Over the last year or so time itself has become my primary compositional concern. By time I mean the experience of consciously perceiving the passage of time in daily life and in the art we encounter. How can time manifest in performance, object, or environment? How, through the use of structure, can time be altered, shifted, transcended, and understood in our shared experience?
Of course, duration is not time.
Duration is relevant because I’m interested in glacial change that is beyond our perception, and that takes time.
If a piece lasts three and a half hours, that is something that we can measure. But feeling time pass for three and a half hours is different. We need time structures that work themselves out in hours or days, not minutes. Recently, I have been looking at relatively small units of time, say twenty-one seconds or fourteen words, as building blocks that can be felt to slowly expand beyond our rational perception. This use of time within a larger, vertically integrated, compositional structure allows for individualized moments of ecstatic chronostasis rooted in the shared experience of performer and audience member.
How does time pass when we get used to a specific interval that is slowly augmented? If we return to that same interval does it change? Do we perceive this time shift as it happens, or only after the fact? From performance to performance, the situation changes: a longer pause between notes, silence, energy—it all coalesces.
When our environment is divorced from the outside world and subsumed in the art happening right there, do we perceive time differently than if we can see or feel the sun or moon passing overhead? The moments of the performance take place within the real world: the concert occurs at 7 p.m. on a Thursday in June; the day is a certain length. These facts place you specifically in time.
Hearing the work more than once leads to revelation. Different choices have powerful ramifications on our perception. That freedom to choose and to respond to the reality of the space, and the energy of the room, means the work is constantly alive, evolving, growing with the passage of time.
Our art is inextricable from time.
Knowing this, we can compose within time systems designed to encourage you to let time stand still.
A profound and singular experience of time.
Through structure we can facilitate and experience new modes of time. Structure is the key that allows for freedom, expression, and beauty informed by time. With practice, we can offer work that transcends the temporal constraints of daily time. Creating an experience for our audiences that persists viscerally in their memories must be the goal, because ultimately, it’s about time.
For me, the work has never been confined to the stage. But having limited my sonic palette I find myself focusing more and more on the time we spend in the room, and how our eyes and bodies adjust to the space of our surroundings. The more I restrict my materials, the more time becomes the definitive factor. As my pieces grew longer and longer, and the materials more focused, the reality of my work became more apparent. I’m only interested in the reality of the moment. The reality, whatever that may be, of our shared experience. And so, performed time becomes the idea and the practice.
Performing this type of work presents challenges beyond typical virtuosity. Each performer works with his or her unique perceptual sense, so one may count a second a bit longer or a bit shorter. But the instinct and reaction is based in the perceived reality of shared time.
I am currently expanding the structures I use beyond music. I start with the numbers (harmonies) I want to use, and I think about how they can best work in the context of the concept. These structures become my primary concern, and I proliferate them using projection, light, tuning, arrangement, duration, silence, time.
But all art is inextricable from time.
It happens that I am working decidedly within time structures that highlight this fact. I am free to let time be the focus. What I am developing now is a system of harmonic time wherein all things in the performance are related.
To make time stand still is the ultimate goal. To let time be pure and focused. To perform time and together share time.
A version of this text was given as a post-performance talk at the Sixth International Conference on Music and Minimalism at Nief-Norf in Knoxville, TN on June 23, 2017.
Randy Gibson is a Brooklyn-based artist who composes with sound, time, light, and space.