n d e r t a k e n a
critical evaluation of this system.
132 PeterDesain and Henkjan Honing

performances. Instead he kindly reminded us that we might give up looking for a

system that enabled us to g e n e r a t e a "musically acceptable" p e r f o r m a n c e , given a
score (that is w h a t Clynes, Todd and S u n d b e r g are aiming at), for the simple
reason that we already had an "acceptable" p e r f o r m a n c e , namely his own. It was
true, the initial aim of our e n d e a v o u r was to find ways of manipulating the timing
in a musically and perceptually plausible way, given a score and a performance.
Because the simple r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s we had used proved unsuccessful, we had
been sidetracked by studying even simpler r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s that could at most
model a small aspect of o u r friend's performances. We decided to close the
session, look for m o r e details in the literature, and give it a n o t h e r try the next

In which we investigated discrete patterns and continuous curves, tried

interpolation and failed again

We f o u n d all kinds of references in the literature and read a lot that evening. It
was amazing to find h o w much w o r k actually was done on a problem that we had
t h o u g h t was not a problem at all. We became a little bit m o r e conscious of the
whole thing. It looked as if P's h o b b y horse, psychology, had to be given a chance.
He explained that the perception of time had been modelled postulating a certain
(often exponential) relation b e t w e e n objective time and experienced time. But
this research had all been done with impoverished stimulus material, often
consisting of just one time interval m a r k e d - o f f with two clicks. ' O t h e r research,'
P added, 'found that duration j u d g m e n t depends on the way the interval is filled
with m o r e or f e w e r events, so u n f o r t u n a t e l y these simple laws cannot be directly
applied to more complex material like real music.' Even P was disappointed with
the results of his beautiful science. 'But psychology has something to o f f e r to us
here', he spoke in a defensive tone. 'Take a look at all the articles that present
timing or tempo m e a s u r e m e n t s in the f o r m of c o n t i n u o u s curves instead of just a
scattergram of m e a s u r e m e n t s . T h e s e curves more or less imply an independent
existence, apart f r o m the r h y t h m i c material w h e r e t h e y were m e a s u r e d from.
But psychological research has s h o w n that one cannot perceive timing w i t h o u t
events carrying it.' He found this convincingly argued in an article by the
psychologist James J. Gibson called "Events are perceivable but time is not". 'Can
you imagine perceiving a r u b a t o w i t h o u t any notes carrying it?' P asked. 'And vice
versa: "filling up" time by adding an e v e n t b e t w e e n two m e a s u r e d points is
problematic, isn't it?' T h e r e seemed to be no possible a r g u m e n t .
We decided to do the acid test using a f e a t u r e of the sequencer program. In this
p r o g r a m it was possible to copy tempo tracks f r o m one piece to the other. We
applied the t e m p o track of the original p e r f o r m a n c e of the t h e m e (see Figure 2) to
the score of the first variation. The result was poor; even we could hear that. T h e
timing made sudden jumps, like a b e g i n n e r sight-reading and hesitating at
unexpected points because of a difficult note. The expressive timing p a t t e r n
found in the theme did not "fit" the variation. O u r friend's p e r f o r m a n c e of the
variation was much s m o o t h e r and had gestures on a larger scale, as far as we were
able to judge (Figure 4). Also, the o t h e r way around, taking the timing data from
Harmful tempo curves 133

Subjective time, duration and tempo magnitudes

Most psychophysical scales for time intervals are described by Stevens' Law,
that relates the physical magnitude of a stimulus to its perceived m a g n i t u d e
as perceptual-time = a constant x physical-timeb-constant. The b value differs
from one dimension to the other. For time d u r a t i o n b is c o m m o n l y f o u n d to
be 1.1, slightly over estimation of the interval. H o w e v e r , for intervals
s h o r t e r than 500 ms it is found that b is a r o u n d 0.5, the square root of its
physical duration (Michon, 1975).
H u m a n s seem to have a relatively poor ability for time discrimination of
intervals p r e s e n t e d w i t h o u t context. The just notable differences (JND) are
in the range of 5-10% (Woodrow, 1951) with an o p t i m u m near 600 ms
intervals. H o w e v e r , in the context of a steady beat, the JND's are a r o u n d 3%
with the same o p t i m u m interval (Povel, 1981).
Much research was done on the existence of a spontaneous tempo,
p r e f e r r e d rate or natural pace (Fraisse, 1982). This tempo should occur as a
p r e f e r r e d rate of s p o n t a n e o u s tapping, and material p r e s e n t e d at that rate
should be easy to perceive and r e m e m b e r . T h e r e is weak, but converging
evidence for the existence of such a rate, again with intervals a r o u n d 600
ms. T h e r e is no consistent evidence for physiological correlates like h e a r t
T h e r e has been quite some research done on the influence of different
dimensions on time perception, mainly in the fifties. Evidence was f o u n d
that, in general, the higher pitched the sound the longer the percept (Cohen
et al., 1954), and the same holds for louder sounds (Hirsch et al, 1956).
Evenly divided intervals seem longer than irregularly divided ones (Ornstein
Time intervals s h o r t e r than 120 ms, preceded by a physically s h o r t e r
neighbour time interval, are u n d e r e s t i m a t e d to such a remarkable degree
that one can speak of an auditory illusion (Nakajima et al., 1989).

15 ;'o
. , .

oo o
_ i . . . .

:':''t L t - .
o o~l- ..........

,~_t __.~_ ....... ' .... %, ; , % -;~ -. ~ --t --~ .~.__~L%,% ...... !,_? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ,__. ....... ,~%% 4- -t0- -~ -
# L I I I O l Ill o I I It II Ill
.~ ........ -. ..... %-- Co: !--~ .... ,,~...... 0-
i ,
................... i"
o i

.......................... l . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
----[Z-[Z;ZZTI --I..........I.... I ---!;ZIII~C ......---

Figure 4 Tempo deviations in the performance of the variation at tempo 60.

134 PeterDesain and Henkjan Honing

the variation and applying it to the score of the t h e m e had the same a w k w a r d
effect. It seemed impossible to just add or r e m o v e notes using these stepwise
tempo curves. We felt stupid again for having assumed that the independence of
tempo tracks in the sequencer made musical sense. But it made us look in the
literature for alternatives.
The a n s w e r was not far away. In the field of c o m p u t e r music research
continuous r u b a t o curves were used almost by default. We decided to take the
path of the continuous timing functions, hoping it would get rid of this awkward
"jumpiness". T h u s M's hobby horse was b r o u g h t out again. 'Functions are far
easier to handle. One can calculate, given the right kind of function, a good timing
curve for e v e r y piece,' M argued convincingly. This combined approach of
formality (in the mathematical sense) and pragmatics reminded us of a m e t h o d
developed by David Jaffe of C C R M A to model the timing of different parts of a
c o m p u t e r orchestra. Jaffe w a n t e d the different i n s t r u m e n t s to have their o w n
timing, but they had to synchronize at specific points as well. By using a time map,
instead of tempo changes, coordination and synchronization became possible.
'What he actually does is to specify the timing for each event by means of a
function from score time to p e r f o r m a n c e time,' M explained, 'a blatantly simple
idea indeed: to integrate velocity or o n e - o v e r - t e m p o , as Jaffe calls it, to get time.
This of course restrains the possible functions one can use to make up such a time
map; they have to increase m o n o t o n o u s l y and one m u s t be able to calculate a first
derivative.' This was again a method, among m a n y others, in which different
a u t h o r s p r e s e n t e d their ideas of tempo curves (see Figure 5). We tried to bring
some order to the ways the different r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s were used.
Soon M gave up, stating that it was a hopeless mess; no two a u t h o r s used the
same d e p e n d e n t and independent variables and m e a s u r e m e n t scales. And while
in the end all the i n f o r m a t i o n needed could be extracted f r o m most presentations,
it was a difficult job, the more so because of the confusion in terminology. We
decided to r e t u r n to the practical application of the time map. We adapted the
sequencer's tempo track to contain a time map (composed of line segments)
instead of the discrete tempo changes we had used before. We then applied this
1.8 ........... ........................ ................................................. -................................................. ~........................ .................... ~. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

.-'~ 1.6 ............................................................... ........................ ........................ ~ ..........................................................................................................

1.4 ............................................................. ~........................ +........................ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


.8 -.

.6 ~ , . i . . . .
2 4 8 10 12 14 16 18 20

bars ->

Figure 5 A typical so called "Tempo Curve" with duration factors for each note as a function of
metrical time.
Harmful tempo curves 135

c o n t i n u o u s curve to the variation and had o u r pianist judge it. He t h o u g h t it was

m u c h b e t t e r t h a n the direct application of the discrete c u r v e of the t h e m e to the
variation. The interpolation (with line s e g m e n t s ) did i m p r o v e the s m o o t h n e s s of
the timing, but he still complained a b o u t the sudden t e m p o j u m p s at the junctions
of the curve. M r e m a r k e d t h a t one could restrict the allowed t e m p o m a p
functions f u r t h e r or s m o o t h the existing function, for instance, with splines.
This b r o u g h t us to an article describing w o r k done at I R C A M by David Wessel
and others, which indeed p r o p o s e s the use of splines. We took an algorithm we
had lying a r o u n d t h a t did splines and added it to o u r t e m p o track algorithm. And

Objective time, duration and tempo measurements

When an e v e n t h a p p e n s (an onset of a note) one can m e a s u r e the real time
elapsed since the beginning of the piece (called performance time) and also the
point in the score w h e r e this onset was n o t a t e d (called score time). T h e latter
can be m e a s u r e d either in seconds (taking the t e m p o m a r k i n g in the score
seriously, or normalising the total score length to the p e r f o r m a n c e ) , in
metrical units like beats or q u a r t e r notes (called metrical time), or as an e v e n t
c o u n t (called event time). The last loses so m u c h i n f o r m a t i o n that the timing
p a t t e r n c a n n o t be r e c o n s t r u c t e d w i t h o u t r e f e r e n c e to the score.
P e r f o r m a n c e time can be s h o w n as a function of score time (called a time
map), or vice versa. In these r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s it is easy to spot (a)synchronies
b e t w e e n voices because they depict points in absolute time.
Calculating differences b e t w e e n s u b s e q u e n t p e r f o r m a n c e times in a time
map m a k e s the step f r o m time to duration. Because in such a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n
it is difficult to c o m p a r e notes of different nominal duration, a p r o p o r t i o n a l
m e a s u r e is better. It m a k e s the step f r o m d u r a t i o n to relative duration by
dividing two c o r r e s p o n d i n g durations. In case a p e r f o r m a n c e duration is
divided by a score duration, this f o r m s a series of d u r a t i o n factors (often
misleadingly called tempo). This m e a s u r e is m o s t l y n o t a t e d in a g r a p h with
the i n d e p e n d e n t axis labelled with metrical or e v e n t time. In the case of the
inverse calculation, the ratios f r o m the velocity, the local speed of reading
the score.
In both cases the m e a s u r e d points are o f t e n filled in with line s e g m e n t s -
implying the existence of a t e m p o m e a s u r e m e n t in b e t w e e n events. This is
misleading - the m o r e so because i n t e g r a t i o n does not yield the original time
m a p again.
Gabrielsson (1974) uses note duration e x p r e s s e d in p r o p o r t i o n to the
length of the bar. This allows for c o m p a r i s o n with exact note values in
different meters. The m e t h o d m i g h t be generalizable to s t u d y timing at
different levels of structure.
T e m p o is s o m e t i m e s p r e s e n t e d on a logarithmic scale; this is a first step
t o w a r d s the use of subjective m a g n i t u d e s .
An interesting h y p o t h e s i s was given by B r o w n (1979). He a r g u e s that a
musician m a k e s use of a collection of discrete tempi: a collection of discrete
physically possible tempi, w h e r e the choice is defined by musical and
p e r f o r m i n g factors.
136 PeterDesain and Henkjan Honing

there it was: with some twiddling of the p a r a m e t e r s we could interpolate the

timing pattern of the t h e m e for its use on the variation. We almost t h o u g h t that
with this interpolation we had proved Gibson wrong. T h e r e was a s m o o t h sense
of timing in b e t w e e n events, and if one is smart e n o u g h one can tap it and hook
new events into it in a reasonable way. But o u r musical friend did not agree
'Reasonable?' he reacted angry, 'it sounds reasonable, yes, but y o u r numerical
calculations have nothing t o d o with the way I played it, w h a t s o e v e r . The musical
structure, my dear friends, r e m e m b e r the musical structure. H o w o f t e n do I have
to repeat this. Timing is related to structure!" We suggested to him a cup of tea in
the hope that this would calm him down.

What this partly fictitious story (the characters are fictitious, but the examples
and a r g u m e n t s are real!) shows is that we have to be aware of the T e m p o Curve.
Of course one should be encouraged to m e a s u r e t e m p o curves and use t h e m for
the study of expressive timing. But it is a d a n g e r o u s notion, despite its
widespread use and comfortable description, because it lulls its users into the
false impression that it has a musical and psychological reality. T h e r e is no
abstract tempo curve in the music nor is t h e r e a mental t e m p o curve in the head of
a p e r f o r m e r or listener. And any t r a n s f o r m a t i o n or manipulation based on the
implied characteristics of such a notion is d o o m e d to fail.
That does not mean that generic models that r e p r e s e n t timing in t e r m s of some
sort of structure, even w h e n they describe just a fraction of the m a n y aspects of
expressive timing, do not constitute a valuable contribution to the field. T h e y
only have to be seen in a p r o p e r perspective in which their limitations are
u n d e r s t o o d as well. It also does not mean that certain features in c o m p u t e r music
software and commercial sequencers should be forbidden. Their mere existence
at least makes the realisation of their limited w o r t h evident.
It should be noted here that the views expressed in this article comply more or
less with the British school of expressive timing research (E.F. Clarke, H.C.
Longuet-Higgins, L. Shaffer, J. Sloboda and N. Todd), in which the link b e t w e e n
s t r u c t u r e and timing is p a r a m o u n t . T h e r e are alternative views developing at the
m o m e n t , denying such a strong link (Kendall & C a r t e r e t t e , 1991). We hope this
c o n t r o v e r s y will eventually lead to m o r e u n d e r s t a n d i n g of this w o n d e r f u l l y
complex aspect of music performance.
In reality the experiments w e r e done using P O C O , an e n v i r o n m e n t for
analysing, manipulating and generating musical expression (Honing, 1990),
which took a bit longer to build than one Christmas.

The holiday was almost over n o w and we felt that we had found out m a n y
useful things. O u r musical friend a n n o u n c e d that he would go back to his o w n
piano. He thanked us for the interesting sessions, f r o m which he had learned a
lot. But u n d e r n e a t h these friendly remarks we could hear the cynicism. He
advised us in a fatherly way to get rid of our research papers and start reading
biographies of famous composers, in which the true facts about music and its
p e r f o r m a n c e could be found. This made the feeling of disappointment even m o r e
Harmful tempo curves 137

p r o n o u n c e d . But in a last irrational attack of b r a v e r y , we decided not to give in yet

and we invited h i m to come back n e x t C h r i s t m a s , and to bring his biographies if
he wished.
To be c o n t i n u e d . . .

Thanks to Boy Honing and Mariken Zandvliet for their performances of Beethoven. Thanks to
Bruno Repp for information on Clynes' model and to Shaun Stevens for his help with the
English language. We would like to thank also all the researchers mentioned, for their
contribution to the field of timing in music. We are very grateful to Eric Clarke at City
University, London who made it possible for us to work for two years on research in expressive
timing which allowed us to gain an insight into timing through our numerous discussions, and
the British ESRC for their financial support throughout these two years (grant A413254004).

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