A talk about time. And syntax in music.

1988

by Peter Hatch
Conceived, prepared and delivered at the 34th Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik at Darmstadt , Germany in the summer of 1988.

 

Time.
A talk.
A talk about time.
And syntax in music.
More specifically, a talk about the awareness of time and the awareness of syntax in musical composition.
More specifically, a talk about the awareness of time and the awareness of syntax in musical composition with musical examples drawn from my own works.
A talk about time and syntax in musical composition.
A syntax about time and talk.

A talk about time and syntax, and syntax and time, and syntax in time, and time in syntax, and time and time again, and syntax in music and music in time and musical syntax and syntactic time and composition in music and time in composition and syntax, and musical music and time and time again and and and.

This will take some time.

In time I will talk about repetition, that is repetition as it relates to time, that is repetition as it relates to syntax, that is repetition and time, and syntax and repetition, and repetition in music, and expectation as it relates to repetition, and expectation in music and time and time again and and and.

In time.

I'm not stalling for time but playing with time by time and time again repeating words, and time and time again repeating the word 'time', and time and time again the word time has a different context.

With time you will see this.

While I talk about time and repeat the word 'time' time and time again I am presenting at least two different kinds of time, that is the time which has to do with the repetition of words and especially of the word time, and the time which has to do with the gradual unfolding of ideas about time in time.

The first kind of time is syntactic time, that is the kind of time which has to do with the structure of sentences and the repetition of words and especially of the word 'time'. That is the time which is about long sentences, short sentences, sentences that don't. Or do. Or possibly might. The second kind of time is semantic time, that is the time which has to do with the gradual unfolding of ideas about time in time. That is the time which talks about chronometric wave/ particle linear or cyclic homeostatic circadian or absolute non-linear multiply-directed hierarchical deep transformational generative structures in time. 1

One could discuss these separately as well as the relation between the two.
This would take time.

In my work Lagtime for solo marimba, in my work Lagtime I was very interested in a perceptual manipulation of time, that is I was very interested in a manipulation of the perceived time sense of my listeners. I was interested in creating of conflict in time, a sense of time being dragged out, a sense of time lag. I was interested.

There are various points in the work where this happens, at the beginning of the work there is a trill, that is a two note group, which becomes a three note group which becomes a longer four note group which becomes an even longer five note group and each time a note is added to each group it seems to slow down.

There are many things which happen to this trill, later in the piece it becomes a five note goup which does slow down and then has another five note group superimposed on it which seems even slower. At this point in the piece I think many people experience a sense of conflict in time, that is a conflict between two different times, that is time moving at two different speeds at once, that is what others might call 'multiply directed' time. 2


A phrase can be taken
A phrase can be taken and scanned repetitively
taken and scanned
can be taken and scanned repetitively, changing
and scanned repetitively, changing the starting point
the starting point and length
repetitively, changing the starting point and length
point and length of the scan
can be taken and scanned repetitively, changing the starting point and length of the scan
length of the scan

Let us talk about repetition. Let us talk about repetition. Repetition is an important aspect of time. We measure time both internally and externally by repetition. We measure time both internally and externally by repeating equal divisions of time. Our hearts beat time, our breaths beat time, our days beat time, the moon beats time. The seasons beat time, our metronomes beat time, a hummingbird beats time, all pitches beat time.

Time takes a beating.

This talk that I am giving now beats at least two different kinds of time, that is a time which has to do with syntactic time and a time which has to do with semantic time. But I am repeating myself.

All conversations beat time. W.e all speak to a beat when conversing with others. We also laugh in time we cough in time we sneeze in time. Try listening some time, we are all experts at counterpoint, that is speaking our kind of time within a common time. A well placed comment is well placed both semantically and syntactically. A well placed comment is a work of time art. Try listening some time.3

I would like now to speak briefly about my interest in pitch structures in recent years.

Octatonic scale.

Let us talk about repetition. Let us talk about repetition. Repetition may be exact or repetition may not be exact. Repetition may be varied. If repetition is exact it often has little or no meaning. Let us talk about repetition. If however there is even a small change in the repetition it can create a large change in the meaning for the mind focuses on the change. Let us talk about repetition sometime.

Most of the time that I am talking about time and especially about repetition in time I am talking about expectation. Expectation has much to do with time. Expectation is a present time experience which relates to past time events anticipating future time events. I repeat, expectation is a present time experience which relates to past time events anticipating future time events.

Expectation has much to do with time. When we expect something time seems to drag, that is our own time seems to speed up while time outside of us seems to slow down. We also become very conscious of the passage of time. A watched kettle never.

Boils. Expectations are either met or not met. Or both met and not met, that is met in some ways and not met in other ways. It is expected that when I start a sentence such as this I will end it. Expectations are often met but they are not met from time to.

Let us talk about repetition. In my work Blunt Music for two pianos and percussion which was completed in the time year 1986, in my work Blunt Music I was interested in repetition. More specifically, I was interested in varied repetition. I was also interested in expectation. I was interested. The varied repetition in Blunt Music sets up expectations which are both met and not met. The listener most of the time knows approximately what to expect but not exactly. Expectations are both met and not met. This seems to set up a unsettled feeling in time, like a march with two left feet.

Repetition, especially varied repetition, allows the listener to hear, to feel, to experience a sound event from different angles. Like a cubist painting. Each varied repetition sheds a different light on the event.

In Blunt Music there are only seven basic events, seven 'cells' which are treated with varied repetition. These variations in the repetitions are actually changes in the syntax of the musical phrase event. The syntax of the musical phrase changes.
The phrases in Blunt Music create, reinforce and disturb a sense of beating in time. This happens on many different levels, just as time can be about hours, minutes, seconds or decades.


Let us talk about clarity. I am very interested in clarity. I am very interested in clarity of thought, clarity of speech, clarity of music. Although this may not be clear. Being clear does not mean being simple although sometimes the best way to be clear is to be simple. Sometimes not being simple can be very clear. Sometimes not being simple can be very unclear.

Music perhaps often the this which this these systems I is is musics themselves. Find is very because are may to complex the representations be be and rate. Of very be unclear of extra- musical interesting problem seems information systems but when to. Being which are listening me presented don't unclear to to is translate when the. Be often well presented music very so into of composing high sound sound Ferneyhough.

If a musical composition is going to be clear, certainly the composer must be clear to his or her self about what he or she is trying to do. If the intended medium for communicating the music is sound, which it is, then certainly the sounds must be clear and certainly the syntax, the shape of the sounds in time, must be clear.

Gertrude Stein is someone who seems to have been aware of these things. Gertrude Stein was an American writer who lived in Paris during the first half of the century and was a very good friend of the cubist Pablo Picasso. Stein's time is a time of awareness of time and awareness of syntax in time in a work of time art. Time and time again Stein will repeat a phrase and Stein will vary the repetition of the phrase in time. Time and time again Stein will repeat a phrase. Most of the time the phrase will repeat and the variation will seem small but the change will seem big. Some of the time anyway. Some of the time the change will seem small.

Stein's time is a time of the 'continuous present'. By continuously varying the syntax of her lines, by using repetition and varied repetition, by meeting and not meeting the expectations of grammar Stein created a time which seemed to be always happening now and now and now.4
Once upon a time I began to write music using Stein's time. More specifically, I began to write music using the syntactic structure of Stein's story entitled 'As A Wife Has A Cow, A Love Story'. A very unusual title.

I wrote a musical line which varied in phrase structure in the same way in which Stein varied the phrase structure throughout her story. Throughout my piece.

The result became part of a work entitled 'When do they is not the same as why do they'.
A very unusual title.

Once upon a time I thought of music only in terms of pitch and pitch relationships. At that time I was not really aware of time, and syntax and time, and I was not really aware of the use of syntax to control time. In time I came to realize that music was largely about time and that Stein's time was musical time.

Now most of the time when I think about music I think about time and I think about syntax and time, and time in syntax, and time and repetition, and syntax and expectation, and clarity in music, and repetition and time and time and time again, and and and.

Thankyou for your time.




The above lecture was conceived, prepared and delivered at the 34th Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik at Darmstadt , Germany in the summer of 1988. Upon arrival at Darmstadt I felt overwhelmed by the amount of new music and lectures about new music but especially by the predominantly serial, 'complex' nature of most of the works, an aesthetic which is a part of my background as a composer but from which I have moved away.
I felt compelled to respond to this, to clarify my own thoughts as to what I was trying to do, but felt that the usual 'theoretical' approach dealing with pitch structures and abstact formal design did not seem to be appropriate or even important. Instead, I started writing spontaneously and what came out was closer to poetry than traditional musical analysis or description. The process felt more to me like composing than writing and I tried to play up this relationship by actually trying to demonstrate some of my current compositional interests in the written paper.

Footnotes

1. Reference is made here to the wealth of literature on the experience of time and to the study of syntax, some of which is listed at the end of this article. Lerdahl and Jackendoff's A Generative Theory of Tonal Music is an excellent attempt to apply recent linguistic theory (especially syntactic theory) to music.

2. "I am not content to say that some music suggests that its events may be ordered in several different ways. Such a formulation would be too tame to connote the powerful experience of multiple directedness. I am saying that time itself can (be made to) move, or refuse to move, in more than one "direction": not an objective time out there, beyond ourselves, but the very personal time created within us as we listen deeply to music." (author's italics)
Jonathan Kramer The Time of Music p. 6

3. "The cues that parties in a conversation send each other are timed so that they often occur with clocklike regularity... A stressed signal tends to be timed so that it synchronronizes with the underlying beat of the conversation; so too are the body movements and gestures of a speaker and a listener, and the exchange of roles when one person finishes and surrenders the floor to another... An utterance loses its meaning if it falls into the wrong time slot, in the sense that it may be heard by the ear, it is ignored by the conscious brain."
Jeremy Campbell Winston Churchill's Afternoon Nap p. 237-238

4. "...[I]n The Making of Americans ... I gradually and slowly found out that there were two things to talk about; the fact that knowledge is acquired, so to speak, by memory; but that when you know anything, memory doesn't come in. At any moment that you are conscious of knowing anything, memory plays no part.... You have a sense of the immediate... I was trying to get this immediacy without trying to drag in anything else. The grammar constructions are correct, but they are changed, in order to get this immediacy. In short, from that time I have been trying in every possible way to get the sense of immediacy, and practically all the work I have done has been in that direction."
Gertrude Stein How Writing is Written p. 152

Selected Bibliography


Campbell, Jeremy. Winston Churchill's Afternoon Nap: A Wide Awake Inquiry Into the Human Nature of Time (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1986).

Hatch, Peter Blunt Music, for two pianos and two percussion (1986)
_____ . Lagtime, for solo marimba (1983)
_____ . When do they is not the same as why do they, for solo percussion (1989)
(Above scores are available from the composer: Faculty of Music, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3R7).

Kramer, Jonathan The Time of Music (New York: Schirmer Books, 1988).

Lerdahl, Fred and Jackendoff, Ray A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983.)

Shallis, Michael On Time (New York: Penguin Books, 1982).

Stein, Gertrude Lectures in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1935)
_____ . Selected Writings , Carl Van Vechten, ed., (New York: Random House Press, 1962).
_____ . How Writing is Written (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1974).


©Peter Hatch 1988


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