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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Music, Partying and the Stopping of Time

I was thinking about the small subject of Music and Time. This thinking originated while contemplating the interviews I held with 30 more or less randomly chosen Dutch citizens about what music means for them and what it does with them.

One of the major things music does is connecting people with the past - and especially with their personal past. Yes, yes, listening to Beethoven symphonies connects people with "Beethoven's time" - sometimes; but mostly it connects them with memories about when they were a student and were eating hot apple pie on a frosty Sunday morning while listening to Beethoven with friends.

Music does this so strongly that people use this function music has as a time-machine to regulate themselves - they deliberately play Beethoven not because they like it or want to connect to Beethoven's time (my sincere apologies to the music aestheticains and music historians) but because it is a frosty Sunday morning again and they want to re-feel the feeling they had as a student, even if the apple pie is absent.

Of course, when you want to develop a theory about what music does for people - as I do - you start thinking that when the past is so important for people, then maybe the future is also present in the stories of the interiewees (leaving the domain of `grounded theory' temporarily for `theoretical speculation'). Indeed, people use music to think and talk about the future (so there is the `grounding' again), but less so than about the past. The future passes by in three ways: in the stories of those people who constantly are consciously searching for expansion of their listenig experiences; for people who are practising musicians; and for people who think about the musical future of their (grand-)children.

And of course, past and future lead to questions about the present. At a first glance, the present is near-absent in the stories of people. One or two mention things like time standing still when they play music, but that's all.  But looking a bit broader, one stumbles on the many occasions that music is used to party; or, more general, as a ritual accompaniment. Music, I feel, is then used to mark out a chunk of time - the present - as really standing out of ordinary time, regardless whether it concerns a dance party, a church service, a soccer game, or a classical concert.

So there we are: music connects to the past, projects into the future, or simply stops time.

How much more important can you get it?

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