Glover, Richard and Harrison, Bryn (2013) Memory and trace in minimal experimental music. In: Time and Trace: 15th Triennial Conference of the International Society for the Study of Time, 30 June - 6 July 2013, Orthodox Academy of Crete, Greece. (Unpublished)

This paper will discuss notions of memory and trace in minimal experimental music, where the lack of clear auditory reference points results in musical experience which is far less differentiated or segregated than other musics. This conflicts with traditional concepts of ‘linearity’, and provides a fertile area for exploration and discussion in terms of memory retention, and how this affects the temporal experience.

The American music theorist Jonathan Kramer employed the term ‘vertical music’ in his 1988 book ‘The Time of Music’ to describe this music which is ‘necessarily unchanging in most of its dimensions’. Vertical music ‘results in a single present stretched out into an enormous duration, a potentially infinite ‘now’ that nevertheless feels like an instant’, and therefore generates an undifferentiated memory-stream.

The paper will present audio examples of repetitive and sustained music, both of which can give rise to what Kramer terms an ‘extended present’. The paper argues that there are in fact myriad avenues of temporal experience resulting from this music, due to the smaller-scale surface fluctuations audible within it upon deeper listening. Memory and trace are not meaningless terms in this scenario, but have a significant role to play in the experience of this music due to these fluctuations; we experience memory in a manner alternative to more traditional gestural musical languages, one suggesting a more lateral network of similar yet differentiated experiences. Husserl’s usage of the term abschattungen, a shadow, nuance or afterimage, provides the framework in which these ideas are discussed, and issues of retention relating to memory and traced are fully explored.

The results of this investigation provide both tentative starting points for further discussion on experiential temporalities in minimal and experimental musics, and possible avenues for further work in the creation of new music and other temporal arts.

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