I consider myself a philosopher as much as a musician. My research primarily focuses on a phenomenological approach to music, especially with the self-awareness that music lies within a spatial and temporal framework. This chapter will specifically detail my research interests as a philosopher, not necessarily giving you a breakdown of my research, but outlining the broad topics of which I believe is most important. Philosophy seeks to ask questions, and I would encourage you not to simply read my thoughts, but ask questions about what you are listening to, why you are experiencing different things, and how this can foster a deeper interest, understanding and love for music. Saying this, I am going to be broadly speak from a phenomenological standpoint; this is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of consciousness and the structure of subjective experience. At its core, phenomenology is concerned with questions such as: What is the nature of subjective experience? How do we perceive and understand the world around us? What is the relationship between consciousness and the world? In relation to music, phenomenology can be used to explore the ways in which music shapes and is shaped by subjective experience. For example, phenomenologists might examine the ways in which music evokes strong emotions, creates a sense of meaning and significance, or shapes our perception of the world around us. Throughout the history of philosophy, there have been many philosophers who have explored the intersection of phenomenology and music. From Edmund Husserl, who is considered the founder of phenomenology, to Jean-Luc Nancy and Don Ihde, who have examined the role of music in shaping and being shaped by subjective experience, the relationship between phenomenology and music is a rich and complex one.
Phenomenological spatiality is a concept that refers to the ways in which our perception of space and spatial relationships shapes and is shaped by our subjective experience. In contrast, temporality refers to how our perception of time shapes our consciousness. Looking at both musical spatiality and temporality from a phenomenological standpoint can be seen as how our perception of temporal relationships influences our consciousness and experience while listening to music. One philosopher who has explored the concept of phenomenological spatiality, temporality and it’s relation to music (and sound in general) is Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy has argued that music has the ability to create a sense of "sonorous space and time” that shapes our experience of the world. He believes that music has the power to evoke a sense of spatial presence and to create a sense of "sonorous depth and duration” that allows us to experience the world in a new and meaningful way. In a similar way to Nancy, Don Ihde has argued that music has the ability to create a sense of environment and flow that shapes our experience of the world. He believes that music can create a general sense of spatial awareness immersion. This self-awareness that comes with consuming music often leads to a greater self-consciousness, which can often teach us not only about the music, but about ourselves and the world around us. There have also been a number of composers who have explored the concept of phenomenological spatiality in their music. One example is John Cage, who is known for his experimental and avant-garde approach to music. A pioneer of music as ‘experiments’ (experimental music), Cage believed that music had the power to create a sense of "sonorous space" that shaped the listening experience, and he often used unconventional musical structures and techniques to evoke this sense of spatial presence.
So, what actually is time? From a purely scientific point of view, time is a fundamental aspect of the universe and is closely linked to the concept of space. Time is often thought of as a measure of the duration of events, and it is usually measured in units such as seconds, minutes, and hours. In classical physics, time is considered to be an independent variable that can be measured objectively and that is independent of the observer. This means that time is thought to be a universal quantity that is the same for all observers, regardless of their location or frame of reference. In modern physics, time is still considered to be an important aspect of the universe, but its nature is more complex and nuanced. According to some theories in modern physics, such as relativity and quantum mechanics, the concept of time is closely linked to the concept of space, and the two are considered to be part of a single unified entity known as spacetime. In these theories, time is still thought to be a measure of the duration of events, but it is also thought to be affected by the presence of matter and energy, and by the curvature of spacetime. As a result, time is not considered to be an objective and universal quantity in the same way that it is in classical physics.
However, time in relation to the consciousness is vastly different. The consciousness does not just take the idea of time at face value, rather our experience enhances it, moulds it and makes it wholly subjective to our own consciousness. There is an important distinction and fundamental difference between space and time that should be made. Space is something where you can move around; if I want to go to see a music concert, I will physically take myself to a concert hall. However, if I want to see a concert that happened three-hundred years ago, I cannot move around in time in the same way I can in space. However, when I move in space, I cannot do so without moving in time; time will always be moving ‘forward’ (or, at least, a clock will always be moving forward). It is difficult to both separate and join these two elements of the universe (or of consciousness, depending on your philosophical standpoint). Yet, often they are seen as two sides of the same coin. One way to understand the relationship between space and time is through the concept of spacetime. Spacetime is a framework that combines space and time into a single, unified entity. This concept was first proposed by Hermann Minkowski in 1908 and has since become a cornerstone of modern physics.
According to the theory of relativity, the concept of spacetime is necessary to understand the nature of the universe. According to this theory, the laws of physics are the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion. This means that the passage of time can appear different to different observers, depending on their relative speed. For example, time appears to move slower for an observer moving at a high speed compared to an observer at rest. This phenomenon, known as time dilation, is a direct consequence of the curvature of spacetime. In addition to time dilation, the theory of relativity also predicts that the fabric of spacetime can be distorted by the presence of matter and energy. This phenomenon, known as spacetime curvature, is what causes objects to experience gravity. In other words, the gravitational force experienced by an object is a result of the way that its motion is influenced by the curvature of spacetime caused by the presence of other masses.
The relationship between space and time can also be understood in terms of the concept of symmetry. Symmetry is a property of a system that remains unchanged despite certain transformations. One example of symmetry is the rotational symmetry of a circle, which remains unchanged no matter how it is rotated. The concept of symmetry is relevant to the relationship between space and time because it suggests that the laws of physics should be the same in all inertial frames of reference. In other words, the laws of physics should not depend on the relative motion of the observer. This idea is known as the principle of relativity, which is a cornerstone of the theory of relativity.
Symmetry, temporal dilation and other scientific concepts tell us about the objective world, but may not enlighten us much about how we experience music, and how space and time affects us when consuming or creating music. Nevertheless, I believe it is helpful to understand the scientific foundations of the temporal and spatial to understand how we can approach these things in relation to our consciousness. Furthermore, these things are not mutually exclusive. Science and philosophy are two different ways of understanding the world. Science is a systematic and logical approach to discovering new knowledge about the natural world, based on empirical evidence and experimentation. Philosophy, on the other hand, is a more abstract and theoretical pursuit that involves questioning fundamental assumptions and concepts, such as the nature of reality, existence, knowledge, and value. Both science and philosophy have something valuable to contribute to our understanding of time and space. Science helps us to understand the physical properties of time and space and how they behave according to the laws of physics. Philosophy, on the other hand, helps us to understand the conceptual and metaphorical aspects of time and space and how they relate to our experience of the world. It is much like, in the Christian faith, having an idea of Jesus Christ and knowing Jesus Christ in the relational sense. We can have an deep intellectual idea of who Christ is, what He does and how he works in our lives, but it is the act of self-investigation from a philosophical standpoint that draws us to deeper truths about ourselves and the world around us. Having both a scientific and philosophical understanding of time and space can also help us to bridge the gap between the two approaches and to see the connections between them. For example, science can inform our philosophical understanding of time and space by providing empirical evidence and testable theories, while philosophy can help us to understand the broader implications and meanings of scientific concepts. However, most importantly, the both complement each other by raising opposite questions. If I were to ask a question about how the temporal fabric of the universe is structured, this will naturally lead me to questions of why this is. In a similar way, if I ask myself if space has any inherent meaning, or whether it is just a backdrop for events to unfold, I will be forced to ask questions about the physical and scientific fabric of space.
Saying this, I am no scientist, and have a deeper interest in philosophy. Therefore, I am interested in asking philosophical questions about music. Thus, if we have a philosophical awareness when creating and consuming music, we are actively encouraged to ask ourselves specific questions about experience and our consciousness; where might concentration lie? How might we perceive sound? What emotions might we feel? For music creators, if a phenomenological approach is present in the music writing process, then there is both a dynamic relationship between the composer and listener and a vested subjectivity in the conception of the musical idea along with the piece’s subsequent architecture. My current musical interests lie in the unfolding of the combinatorial process over time that results in a static sound world. When listening and reflecting on my music, I have found that the experience of narrative does not lie in ‘the music itself’. Rather, the experiential chronology lies in the way that the listener perceives repetition, experiences the flexing of time and the fluctuation in their concentration. At one point in the music, their attention may be focused deep into the chronology and development of the enumeration but may shift to another extreme, not even focusing on the fact they are listening to music.
To have an awareness of the temporal implications of the music during the compositional process would be to engage with phenomenology; to understand that the experience of time passing is both momentary and personal to every individual listener. Although there may be fortuitous events that create changes in this experience as something personal, such as extraneous sound from the concert hall or the physical eccentricities of a performance, many composers who engage with statis in their work naturally display phenomenological awareness. Static music naturally lacks teleology; the narrative of musical experience is not engraved in the score. Instead, the narrative (or at least, chronology) is transferred to the listener, made up of momentary experience where one might zoom in and out of a score, observing minute details in the sound or being more aware of the physicality of the space the music is being performed in.
There are times at which one may argue there is objectivity in the surprising elements of musical composition. However, the listener’s perception of what is fortuitous is still affected by their experience and character. Furthermore, these surprises are always characterised as ‘moments’ which is, in itself, problematic. The German philosopher Edmund Husserl talks about “immanent time”, describing the moment as only possible within a focal-point. From a phenomenological perspective, the experience of time passing is not only a subjective experience but unique to an individual, shaped by the person’s characteristics and eccentricities. David Clarke suggests that this is in part due to there being an ambiguity in momentary experience. He asks the question in the book Music and consciousness “how do we make a robust distinction between the moment of perception and the beginnings of memory?” If a composer has an awareness of phenomenology, especially when investigating temporal implications of musical perception, it seems that on any level, time perception has an innate fluidity. Each listener’s levels of perception may differ within a piece of music. Furthermore, even if a listener is fully engaged with a particular element of the music at a point in time, the perception of that moment may not be distinct due to the obscurity between the experience of the present and recollection.
In 2021, I wrote this short commentary for a piece of music I composed for piano, called ‘Slowing up and speeding down’. As probably guessed, the work plays on the listener’s awareness of their temporal consciousness, as the music is static and unchanging throughout so is their attention, which begins to drift and the musical narrative forms within their own consciousness rather than within the music itself.
Listening 'at this moment in time is much like a dog chasing its tail. When a listener hears and subsequently directs their attention to a moment, they are merely examining a memory. If one anticipates a moment and focuses on a time-point, they are merely pre-empting a moment. Many may describe temporality as linear experience; left to right, right to left, or a continuous line stretching to and from eternity. However, temporality operates in absolute parallel with spatiality. I see time as something which comes at and over you. Occasionally, you may be looking forward and observing a time-point approaching you. At other times, you may be looking behind you and witnessing a time-point fade into the infinite distance. The past and future are strong forces constantly fighting to grab your attention. Perhaps you could look up? Much like a cloud flies high above your head, the time-point at which the raindrop leaves the cloud compared to when it hits your head sits in a different place on the temporal spectrum. What may feel like the present is often the past and, if not, a murky anticipation of a time-point.
Although a real-world moment and a moment as a manifestation of our consciousness are different, what qualities does a real-world moment have? How do we interact with a time-point when we experience it? The primary stage of experiencing a moment in time is our delayed experience to a real-world time-point. We often use terms such as 'immediate' or 'present' to describe this. Real-world moments are indestructible, but often our consciousness is shrouded in time-points that these time-points present as decaying objects as time passes over us. There is a direct correlation between the distances separating us from our delayed experience of a time-point and the perceived decay of a time-point experience. This decay will eventually present as nothingness but a false nothingness. A period of temporal experience may follow where the initial experience of the time-point presents as nothingness but may appear again as a memory. This memory has very little to do with the fixed real-world time-point but is a false manifestation of the time-point experience. Both the time-point experience and the memory are not bound by the real-world temporal spectrum and so cannot be classified as a moment.
Moments occur in the real world and are present as time-points, not in the consciousness. However, human consciousness acts as a barrier between the real world and our apprehension of a time-point. A moment in temporal consciousness may present as either a loose-fitting observation of a time-point approaching us, a decaying time-point experience or a severely injured time-point manifesting as a memory.
The final concept I am going to talk about is memory. As one may gather from these writings above, I hold a vastly different view on the existence of the future in comparison to the past (and present, for what it’s worth). The past is a tangible thing which we can internalise in our consciousness; we have memories and recollections which can influence our emotions from present stimuli. However, the future is something which we have no certainty about. We can anticipate and predict, but these thoughts are completely defined by our past and present experience. In my opinion, if we are to argue of the fabric existence of the past, present and future in relation to our consciousness, only the first two would have any merit for a philosophical arguments.From a philosophical standpoint, memory is typically seen as a central aspect of human cognition and is closely related to other mental states and processes such as perception, attention, and learning. There are many different philosophical approaches to the concept of memory, and there is ongoing debate about its nature, function, and limitations. Some philosophers see memory as a kind of mental representation or record of past events, while others see it as a more active process of reconstruction and interpretation. This debate has important implications for how we understand the reliability and accuracy of memory, as well as its potential for distortion and manipulation. Another key aspect of the philosophy of memory is the relationship between memory and personal identity. Many philosophers argue that our memories are an integral part of who we are, and that they shape and define our sense of self. Others, however, argue that our sense of self is more fluid and dynamic, and that it is not necessarily tied to our memories.
When thinking about music, there is a clear link between our memory and the emotional response that we may have from encountering music. This can both be from hearing music that reminds us of something, or from reoccurring themes and developments within the same piece of music. There is a philosophical concept called Rilkean memory, which can be separated into two strands; embodied and affective. Embodied memory consists of behavioural and bodily forms, while affective memory deals with emotions, moods and feelings. A Rilkean memory begins when a regular memory becomes fragmented or lost. For example, you may hear a piece of music at a funeral. If you hear the piece of music again, although you may not remember that you once heard it at a funeral, it may bring about a Rilkean memory in its affective form, which creates an emotional response, even when that autobiographical memory of the music is lost. The relationship between both memory and emotions are extremely complex, however, there seems to be two important points to make here. Firstly, memories are often accompanied by emotions. These may either be part of the memories themselves, or be an emotion directed at the memory of an event. Secondly, there are certain emotions that are only present with memories. For example, nostalgia, regret, guilt, and remorse are all present only when a memory is present. This means that, in relation to music, we can think of times in which an listener can feel an emotion to something in relation to another musical event which arises solely from a memory. However, this raises the question as to whether these emotions are felt in relation to the memory itself, or whether it should be understood as circumstantial. In any case, considering the philosophical idea of memory is important when appreciating music because it can deepen our understanding and appreciation of the music itself, as well as the experiences and emotions it evokes. Memory allows us to contextualize the music and connect it to our personal histories and emotions, which can enrich our experience of listening to it. Additionally, thinking about the nature of memory and how it shapes our experience of music can also lead us to reflect on the role that memory plays in our lives more broadly, and how it shapes our understanding of the world around us. Overall, engaging with the philosophical idea of memory when appreciating music can enhance our enjoyment of the music and also promote deeper self-reflection and understanding.
Fundamentally, thinking about music from a philosophical standpoint can be a powerful tool for enhancing our appreciation of music and using it in our daily lives to promote positive mental and physical health. By considering the various philosophical ideas and concepts that are related to music, such as aesthetics, emotion, and meaning, we can gain a deeper understanding of the music we listen to and how it affects us. This, in turn, can help us to more fully engage with the music and derive greater enjoyment from it. Moreover, thinking about music from a philosophical perspective can also help us to use music more intentionally and effectively in our daily lives. For example, we can choose music that aligns with our values and goals, and use it to help us focus, relax, or motivate ourselves. We can also consider how different musical styles or traditions reflect different cultural and historical contexts, and use this understanding to expand our musical horizons and enrich our lives. In addition to the personal benefits of thinking about music from a philosophical standpoint, such as increased enjoyment and self-awareness, doing so can also have broader social and cultural benefits. By engaging with music in a more thoughtful and reflective manner, we can foster greater understanding and appreciation for diverse musical traditions and the people who create and perform them. This can help to build bridges of connection and understanding between people of different backgrounds and experiences, and contribute to a more harmonious and inclusive society. Overall, thinking about music from a philosophical standpoint is an important and rewarding way to enhance our appreciation of this rich and multifaceted art form, and to use it more effectively and positively in our daily lives. By considering the various philosophical ideas that are relevant to music, we can deepen our understanding and enjoyment of it, and use it as a source of inspiration, relaxation, and personal growth.