Glover, Richard and Harrison, Bryn (2013) Phenomenology and temporality in the composition of experimental minimal music. In: Philosophy and Music Conference: Time Theories and Music, 27-29 April 2012, Ionian University, Corfu, Greece.

The paper’s authors are composers operating within the field of experimental music. Their music is created from the use of limited materials placed into repetitive structures involving cyclic pitch patterns and sustained tone textures. This reductive approach to composition provides a fertile area for discussions of temporality, as the music functions outside of standard teleological narrative structures thereby prompting more varied subjective temporal experiences for listeners.

The paper will take as its starting point the experience of the listener, rather than the musical score, enhancing discussions from Thomas Clifton’s Music as Heard.1 This angle is particularly relevant when discussing minimal works, as the score does not (and is not intended to) give an indication to what the auditory experience will be, it simply acts as what pianist Philip Thomas describes as a ‘prescription for action’ for the performers.2

Drawing particularly upon work on the temporal experience by Merleau-Ponty (after Husserl), the paper discusses how phenomenological approaches can provide effective insight into the experience of sustained tone and repetitive music. By discussing notions of retention and protention, the two composers will explore how this permeates their compositional approach, particularly in relation to the use of repetition, examining the different types of musical materials used by the composers and how this affects the temporalities experienced upon performance.

Points of similarity and variance between the two outlooks are explored in detail, providing an in-depth discussion as to how attitudes towards temporality can result in nuanced differences in output. Fundamental essences are clarified and discussed in relation to other composers’ work, and in particular American composer James Tenney’s work in applying a phenomenological model upon the listening experience is considered alongside the central discussion.

The results of this investigation provide both clear artistic statements on the role of phenomenological thought in the creative process, and also tentative starting points for further discussion on experiential temporalities in minimal and experimental musics.

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