Time and Music

This post was inspired by Stravinsky’s Poetics of Music Lesson Two – The Phenomenon of Music (Amazon affiliate link)

“Music that is based on ontological time is generally dominated by the principle of similarity.  The music that adheres to psychological time likes to proceed by contrast.  To these two principles which dominate the creative process correspond the fundamental concepts of variety and unity.”

Think of ontological time as a measurement. Whenever we schedule an appointment, book a flight at 1:00PM, celebrate a birthday, show up early or take a five-minute break, we are in some way coordinating with ontological time.

Anytime we feel variants in ontological time, we’re experiencing psychological, or subjective time. For example, the classic: Time flies when you’re having fun.  Time felt shorter than ontological time.  In other cases, we may think that time felt longer than ontological time.

Back to Poetics:

Variety and unity are important concepts to consider in the creative process; Stravinsky’s reflection on them is fascinating.  Where I struggle is when Stravinsky associates them with ontological and psychological time.  To say that psychological time corresponds with contrast or variety is a bit of a stretch.  Although it’s fascinating, without specific examples, these few pages in Poetics confuse me.

The nature of time and temporal experience is much more complicated than variety and unity.  Any exploration of time and music would have to confront philosophy, psychology and quantum physics!  Lets move on…

In the meantime, for further reading, I would highly recommend The Time of Music by Jonathan Kramer.  Kramer expresses one problem in discussing time and music very eloquently:

“Does time unfold in music?  Or does music unfold in time?”

Side Note: If anybody knows where I can find Kramer’s Book for less than $300, please let me know!  But don’t let this deter you from checking it out; check your local music library, that’s where I found it!

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