ne evening, some 40 years ago, I got lost in time. I was at a performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C major. During the second movement I had the unnerving feeling that time was literally grinding to a halt. The sensation was powerful, visceral, overwhelming. It was a life-changing moment, or, as it felt at the time, a life-changing eon.This is, to me, unimpeachable testimony based on the highly-trained ears and discrimination of a composer. Let's have a listen:
I might not have put it in those words, but I see what he means. A lot of Bruckner symphonies also start with a seeming suspension of time, as does the Symphony No. 1 of Sibelius. But then he goes on to make this odd claim:
While music usurps our sensation of time, technology can play a role in altering music’s power to hijack our perception. The advent of audio recording not only changed the way music was disseminated, it changed time perception for generations. Thomas Edison’s cylinder recordings ... held about four minutes of music. This technological constraint set a standard that dictated the duration of popular music long after that constraint was surpassed. In fact, this average duration persists in popular music as the modus operandi today. This, in turn, influenced the way music of longer duration was heard. The implicit effect on the classical music industry was disastrous. To put it bluntly, the subjective perception of the length of time withered the collective attention span for listening to music.I dealt with this claim at some length in this post, "How Long is a Song?" in which I cite numerous examples from the 14th century on of how many pieces, both instrumental and vocal, tend to be around three or four minutes in length--going back centuries before the invention of the phonograph. And I also cite the counter example of Hey Jude, released on a 45 and of seven minutes duration. This whole idea that technology has been an important influence on song length is just nonsense.
But, when he gets back to his own observations about Schubert, he has a lot of interesting things to say. This is also an interesting passage:
Neuroscience gives us insights into how music creates an alternate temporal universe. During periods of intense perceptual engagement, such as being enraptured by music, activity in the prefrontal cortex, which generally focuses on introspection, shuts down. The sensory cortex becomes the focal area of processing and the “self-related” cortex essentially switches off. As neuroscientist Ilan Goldberg describes, “the term ‘losing yourself’ receives here a clear neuronal correlate.” Rather than enabling perceptual awareness, the role of the self-related prefrontal cortex is reflective, evaluating the significance of the music to the self. However, during intense moments, when time seems to stop, or rather, not exist at all, a selfless, Zen-like state can occur.I think that intense listening, or playing or composing of music does tend to put us into a special state of mind in which we do seem to lose ourselves. This is probably why the joke about Rachmaninoff is so funny. The story goes that his manager noticed him looking around the auditorium during one of his solo recitals and afterwards asked him what that was about. Rachmaninoff replied, "well, I've been having doubts about your accounting lately, so I was counting the house!"
Speaking of suspension of time, here is how Björk does it: