time

i’ve been thinking about creating this thread for several months, but never got around to it. recently, the topic naturally came up in the Non-DAW Computer Music Environments thread, so i took that as a push.

time is probably the most elusive thing there is, yet we all have direct experience of it and knowledge of its artefacts. we seem to be bound by it, except for those rare, graceful moments in life when you might get a glimpse of the eternal. for me, those moments have often been related to art, and music in particular.

i’m interested to hear about your experience of time, how you talk about it or deal with it, visualise it externally or internally, both in your daily life, but perhaps more specifically in your music (if those can be separated?). have you made any observations of how thinking about time affects your creativity, or how music can make you experience it differently?

to me, it’s natural to assume that seeing time visualised on a timeline (as we often to in a daw, media players, youtube etc, as well as in sheet music, going from left to right, top to bottom) affects the way we experience it. do you sometimes choose to work with different (or non-existent) visualisations of time, as a conscious method, when making music?

i’m personally very good at keeping the immediate time: i never put on a timer when boiling an egg but still (almost) always to get them done perfectly; i know that i can be ready and out the door in 6 minutes and make it to the metro that leaves in 12 minutes. i also find it easy to play and count rhythmic material, and my music is is often very… divided rhythmically.
on the other hand, if find dates like, say, november 26th or may 3rd impossible to remember. it’s just too abstract to me to visualise or conceptualise that a date is a moment in time that will arrive… when i try, there’s just so many other dates in front of me/it blocking the way!
my spouse on the other hand it wired the complete opposite – good with dates but struggling with minutes and hours. she also makes long form ambient. don’t know if that means anything, but i find it interesting : )

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Time perception is a vivid topic among neurodiversity support groups. Folks who identify as having ADHD often find that a kind of “time blindness” is central to their experience.

So much more to be said about this, but the short version is that it makes me hyperaware of time (even as I continue to lose track of it). This makes the challenges of rhythm especially engaging for me, but it also makes the challenges of time management required to do things like release and promote, particularly acute.

I feel more comfortable with cyclical time than linear time. I think the best progressions towards a goal often come from repetitive attempts. So, I see it more like a circle than a line. A circle is just a specific type of line, anyway.

Time makes more sense to me when I can see how things line up when I look at it as a cycle. The patterns are far more obvious this way.

But circles are not as good as lines at showing progression. This is the tension I always feel when making music in a DAW. I can switch between clip and timeline views, but what I want is “both” somehow.

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the November date you gave is my birthday, so I’m quite good with it :slight_smile:

I think more than any other art form, music is about time: filling it, framing it, marking it.

At habitus, Dan and Jonathan had us imagine a musical notation, which I initially found quite frustrating—I learned to read staff paper pretty young, and have played with piano rolls and step sequencers since I was only maybe four or five years older than that. For that reason I was wanting to imagine something else, but felt stymied by the existence of these really compelling methods. I ended up choosing to represent time as a number that a performer would count to themselves.

With faeng, the sample sequencer I’ve been working on / playing with, time is marked out with grid buttons. This is very intuitive, but does kind of box you into The Sequence and The Grid of time.

Dan’s script for mirrored heart—from what I was able to glean—paints an interesting third way forward: not quite gridded time, not quite finger drumming, but a secret third thing. By which I mean, if I’m not mistaken, buttons that are switches to open the gate for a, like, note to be triggered when the clock comes around—but the clock ticks real quick, so you play in sync but with the finger-drumming capacity for microrhythmic variations… I might be inspired to reverse-engineer this technique.

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I think I may have just realized what I don’t like about DAW timelines: they lack a sense of relativity. There’s one single global transport and every event that happens is relative to that one single timeline.

But what’s happening in my head is totally different. Every instrument has its own timeline. Some of them are looping, others are heading from point A to point B. Things happen that are relative to events happening in other timelines (they are often “synced”) but they are all ultimately free to move around in time independently. That’s how a band works. DAWs present a bizarre fictional reality where everyone is always completely in lockstep at all times. What a strange and incorrect understanding of time!

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And here we have a demonstration of the Birthday Paradox, because it’s mine too.

Once in a while I think about picking up a sequencer that has steps arranged in a circle, because the way I use sequencers it’s always “cyclic time” rather than “linear time” anyway and that would make more sense. Quite often when I put together a sequence with 0-Ctrl, the leftmost step is not what feels like the beginning of the sequence to me, and I can’t just rotate it to match the feel.

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Trying to find an old Carla Scaletti essay on kronos vs. kairos, but coming up empty.

To my understanding, kronos is clock time, kairos is “in its time,” “just in time,” “at the right time,” “a sense of time,” etc. I tend to live in the second kind.

I’ve had a lot of fights with classically trained bandmates over this. Incidentally, a lack of an internal metronome has made picking up odd time sigs and broken measures natural. Was surprised to find a conservatory-trained bandmate with a great internal metronome really struggled with those.

Eventually, that band wrote a song around hocketing. Rehearsals went from, “You’re missing your part,” to, “Oh, sorry, I missed my note, let’s try again.” And when we finally nailed a part, we were all jubilant.

Because each note was relative to the last, recovering from one person’s mistake was extremely difficult. We were dependent on each other in a way totally different to homophony. I was fascinated to find the demands of the music’s structure shifted the social dynamic to a more cooperative one.

So, I like thinking about different types of time.

But back to kairos:

Sometimes I really want a hamburger, and I’m starving, I know a good joint to snag one, and when it hits the table and reaches my lips, it is absolutely the most amazing food I can imagine. Satiating bliss.

The next day I often think, “What an amazing hamburger. I’m gonna go and get another!” Same restaurant, same order, same time of day even. But, it’s always disappointing. I’ve never been able to recreate the earlier experience.

I finally accepted the occasion called for the first one, but not the second. The first hamburger was the right food for the right moment.

The Buddhists have their second arrow…but for me it’s always been that second hamburger.

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This is a fascinating subject on so many levels. There is a great book by Carlo Rovelli called “The Order of Time” and a great visual essay by John Berger called About Time which might also be a book. There is a lovely quote in the latter comparing a photograph and a drawing.

I have done quite a lot of audio visual work with various archives and i’m always fascinated by these little frozen moments in time and the glimpses they give us into the past. But they are just tiny shards and fragments, and often miss-leading as they may be directed, or only show a certain perspective. When we capture moments in time with photographs, moving image and sound, we’re freezing time in a way. I think its in a way our drive to immortalise ourselves somehow as well as our memories, loved ones and the things that are the most important to us.

On a personal level i have always visualised a year as a circle moving clockwise with winter on the left and summer on the right and a week as a series of steps with the weekend as a platform. I also have a pretty reliable internal clock and for instance if i wake in the night i know what time it is pretty accurately. But i can completely loose myself and sense of time when i get lost in the music making process.

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As a quasi-Buddhist with ADD, I struggle with linear time profoundly.

My intuitive sense is of a continuum between eternal now or time as illusory on one hand and ego-driven purposeful measured time on the other.

Frankly, I can’t stand ego time, but that’s the dominant paradigm so one must try to adapt.

One of the things that I love about modular and ambient is the way that both move me in the direction of eternity…

:pray:t2:

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Very interesting. I get what you mean by saying this but my perception is a bit towards the opposite. I listen to music to achieve this kind of time blindness or block of time outside of time, the zone if you will. I feel the same with creating music. I do it to escape time and I try to convey that sensation in my music too, with hopes to help others experience it too.

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The video artist Matthew Barney was asked once why his videos were so long and slow. He responded something along the lines of “you’ve just been trained to accept things that are cut up and fast.”

Finding ways outside of familiar time is one of my artistic motivators, from the super fast image generation of AI to long-form drones.

But now I can’t wait for that Norns to get here in 3 days on Friday.

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Ha, that classic Channel 4 ident is instant nostalgia.

Physicist (and notorious drummer) Richard Feynman wrote about exploring personal perception of time in his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? in a chapter entitled, appropriately, It’s as Simple as One, Two, Three…. It’s a nice introduction to scientific method, as well as highlighting the differences in how we each perceive the world, and touches on the possibility of deliberately re-training that perception.

After some experimentation into how accurately he can measure a minute, and what affects that accuracy, Feynman notes he can consistently keep time while doing many activities, including reading, but cannot while talking; he attributes this to his personal time-keeping method of mentally “counting out loud”. He later learns a friend can measure time equally consistently, even when talking, because they instead visualise passing time as the progression of a numbered tape. With this knowledge Feynman explores new techniques of counting – including by touch and visualised touch – so as to be accurate while reading aloud, which neither his friend nor he can do, but is ultimately unsuccessful.

Reading this as a young teen, I realised that counting out loud was also exactly how my brain had “decided” time should be measured.

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Watching the Cremaster films in a theater and struggling to tolerate the extremely long shots, things finally clicked. It was in the scenes with Mailer and–if I remember–an extended boat ride down a river, photographed with persistent focus on the horizon. I left the theater and my eyes focused differently, converging on distant points. The ability of a film to induce that new way of seeing, beyond its viewing, awed me.

I’ve had similar perspective-shifting experiences at concerts of experimental and improvised music. And am often surprised at how much pleasure can be found in the extended discomfort of trying to attend to such slippery material.

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That shift in perspective, after much discomfort, is why I loved going to LaMonte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music.

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My musical practice for the last… 30 years? Has been time-fluid. I’ve never recorded music to a click, on a grid, never quantized anything. I’ve played with drummers and beatmakers, but I’ve never syncronized my stuff with their beats. Most of what I do is about asyncronous loops and I have literally never syncronized anything. Right now I work in Bitwig and use my own looper patches and the clip launcher a lot and I have every possible quantization disabled in the environment. I don’t like time to be rigid. I like to wait. I like to make long stretches of silence.

I once accompanied a performance art piece where several performers, nude and covered with mud, ascended a single flight of steps so slowly that it took almost two hours. By the end of the performance I felt like I had left the planet.

That said, if you listen to my stuff I doubt you’d notice that I work that differently. I used to make music for modern dance, all improvised, and because I was never worried about the beat or the one, I could just play off their movements as they moved off of my sound. They seemed to really like it.

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Maybe the only way that I can make progress (oops! time term…) and finish (oops! Death. Time stops!) is by shifting from one time relationship to the next.

  1. Free, unaware, indulgent, blissful, dumb
  2. Looping, investigative, advancing, reversing
  3. Narrative, strategic, surrendering

Trying to learn how to be happy skipping the 3rd part but it’s elusive.

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I feel almost relieved to read this! It’s literally healing to find a resonant perspective.

Although I work with meter a lot, I’ve always been frustrated with clicks and grids. So much subtlety is steamrolled by imposing those rigid concepts of time onto music. And the attitudes that venerate them are borderline facistic, imo.

The worst was when I played drums in a power punk group with a childhood friend. He was obsessed with fixed, reproducible, metronomic drumming.

When I’m drumming, I thrive on playing around with pushing and pulling the band. I like surprising expectations, the control and influence I can exert, and the process of shifting attention between the coordination of my limbs, the rhythms of individual members, and the aggregate timing of the band.

Needless to say, that band and I were not a fit. Beyond timing, said friend’s 100-watt Marshall half stack made volume dynamics impossible. I remember punching through tom and kick drum heads, tearing cheap hi hat cymbals, and splintering sticks on the rimshots required to be heard. Good exercise, though.

When I quit, the band found its metronomic drummer, and everyone was happier. Especially me, horrified when my friend gleefully told me about the drummer needing an ambulance after drunkenly falling and smacking his chin on the sidewalk. He pointed out the blood stain as we walked by. Wtf.

I had a composition teacher who recommended playing a metronome with any music recorded before the 80’s. It’s impossible. And instantly apparent that rigid timing values are not universal.

Besides, the Maelzel metronome was intended to be used at the beginning of a piece being practiced, not throughout. And I doubt even his clockwork automatons would qualify for that pop punk band. The robots of R.U.R. were workers, after all…

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so while I will need to write a bit more on how I perceive time. I think practicing with metronome helps in regards to “keeping time” when needed but it doesn’t mean you have to do that all the time. I think I have an awful feel of time in general but both practicing with metronome slowly and “vocalizing” the rhythm when listening allowed me to be fairly reliable when I need to lock in with other people instead of requiring them to constantly synchronize to myself. And of course between being completely “free” and strict to the grid there are myriards of possibilities that current DAWs make much harder to do than I would do in a band setting - like for example where you want to speed up a little gradually, change tempo for a chorus etc.

In my experience, playing with others feels best when this syncing is a fluid and flexible mutual process of feedback. Taking turns with who’s leading and who’s following, then upsetting those expectations is a large part of the pleasure for me. Of course, this requires bandmates that are able and amenable.

In the age of xbox 360 I became obsessed with Guitar Hero and was able to complete most of the game at the hardest difficulty – this was in my mid thirties. I found that through this I attained a powerful metronomic ability… I could play solidly in time and had internalized the beat and the one thoroughly.

I immediately set about using this ability by figuring out how to play complex and shifting polyrithms against delay lines and against my bandmates beats. I still didn’t play to the grid, but I had learned how to play 13/4, 11/4 and everything in between and to push and pull between all these polyrithms. That was so satisfying.

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Not a musical thing, but this podcast about language talks about concepts of time being connected to how we describe space in the language(s) we know. I found that fascinating.

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