In c. 400 AD, Saint Augustine makes the following observations in his writings Confessions:
And yet we say that "time is long and time is short" . . . A long time past, for example, we call a hundred years ago; in like manner a long time to come, a hundred years hence. But a short time past we call, say, ten days ago: and a short time to come, ten days hence. But in what sense is that long or short which is not? For the past is not now, and the future is not yet. Therefore, let us not say, "It is long;" but let us say of the past, "It has been long," and of the future, "It will be long." . . . “When we say a period of time is long or short, what are we describing as long or short? It cannot be the past, as it has already finished. It cannot be the present as it doesn’t have any temporal properties or duration. The future is non-existent until it becomes the present.”
I was initially inspired to write after exploring the influence of early fifth-century Augustine philosophy on the twentieth-century phenomenological and hermeneutic theories of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Edmund Hursell. Heidegger’s concept of time had many similarities with Saint Augustine, such as his acknowledgement of our experience of time being momentary, defined by our experience and expectation.
Due to the current coronavirus situation, I understood that it would be challenging to run a successful workshop, so decided to write for organ, as I was able to perform and record this myself. I began by researching works which used concepts that would temporally disorientate the listener, having often employed long durations and repetition of familiar objects already as a process of temporal detachment. In Elliot Carter’s String Quartet No. 1 (1950/51), Carter employs metric modulation as a way of creating a gradual acceleration while maintaining the temporal duration of some rhythms. In Bryn Harrison’s Vessels (2012), Harrison uses repetition and variation of self-similar cells to create cyclical disorientation, like the music is flickering or bubbling but from a stationary position. In Eva-Maria Houben’s nur ein klang (2010), Houben examines the idea of movement by sustaining a single chord on an organ for a very long time before changing to a second chord, allowing the listener to examine the changing timbral qualities of the sounds actively. After researching music with similar temporal goals to that which I wanted to create, I decided to employ Carter’s use of metric modulation in the context of a static structure: a continual and expanding maximally diverse system.
I started by mapping out the piece’s durational structure, creating a steady increase and decrease in tempo while also using permutations of time signatures to create expanding and contracting cells at which pitch permutations could operate in. I initially designed the piece so there would be a pulsating figure in every bar, which created a clear feeling of expanding and contracting tempo. However, there was a lack of narrative in the miaxmal system, and I felt that the obvious metric changes would simulate a sense of structure. Therefore, I erased part of the process, so repeating notes would only occur in bars that were six crotchet beats long. This way, I found the metric changes were not as obvious, in fact quite difficult to hear without the pulsating figure as a reference.
Further inspired by S. Augustine’s writings and Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, I wanted to emphasise the sonic space as a place that gave the listener room to move around in at their leisure, not necessarily guided by any structural elements in the music. Therefore, I set the pitch permutations on separate staves, assigning a different sound to each manual. I felt that this gave the piece layers at which the listener could explore; from the acumination of all of the sounds to examining each sound individually. The idea of fluid consciousness also related to Augustine’s dealing with time. After a period of time, when the listener might examine an individual sound closer up, they may ‘zoom out’, and the temporal disorientation would be exaggerated. This is further highlighted by the use of a cyclical permutational system with static pitch material, inspired in part by the music of Bryn Harrison.
Unfortunately, due to the current coronavirus situation, I was unable to employ another organist to play this piece for me, so I produced the recording myself on a home organ. However, the situation of writing for myself to perform has forced me to scrutinise the accessibility of my writing, particularly in terms of notation. For example, I had many options for notating the act of fingering across two manuals. Morton Feldman famously uses this technique in his 1980 organ composition Principal Sound; however, the finger crossings are often almost impossible to produce and require a great deal of preparation. I spent a considerable amount of time interfering with the process to create music that both were mathematically accurate and technically playable. The intention of creating more technically playable music allowed me to consider idiomatic writing and prompted me to research in more depth than I usually would have. From this piece, I would like to explore further the link between S. Augustine’s philosophies and the phenomenological writing that I have recently engaged within my compositional practice. I am currently working my way through a book by the philosopher Ryan Coyne called Heidegger’s Confessions, which explores this further, but I only discovered after completing this project.
Augustine, St., and R.S. Pine-Coffin, Saint Augustine Confessions, ed. by Jill Jones (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing Inc., 2013)
Carter, Elliott, String Quartet No. 1 (London: Boosey and Hawkes, 1951)
Coyne, Ryan, Heidegger’s Confessions: The Remains of Saint Augustine in ‘Being and Time’ and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015)
Feldman, Morton, Principal Sound, ed. by Martin Haselböck and Thomas Daniel Schlee (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1980)
Harrison, Bryn, Vessels (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)
Houben, Eva-Maria, Nur Ein Klang (Berlin: Wandelweiser, 2010)
 St. Augustine and R.S. Pine-Coffin, Saint Augustine Confessions, ed. by Jill Jones (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing Inc., 2013).
 Elliott Carter, String Quartet No. 1 (London: Boosey and Hawkes, 1951).
 Bryn Harrison, Vessels (London: Bloomsbury, 2012).
 Eva-Maria Houben, Nur Ein Klang (Berlin: Wandelweiser, 2010).
 Morton Feldman, Principal Sound, ed. by Martin Haselböck and Thomas Daniel Schlee (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1980).
 Ryan Coyne, Heidegger’s Confessions: The Remains of Saint Augustine in ‘Being and Time’ and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).