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Music creates temporal form while unfolding in time. This qualifies music as an art of- and in time. Our experience of music is ambivalent: music is particular yet universal, transitory in experience yet lasting in reflection. Our experience of time is similarly ambivalent: time is always present within our everyday concern yet it withdraws from our direct attention. Time is experienced with intensity, yet it recedes ephemerally from our consciousness. We experience time through music and we equally loose track of time in music. Time and music seem equally strange to understand.

When we directly confront time, we experience what St. Augustine identified in his Confessions: “For what is time? Who can readily and briefly explain this? Who can even in thought comprehend it, so as to utter a word about it? But what in discourse do we mention more familiarly and knowingly than time? And we understand, when we speak of it; We understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What then is time? If no one asks me, I know. If I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not; yet I say boldly that I know that, if nothing passed away, time past were not; and if nothing were coming a time to come were not; and if nothing were, time present were not” (Confessions, XI, 17).

Augustine identifies our fundamental perplexity when facing time itself. We become confused when we approach time directly. However, we understand time in its connection with Being. Time and being are essentially and strangely linked: without being in its various instantiations we have no conception of time. Without time, it seems we are unable to identify being. Hence Augustine’s affirmation that if something passes, is present or comes into being, time as past, present and future exists as well.

The philosopher of the enlightenment, Immanuel Kant identifies time as an inner sense, as the form of intuition, which itself cannot become the direct topic of our conscious attention or understanding. We perceive and conceive things only in so far as they are in time. However, this formal conception of time as a horizon of our consciousness and cognition, it seems, is not sufficient to explain the experience of temporality in music. In music we are faced with two distinct and seemingly incompatible manifestations of time: the time created by the music itself and the time in which the music unfolds. Susanne Langer has identified this as the difference between virtual time and clock time. Virtual time is the time of our experience with its intensity, flow and connectedness within consciousness. Clock time on the other hand is time as measured by the dimensions of past, present and future. Clock-time is a spatial projection, an externalisation of the experience of the flow of our consciousness. Clock-time is an objectified form of time. It does not represent out experience of temporality.

What then is the authentic experience of time? Bergson makes a well known distinction about time and its ontological roots when he distinguishes pure duration (durée) from spatialised duration. Our original and immediate experience of time is pure duration. This is the time of our experiential consciousness. Pure duration preserves the original interconnection of being and becoming. It preserves the entirety of experience in the moment of temporal unfolding. Pure duration (durée) presents us with a fundamentally musical experience of time. It is characterised by an absence of objective distinction, by an absence of measurement and by the absence of a spatial projection of temporal experience in a past, present and future point. Pure duration or durée is the experience of a flow which is not conscious of its own organisation, yet nevertheless connected in its unfolding. It is according to Bergson, the “form which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states.” (Time and Free Will, chapter 2)

Time as we ordinarily describe and measure it, however, is conceived within a homogeneous succession of states. The homogeneity of temporal succession is based on a projection of time into spatial dimensions. The pure duration experienced in our consciousness originally as time is really a mere qualitative phenomenon. The conception of time as a succession of homogeneous states with its essentially spatial representation transforms time into a measurable quantity. A spatial conception allows the ordinary conception of time to measure time according to a movement of an object in space – the movement of a pendulum for example- and within the categories of past, present and future.

In music, an objective measurement of time and the conception of a determinable past, present and future diminish in relevance. Nevertheless, temporal form constitutes and structures music. This structure gives music objectifiable and even measurable characteristics and enables us to distinguish it from mere noise. But how does this temporal form structure the musical subject matter? It does not impose a temporal form from the outside but it rather creates a flow through immanent connections. Music constitutes an organic form of temporality. This is evident from the fact that at the point of listening, the listener does not always hold fast to her everyday determination of time. Music appears to create its own peculiar temporal form that is appropriate to the unfolding of its material and that is reflective of - and even congruent with its own intensity. Music constitutes its own temporal world within the unfolding of its material. The listener will loose herself in the temporality of listening and participates in the purely qualitative flow of intensity. To be sure, it may happen, that the ordinary consciousness of temporal awareness governs the listening attention in a background form. This attention may become transformed to a point where the musical experience absorbs it entirely or it may assert itself as a context of the musical experience. Composers may deliberately guide – or misguide- our ordinary temporal consciousness. Be that as it may, music affirms itself and its temporality and imposes temporal form on the listener. The phenomena of rhythm and meter show how musical intensity and temporality are related and how the listener becomes directly governed by temporal form.

Rhythm and meter are no purely cognitive or objective principles. They are fundamental principles of conscious life and fundamental to the constitution of being and becoming. Without the distinguishing powers of rhythm and meter and their capacity to divide the energies and intensities of our physical and psychic potencies, being would not have any distinguishing characteristics and it would remain inaccessible to our conscious experience- a senseless chaos. Rhythm, meter and the musical temporality of duration unify our existence and consciousness with its ontological foundations. Musical temporality thus appears to be at the core of human existence enabling the human consciousness to constitute meaning and to relate to being as formed and becoming as formable.

Rhythm connects music, being and consciousness. Because music is an art of- and in time, conscious perception is possible. Ordinarily we believe that such perception precedes music. In this understanding music is simply one of many aural phenomena made up of sound or sounds. However, this is not so. Music is the original sounding phenomenon. Sound is perceived because it is temporally formed. At this point, sound becomes music. Without rhythm, we would not hear sound just as we would not recognise any letters without knowing that such letters are organised into words.