Definitions of Tempomorphic Performance

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Doyle, R., 2002. Definitions of Tempomorphic Performance. Body, Space & Technology, 2(2). DOI:


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In this paper I shall argue for the perception of multiple temporalities in musical experience, and that the evaluation and study of these temporalities be termed ‘tempomorphic’, derived from tempo (speed) and morph (form). [1] By establishing epistemological evidence to support an argument for multiple temporalities, I shall then address defining characteristics of tempomorphic practice in music. To illustrate the development of music offering alternative time worlds, reference is made to compositional and recorded examples taken predominantly from Western acoustic and electro-acoustic music dating from the early twentieth century. There follows a debate of issues concerning the impact of tempomorphic awareness on performance. A discussion of implications for tempomorphic research concludes the survey.

Reflecting its concern with temporal issues, this investigation is divided into three sections: past, addressing the need for research; present, including extant examples and observations regarding research methodology; and future, addressing implications of issues discussed.

1 Past: the need for research

The context for a discussion of temporal hierarchies is divided here into two areas: ‘cognitive temporal perception’, or the subjective perception of passing time [2] (of the individual and of society) and issues of developing musical practice informed by ‘aesthetic awareness’. [3] Changes in emerging musical practice, it is suggested, give rise to an area of research investigating causes and implications of performance practice.

1.1 Temporal perception

Music in performance and reception offers alternative linear temporalities, emphasising differences between objective time and subjective time, as Johnathan Kramer’s statement regarding the meaning of music suggests:

The meanings of music are temporal owing to music's unique ability to create different kinds of time, often simultaneously, which resonate with the nonlinearity (and linearity) of our inner thought processes as well as with the linearity (and nonlinearity) of our external lives in society (Kramer, 1988: 15).

Of the two kinds of time referred to here, that of the individual and that of society, social temporality will be addressed first.

A precedent for perceived temporal hierarchies is found in existing literature referring to a communal, objective time which is co-existent with the subjective time of the individual. Objective time has been described as a ‘public neutral object’ by Bertrand Russell (1967: 9), while Martin Heidegger (1995: 464) has shown that ‘Everyman’ directs him or herself ‘according to it’. The subjective temporal perceptions of the individual are governed, according to the laws of thermodynamics, by the psychological arrow of time (Hawking, 1988: 145). It is the psychological arrow of time which supplies us with a sense of duration. The subjective distortion of durations from their objective time norm has been referred to by Igor Stravinsky as ‘psychological time’ (Kramer, 1988: 454). These durations are not necessarily the same in each individual, a reminder of the reliability of subjective awareness questioned perhaps most famously by René Descartes (1994: 76). However, attempts to quantify the psychological present have supplied a measurement of approximately ‘3 seconds’:

This discussion [of the measurement of subjective duration] in turn leads to the phenomenon of the 'psychological present', which is the critical period of time within which we can perceive and organize a succession of events. Though it is not an absolute time period, roughly 3 seconds seems to represent this critical present. Fraisse, citing other studies, points out that the average length of a musical bar in religious hymns is 3.4 sec. The average duration of a line of poetry is 2.7 sec. Further examples (not cited by Fraisse): Most musical motives fit this 3-second period, as do most minimal phrases in language (Epstein, 1995: 510-11).

A development of the idea of more than one temporality is found in the results of investigations into theories of timeworlds, or ‘Umwelts’. [4] Jokob von UexKüll (1921), J.T. Fraser (1982), and Johnathan Kramer (1988) (representing the respective disciplines of biology, philosophy, and musicology) show a line of evolving research concerned with species-specific temporal hierarchies and their interdisciplinary representation (see table below).

Table 1 demonstrates relationships of hierarchical levels between the biological theories of von UexKüll, the temporal theories of Fraser, and the musical interpretations of temporalities suggested by Kramer. Kramer has pointed out that theories of hierarchical temporality described by Fraser help us to understand musical concepts such as ‘vertical’ and non-linear (Kramer, 1988: 394).

The development of umwelt theory also reflects the development of an interdisciplinary aesthetic with possible implications for investigative methodologies. One such implication is that the study of tempomorphics may benefit from the use of models from more than one discipline. Further evidence supporting alternative evaluations of passing time reflects cultural values, establishing categories including sacred, biological, and polychronic time is provided by Edward Hall (1984: 13). (See table 2).

Table 2: Hall’s categories of time

Source: ‘How many kinds of time?’ (Hall, 1984, p. 13)

The interest in temporal concepts has been seen as a characteristic of twentieth-century aesthetics. As James Gleick observes in Faster (1999: 7), aesthetic attention to the temporal dimension has dominated the twentieth century, as the eighteenth century concerned itself with the understanding of mass, and the nineteenth century is characterised by the spatial conquest of the globe. Perhaps reflecting advances in the physical sciences occasioned by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, time in the 1900s has ‘swept to the foreground of twentieth-century art’ (Mitchell, 1963: 74).

It may be noted from these observations that twentieth-century performers and their audience share a developed awareness of temporality. However, because temporality is a cognitive phenomenon, any impact performance derives from temporal perception will be in the way the performer uses aesthetic language to inform his or her work, in addition to the prior aesthetic precepts of the audience. In his appraisal of perceptual hierarchies at work in Western art music, David Epstein has identified levels of beat and pulse, measure and motive, hypermeasure and phrase conveyed in through-composed musics, any and all of which require the presence of a conductor to aid ensemble performance (1995: 29-35).

To conclude this brief survey of issues relating to the perception of temporality, we see a variety of contributing factors to the subject’s perception of passing time in the experience of music. Social values and individual interpretation of information received aurally have been challenged and highlighted by works such as John Cage’s ‘4’. 33”’(1976).

1.2 Musical developments

The identification of musical style (both established and innovative) depends on the aesthetic evaluation of the listener, and may be considered in the three areas Leonard Meyer has defined. These areas, according to Meyer, are distinguished as the sensuous, the associative-characterizing, and the syntactical (1967: 34). This three-part model translates as stimulating physical, social, and musical responses in the part of the listener. While, as Meyer goes on to point out, a given piece of music may emphasise one area and minimize the others (1967: 34), each area combines with the others to contribute to the listener’s enjoyment. The work of Cage, in particular his requirements of the listener to reassess the aesthetic interpretation of music in society, foregrounds the importance of aesthetic interpretation.

It is necessary to address the resulting communication of meaning conveyed by a given example of music to the listener, noting that such meaning depends at least in part on an aesthetic interpretation on behalf of the audience. Two observations by composers of the twentieth century serve to remind us of the problems related to identifying meaning in music. Stravinsky’s famous comment that music is ‘powerless to express anything at all’ (Griffiths, 1994: 63) serves as an answer to the question which, in Aaron Copland’s opinion, ‘should never have been asked’ (1952: 13). Elsewhere the problems presented by the study of hearing are attributed to individual abilities of perception and cognition in the listener. The competence of the listener, including the ‘sociology of taste’, is challenged by the organisation of musical structure (Wellek, 1979: 115-21). The point Wellek makes has similarities with that made by Ernst Gombrich regarding the ‘innocent eye’ and, to paraphrase the art historian, the share of the artwork taken by the beholder (Gombrich, 1968: 169).

Concluding this overview addressing issues of meaning in music, the importance of temporal issues in relation to the organisation of music (and the cognition of that organisation) is emphasised. According to Stravinsky, after refuting the musical power of expression, ‘[t]he phenomenon of music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the coordination between man and time,’ (quoted in Griffiths, 1994: 63). Furthermore, in The Role of Timing Patterns in Recognition of Emotional Expression, it is argued that timing is often regarded as the most fundamental aspect of musical performance, in addition to the perceived operation of different hierarchical levels denoted by temporal patterns in music (Juslin and Madison, 1999: 197-221).

Changes in aesthetic interpretation of music in society discussed above have contributed to an emergent style of music-making, an example of which is ‘Ambient’ music, named by Brian Eno (1996: 293). Eno is quoted here to supply a description of cultural conditions giving rise to his style of ambient music:

In 1978 I released the first record which described itself as Ambient Music, a name I invented to describe an emerging musical style.

It happened like this. In the early seventies, more and more people were changing the way they were listening to music. Records and radio had been around long enough for the novelty to wear off, and people were wanting to make quite particular and sophisticated choices about what they played in their homes and workplaces, what kind of sonic mood they surrounded themselves with. […] I was noticing that my friends and I were making and exchanging long cassettes of music chosen for its stillness, homogeneity, lack of surprises and, most of all, lack of variety. We wanted to use music in a different way – as part of the ambience of our lives – and we wanted it to be continuous, a surrounding (Eno, 1996: 293).

The ambient style finds musical precedence in the early twentieth-century furniture music of Erik Satie and ‘Les Six’ (Griffiths, 1994: 68). Modern music, Griffiths tells us conveniently, commenced with Debussy’s flute melody in his ‘Prelude a ‘L’apres-midi d’un faun’ (1892-4) (Griffiths, 1994: 4), while the origins of ambient music has been identified among the works of Mahler (Prendergast, 2001: 4). It is possible that the location of a future style of music in the work of a composer of the previous century reflects evidence supporting theories of the ‘hermeneutic circle’ as much as aesthetic and stylistic musical development. [5]

One (perhaps the first) example of ambient music – Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for airports – is a realisation of Debussy’s concern with providing music for the century of the aeroplane (Prendergast, 2000: 3). The ethos of ambient music features elements Heinrich Schenker, in marked contrast to Debussy, suggests should be omitted from music:

The life of a motif is represented in an analogous way. The motif is led through various situations. At one time, its melodic character may be tested; at another time, a harmonic peculiarity must prove its valour in unaccustomed surroundings; a third time, again, the motif is subjected to some rhythmic change: in other words, the motif lives through its fate, like a personage in a drama. […] Thus it is illicit, according to the laws of abbreviation, to present the motif in a situation which cannot contribute anything new to the clarification of its character. No composer could hope to reveal through overloaded, complicated, and unessential matter what could be revealed by few, well-chosen, fatal moments in the life of a motif. It will be of no interest at all to hear how the motif, metaphorically speaking, makes its regular evening toilet, takes its regular lunch, etc (Schenker, 1973: 13).

Schenker's emphasis here is on the syntactical representation of dramatic narrative. However, interdisciplinary aesthetics of the twentieth century developed the abandonment of narrative, producing, according to one observer, a style characterised by 'no texture, no drawing, no light, no space, no movement, no object, no subject, no symbol, no pleasure, no pain' (Reinhardt, quoted by Polin, 1989: 226). This Minimalist style, especially in the promotion of a non-narrative aesthetic, underpins music composed and performed to function as a background to the regular toilet and lunch of the international traveller in the environment of the airport (Eno, 1996: 295).

In order to identify how performance technique has incorporated aesthetic considerations discussed above, it is necessary to define conventional performance.

A recorded example of conventional performance displaying cultural text, instrumental virtuosity of the solo artist, the use of technology, and improvisation in performance is Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Star Spangled Banner’ (1994). Comparison to performance models indicating requirements to achieve expression (resulting from research into artificial systems of emotional expression), provides a series of criteria aiding definition of performance. The performance model suggested by Clarke and Windsor (2000: 277-313) specifies six components (see table 3).

Table 3: Performance model

Source: Clarke and Windsor, 2000: 277-313

Hendrix’s performance fulfils the necessary criteria listed in Clarke and Windsor’s model. Structure is provided by the melodic and harmonic progress of the through-composed anthem; performance procedure entails the musician, his instrument and attendant processing and amplifying devices in a concert situation; pitch, rhythm, and harmonic data are encoded in the manipulation of guitar strings; an underlying pulse is present in represented metre of the musical text; structure variables include exposition of text and improvisations arising from the text; and stylistic parameters are fulfilled by characteristics of the instrument used.

1.3 Adapted Performance

With the advent of technological developments, a style of musical activity has emerged which underpins the foundations for what is determined in this discussion as tempomorphic musical practice. This activity is a combination of technology and aesthetics reflected in Cage’s observation that ‘magnetic tape music makes it clear that we are in time itself, not in measures of two, three, or four or any other number’ (1978: 70). Cage’s observation perhaps refers to his own and others’ work in the genre of musique concréte, but examples cited here are from the work of a subsequent generation of composers, indicating a clear developmental lineage. This lineage, reflecting an emergent compositional and performance style, has developed from the experimental tape loops of Steve Reich’s ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ (1966) and the introduction of 'Frippertronics' (No Pussyfooting Eno and Fripp. E.G. Records, 1973), to the digitally recorded soundscapes of The Gates of Paradise (Fripp, 1997). Each of these examples may be seen to have contributed to specific musical developments: Reich’s compositional style including features of rhythmic phasing; the establishment of ‘ambient music’ (Eno, 1996: 293); and the development of soundscaping as a recorded performance process. An example of Frippertronics - a title chosen for its silliness, according to Fripp (LaFosse, 2002) - is to be found on Fripp’s ‘Water Music I’ (Exposure, 1979), used in a musique concréte style to complement an overdubbed speech. The electro-acoustic process on which Frippertronics is based involves the introduction of a signal to a tape loop which is then repeated and added to by the performer, building sonic textures for an indefinite (and theoretically infinite) duration (see diagram 1).

Diagram 1: Tape loop schematic for Frippertronics

Source: Tamm, 1995: 152

The system illustrated by diagram 1 represents that which was used to achieve the repeated loops of Frippertronics found on such recordings as The Heavenly Music Corporation. The overall harmony of The Heavenly Music Corporation, according to Eric Tamm’s analysis, is pandiatonic (1995: 153). The resulting harmony from the performance process used by Fripp is, to use the Meyer’s third term of analysis (see above), a syntactical characteristic of tempomorphic performance.

While this recorded performance process includes aspects of conventional improvisation and recording approaches, it may be possible to identify further defining characteristics describing a procedure that transcends either convention. The sensuous impact of The Heavenly Music Corporation reflects criteria referred to by Eno in his description of a continuous music with no surprises. Aesthetic characteristics of the performance process involved in soundscaping are commented on by Robert Fripp:

Soundscape performances are part of an ongoing series of discovery which has the aim of finding ways in which intelligence and music, definition and discovery, courtesy and reciprocation may enter into the act of music for both musician and audience (1997: 4).

A governing aesthetic relating to feedback loops between the performer and that performed is clear in Fripp’s statement. Further specific issues it is necessary for the musician to address in soundscape performance arise from the opportunity for empirical evaluation and development of the work as it progresses. Features of tempomorphic performance, including observed characteristics of soundscaping, are included in table 4.

Table 4: Characteristics of tempomorphic performance

Source: empirical observations of research (Doyle, unpublished paper, 2002)

The following empirical observations, based on the findings of practical research, address each characteristic of tempomorphism and are briefly outlined following the order in which they appear in table 4.

There is a marked reduction of performance ensemble personnel, characterised by a solo performer with the (possibly dispensable) attendant role of technician.

The relationship between the antecedence of pitches committed to a loop and consequent performance decisions emphasises empiricism of the process in conjunction with a specific, reduced, feedback duration.

The repetition of looped information is inherently cyclic, invoking cyclic musical forms such as that of Gamelan.

The emergent subject emphasis of looped music becomes that of tonal and harmonic texture.

The subsequent processing of electro-acoustic signal shares a cognitive role equal to that of the original acoustic signal.

Compositions are developed, in a single session, through a process of discrete empirical judgements by the performer, supporting the concept of the performer as audience member.

Pieces are free from metric structure in the conventional sense, bars being replaced by hypermeasures determined by loop length.

Although pieces can develop teleologically as the result of linear variations in texture and dynamics of volume, their harmony is essentially static, or vertical, with a tendency towards pandiatonism.

A holistic approach is engendered in the performer as the result of antecedent and consequent relationship awareness. This approach may inform decision-making processes outside the immediate arena of technical musicianship.

There is a clear emphasis on the interface between human and technology, and the creative potentials thereof.

There is also an inherent immediacy of an addresser/addressee feedback loop, characterised by the performer occupying the cognitive space of the audience.

Although several examples of looping processes are referred to, each may be seen to invest in one area of technology, be it analogue or digital, with an attendant possibility of obsolescence. The nature of equipment innovation, manufacture, and availability, results in the reinterpretation of creative process with each generation of technology. The process exploited by composer Conlon Nancarrow, making use of paper rolls for player-pianos, foreshadows the abandonment of tape loops for digital processing. [6] The obsolescence of technology effects the music produced, which adapts according to available equipment. Nancarrow’s use of the player piano provides a precedent seen to some extent in the use and abandonment of Revox tape machines by Fripp.

In contrast to conventional performance requirements, metric performance using loops is reactive not proactive (subsequent to initial decisions regarding loop length).

Compositions are non-teleological in the conventional sense, offering the performer opportunities to explore vertical textures, but reflect, nevertheless, the inherent goal-orientation of unfolding time.

Empirical decisions made during performance depend, for their execution, on technical ability and aesthetic awareness. Performances, therefore, are informed by a skill of improvisation perhaps closest to the tradition of improvisation in styles of jazz.

The performer is in a liminal position, occupying the dual roles of sound addresser and addressee. This ‘betwixt and between’ position, identified as a characteristic of the liminal by Victor Turner (1990: 11-12), is appended by the musician’s position as being one which ‘emphasises heterogeneity, innovation, the experimental and the marginalized’ (Broadhurst, 1999: 10).

Structural features depend on a single hierarchical unit (loop duration), adherence to which offers a plasticity of form which has similarities to the neoplasticism of the De Stijl movement, examples of which include the paintings of Piet Mondrian.

Empirical improvisation recordings do not depend on notation, except perhaps in the form of schematics to describe signal processing (such as the schematic accompanying Eno’s Discreet Music (1975) (See diagram 1). The absence of notation separates tempomorphic music from the minimalist style. Notation is unnecessary for reduced ensemble. Problems of graphic representation of recorded tempomorphic soundscapes may be partially addressed through the use of visual representation of digital audio, an example of which is found in the Bias Peak programme.

Due to their improvisational nature, each piece has unique characteristics. Repeated performance is through manufactured duplication (e.g. compact disc) or by using the same system again.

Visual elements of performance are reduced: the performer makes discrete contributions to the soundscape, giving the appearance of interrupted and discontinuous performance (a series of ‘nows’); attention is directed towards equipment rather than audience; alternative visual media (for example, the use of slide projection) may have limited meaning in relation to the musical piece developing.

Three concluding observations regarding tempomorphic performance refer to feedback immediacy, characteristics of computer-based music-making, and conventional performance technique. Firstly, a governing aspect of tempomorphic performance is that the performer listens to loops created, representing a shrinking of the addresser/addressee feedback loop. These observations regarding short-term empiricism have been made above, and are repeated here to emphasise their perceived impact on performance. Secondly, these characteristics stem from the particular temporal characteristics of looped information (a feature of computer sequencing), and find earlier precedent in Satie’s proposed ‘inconsequential’ aesthetic of ‘furniture music’ (Griffiths, 1994: 68). [7] Thirdly, technical innovations complement established performance techniques to manipulate the perception of passing time such as rubato, wherein a performer ‘steals time’ from the metre in order to enhance the character of a phrase or passage. Rubato has been described as the ‘mark of a living organism’ (Scruton, 1997: 24). It is a characteristic of loop systems that the mark of a living organism is repeated with the precision of a machine.

2 Present: examples

The example of systems of music production using technological advances shows the advantages of empiricism, how we might view such systems in a wider aesthetic context, and implications for our perceptions of events. The use of empiricism to inform a system of compositional process is not unique, having an obvious application in the practice of conventional notation. The use of empiricism to inform decision-making afforded by certain electro-acoustic composition systems, such as that which Eno describes as ‘Generative music’, has been noted for this advantage (1996: 330). The interest in the creative potential of a given system, whereby the system becomes the artwork, has been observed as a factor linking artistic disciplines present in the work of Cage:

By concentrating on behaviour rather than results, and process rather than product, Cage had helped to create a basis for dialogue between all the arts, a recognition that ideas held in common were more important than purely local differences of media (Eno and Mills, 1986: 42).

Whether the artwork as process indicates a particular stylistic movement, such as Modernism or Postmodernism, is a matter for debate elsewhere. However, as Meyer has commented, the way of listening to a composition by one composer can be radically different to the way of listening required by another (1967: 87). Composition and performance is facilitated by continuing technological developments making use of precise temporal sampling. This highlights our perception of a sampled event, and how we may refer to it depending on its context. Although an objective assessment of a digital sample may find that it is a stereo audio file with a16-bit resolution lasting for 1.2 seconds, it might also be perceived subjectively as a fragment, moment, event, chord, or a holon (Koestler, 1968: 105). [8]

2.1 Tempomorphism in practice

A tempomorphic methodology may be observed in approaches to composition using looped sequences in programmes such as Emagic Logic, resulting in construction using a series of contrasting but contiguous measures. These measures, as a result of their size and the copy and paste features of computer software, provide holons influencing the overall dynamic structure of the piece.

Using the example of ‘Bohemian Like You’ (Taylor-Taylor, 2000), two copy and paste hypermeasure characteristics become apparent. The first characteristic has to do with the use of sampling to build structure, while the second emphasises sample content. The arrangement of ‘Bohemian Like You’ shows a structural reliance on hierarchies of looped metric hierarchies, or hypermeasures. The introduction to the song depends on a looped, African-sounding drum pattern for a statement of pulse and cultural location, which is then developed with a copy and paste expansion into a soundworld derivative of The Rolling Stones in the late-1960s. The development of an original Keith Richards riff (as the result of harmonic variation) reflects use of sampling to reinterpret previous material, such interpretation providing transposition of textual and cultural identity into a new context. This example, in addition to the wide variety of music software available and in use both domestically and professionally, shows how the adoption of an approach to music-making based on repeated loops, or tempomorphism, is established practice in some areas.

The discussion here has focused on technological aspects of tempomorphic music-making rather than its performance. The impact of electro-acoustic music on performance suggests the need for an enhancement of visual aspects of a performance event. Aspects of electro-acoustic music in performance have been viewed as problematic, as, to suggest a hypothetical example, in an extreme situation the audience may simply bear witness to a performer pressing the start control of a tape-machine. Making reference to the electro-acoustic musics of Beriot, Cage, Ligeti, Stockhausen, and Varése, the following stipulates three disadvantages of such music in performance:

Perhaps the most crucial way in which electro-acoustic music disturbs the conventional processes of western music is in its tendency either to remove or radically alter the role of the performer. The possibility inherent in this medium for a composer to deal directly with sound material, and to address his audience with only the mechanical and, ideally, neutral intermediary of a sound production system, was seen as an advantage, as is apparent in many of the views quoted earlier. But there are a number of counterbalancing disadvantages: (1) the lack of a visual element in the concert situation; (2) the lack of a sense of human effort and involvement; (3) the lack of the creative potential of the secondary process of interpretation, which in other music lends a desirable vitality and individuality to successive performances, including the unquantifiable but nevertheless important element of feedback between performer and audience which reinforces the transactional, ritualistic nature of the event (Bridger, 1986: 46).

2.2 Practical research: Methodology

In order to generate practical research material addressing tempomorphic music-making, a heuristic methodology is developed using a model providing a starting point and guiding principle for music composition. The model is formed from three contributing factors, each stemming from personal perceptions of temporal, multidisciplinary, and musical aesthetics. These three factors are characterised by the terms ‘hierarchical’, ‘plastic’, and ‘reductionist’. [9] The hierarchical factor derives from the notion of temporal (and musical) hierarchies in general, and specifically the nested temporalities represented by the concepts of atemporal, eotemporal, prototemporal, biotemporal, nootemporal, and sociotemporal umwelts, as discussed above. The second factor of plasticism is borrowed from the orthogonal theories represented by the Dutch painter Mondrian in his neoplasticist work, wherein a basic principle of theoretic representation (vertical and horizontal lines and the exclusive use of primary colours) was used to explore textural balance in a visual medium. A late example of Mondrian’s style is found in his painting of Broadway Boogie Woogie (1943-4). The abstract style was developed by Mondrian as part of his adherence to the orthogonal theories suggested by Schoenmaekers at Laren in 1916 (Read, 1968: 197). The third factor of reductionism reflects aspects of Mondrian’s principle, in addition to attempts to remove representational references characterised by the interdisciplinary Minimalist movement as found in the work of composers such as Reich, and the practice of soundscaping used by Fripp.

2.3 Practical research: Actions

Practical research for this investigation is divided into three categories: recordings, compositions, and performance. Firstly, recordings of tempomorphic soundscapes uses a process wherein an electric guitar is played to provide an electro-acoustic signal, processed by a preamplifier, sent via a send and return insert point to a digital looping device, recorded to Digital Audio Tape, and burned to compact disc (see diagram 2). This process is also executed with an additional stage of recording the amplified signal to multi-track tape to facilitate over-dubbing.

The resulting CD of tempomorphic performances comprises three pieces:

Tempomorphilation: metre made/delay piece/two loops/study/maybe/hypermeasure (Doyle, 2002) Diminished space (Doyle, 2002) Bound (Doyle, 2002)

‘Tempomorphilation’ is a compilation of tempomorphic studies. ‘Metre Made’, ‘Study’, and ‘Hypermeasure’ used analogue recording media. ‘Delay Piece’, ‘Two Loops’ and ‘Maybe’ were recorded direct to DAT. The six pieces are joined as the result of feedback received regarding initial recordings from Brunel music technology lecturer Ben Jarlett (see below). The word play in the title of the compilation is the result of reading McLuhan and Fore’s The Medium is the Massage (1967). ‘Metre Made’ is a preconceived chord progression concerned with the use of a pivotal E major 7th chord in the teleological sequence from the dominant B to tonic E. The additional exploration of texture offered by digital delay provided the ‘missing’ compositional element. ‘Delay Piece’ takes its title from the process used to perform it. Similarly, ‘Two Loops’ is a performance derived from improvising over a first and second loop, the second being determined by the length of the first, but containing different pitch-material. ‘Study’ is the result of performing while positioned between two amplifiers (with respective speakers), with microphones placed to achieve maximum separation of the signal appearing from each speaker.

Diagram 2: Tempomorphic performance system

‘Maybe’ explores the potential of a pre-composed cyclic riff. ‘Hypermeasure’ was recorded to analogue two-track (with a resulting feature of tape-compression) with the aim of exploring extensions of phrase and measure into hypermeasures as defined by Epstein (1995: 29-35). ‘Diminished Space’ is the result of a performance concerned with the use of the tonality suggested by a diminished chord, decided prior to performance. ‘Bound’ is concerned with maintaining an emergent timbral and textural position as the result of hearing the initial ostinato, fractured through a disparity between loop-length and ostinato phrase-length.

Secondly, compositions for the Brunel New Music Ensemble (B.N.M.E.) provide further research material for the investigation into tempomorphic performance. The nature of performance is subject to the provision of through-composed material in the form of two pieces: ’Something Will Be Found’ (Doyle, 2000) and ‘Metre Made’ (Doyle 2001). The composition process of these pieces are informed by results of research into nested temporal hierarchies and recording processes, and presented to players of the B.N.M.E. using conventional staff notation. Therefore, ’Something Will Be Found’ is concerned with the representation of temporal hierarchies, while ‘Metre Made’ is concerned with the scored interpretation of a tempomorphic performance (see above).

2.3.1 Notes for ‘Something Will Be Found’: A representation of six nested temporal hierarchies for tuned percussion, strings and wind (Doyle, 2000)

The following notes are provided to give some background information to performers in the B.N.M.E. prior to performance, and illustrate aspects of compositional criteria used based on research into nested temporal hierarchies.

This piece forms part of a research project exploring the relationship between perceived temporalities and their representation in the experience of music. The title is taken from an Oblique Strategy: 'Once the search is in progress, something will be found' (Eno and Schmidt, 1975). [10] The six temporal hierarchies reflected in this piece are: Atemporal; Prototemporal; Eotemporal; Biotemporal; Nootemporal; and Sociotemporal. The biotemporal is represented by the opening ostinato (scored for piano, but can be played on any tuned percussion instrument). It is suggested that any understanding of alternative temporalities will necessarily commence from the biological viewpoint of our species, and progress forwards (towards the sociotemporal) and backwards (towards the atemporal) from this bipedal point. An element of improvisation may prove interesting to include, based upon the rhythm of the biotemporal ostinato, between, for example, bars 65 and 91. This might be desirable to achieve additional textural and dynamic energy, as well as commitment in performance. Dynamics are to be decided during rehearsal. The representation of six nested temporalities provide the underlying building blocks for this piece, and it is from these representations (especially the use of ‘nootemporal’ thirteen-bar cells) that an overall structure is derived. Each temporality is represented in the table below.

Table 5: Representation of six nested temporalities in 'Something will be found' (Doyle, 2000)

2.3.2 Notes on the composition of 'Metre Made' (Doyle, 2001)

An intention of this area of study is to gain assessment criteria through a process of comparative evaluation. This piece became the focus of a comparative methodology.

The tempomorphic composition of ‘Metre Made’ as a recorded performance from which was derived material for a through-composed piece for the B.N.M.E. reflects relationships of public and private time compositions in performance.

Issues arising from this process include the effect on the compositional development of a piece which acquired a dual identity as both a plastic composition and a realised score. A further issue involves the adaptation of material for use in situations with differing temporal criteria i.e. the recording of a unilateral performance in contrast with an ensemble of performers. This issue highlights the requirements of graphic representation to reflect temporal values, specifically to support a number of individuals operating by necessity in a shared temporality. The composition of this piece provides areas for personal reflection regarding such issues as the problematic area of assessing the temporal perceptions of the performer(s); the awareness of public time represented by focus of repeated simple metre, shared and contributed to by individual instruments; and observed differences between social (and therefore public) factors surrounding and dictating aspects of a piece for ensemble, compared with the temporalities of a single individual. My empirical conclusions regarding a perceived ‘shared awareness’ of public time focus on the role of the conductor, which in turn relate to perceived differences between conducted public time for the ensemble and clock time. Further reflection suggests the possibility of substituting the ensemble for the individual.

Questions specific to the performance of Metre Made could be addressed, such as with regard to the repeated ostinato in the piano part: conceived to fulfil the role of a contiguous, separate temporality emergent from shared temporality – public time – of the piece, operating parallel to and independently of the metric 'body'. Does the operation of this emergent temporality impact on the performance of members of the ensemble, and if so, how does this impact manifest itself? Does an impact take place in the performance of particular individuals? If an error occurs in the performance of the individual part's metric value, how much is this attributable to the emergent contiguous temporality?

At the time of writing this survey, performers of the B.N.M.E. have not been addressed with these questions, although there is some evidence of individual response to performance issues available in audio recordings of performances, awaiting analysis. A method of appraising individual responses among performers, for example using a questionnaire, has yet to be formulated and executed, and is likely to encounter problems of interpretation in the part of both the addresser and the addressee.

The question as to how much a performer may be identified as separate from an audience member at any stage in the performance process may result in the placement of the performer in the position of the ‘ultimate’ audience. Some findings point to the roles of performer and audience as sharing the same process (Edwards, 1997: 19), precluding the necessity for a survey of the temporal perceptions of performers.

Finally, live performance generates research material concerned with addressing such issues as the visual interpretation of tempomorphic procedure. The use of guitar and processing equipment is appended with the addition of a slide projector (Liminal conference, Twickenham, 2000). For this event, 43 transparencies are used, featuring portraits, each slide being shown for ten seconds before being changed by a technician. The additional ‘human factor’ of portraits and the technician’s judgement of projection timings are perceived to have an impact on syntactical performance by the practitioner (myself). The recording of the performance on video tape affords subsequent empirical evaluation. The liminal position of myself as combined performer and audience is apparent from the images captured on video, as, in near-darkness, I share the audience view of projected slides from a comparative perspective with the audience represented by the video camera. The convention of improvisation is more evident in this performance, where the placement of the performer in surroundings alternate to those dedicated to the processing of audio signals brings additional factors to the event. Signal volume, for example, is judged according to spatial acoustic considerations rather than to facilitate optimum recording levels. An emphasis on the representation of a given temporal hierarchy, such as the prototemporal, is replaced with an awareness of representing the temporality of the current event in relation to the projected image, and the subjective performance response to that image. The possibility of rejecting the performance (an option available when evaluating recordings for processing to CD) is removed, resulting in the presence of a tension absent from an event without an immediate external audience.

2.4 Practical research: Initial observations

Recordings of tempomorphic performances were played to Ben Jarlett, who commented on the presence of noise as the result of analogue media (particularly noticeable in comparison to digital recordings) and suggested tape noise has an impact on aesthetic evaluations of recordings. In order to reduce the perceived impact of comparative noise textures, crossfading between pieces was suggested, to disguise characteristics of noise from one piece to the next. The result is a single hypermeasure comprised of six discrete events (‘Tempomorphilation’), as has been described above.

Performances of compositions by the B.N.M.E. reflect issues related to conventional performance practice. This practice includes a dependence on rehearsal time for the ensemble, the interpretation of text, communication between members, and ‘aleatoric’ compositional results of interpretation, not necessarily a direct result of the composer’s intention. Feedback loops between the composer and performer/s, the composer and the audience, the performers and the audience, are each of conventional and, in comparison to tempomorphic feedback, extended length.

The tempomorphic performance at the Liminal conference (Twickenham, 2000) used slide projections to enhance visual aspects of performance. Video recordings of the event demonstrate what might be interpreted as a ‘minimal effort’ on behalf of the performer, underpinning Bridger’s observation regarding the ‘lack of a sense of human effort and involvement’ in performance observed by the audiences of electro-acoustic musics (Bridger, 1986: 46). Issues relating to the provision of visual information intended to complement and enhance live tempomorphic performance suggest an area of further research investigation, and are discussed below.

2.5 Actions to be considered

Further research actions to be considered include the exploration of granular synthesis programming for audio recordings, and the exploration of visual enhancement techniques for live performance. The possibility of manipulating pre-recorded soundscapes to complement, for example, improvised physical performance such as that explored by Optik [11] through live granular synthesis offers an additional area of potential tempomorphic research. Similarly, a further area of tempomorphic research is offered by the investigation of techniques to explore visual enhancement of live tempomorphic performance such as the use of motion tracking systems. [12] Contributing factors to such a research project are perceived to include: the selection of visual medium (such as analogue or digital); synchronisation possibilities; the content of visual data; and the potential role of feedback to the performer of visual data with an attendant impact on the empirical performance and composition process. The provision of compositions for the B.N.M.E. using alternative score methodologies with the aim of increased improvisational input by ensemble performers offers a third area for continuing research into tempomorphic performance.

2.6 Empirical observation of tempomorphic performance practice

Each performance commences with a decision defining the loop length to be used. The action to define a loop length consists of depressing either a footswitch or button twice, the first time to start the loop, the second time to end it. The temporal duration between these actions always appears different, either shorter or longer, to the temporal impression gained after committing the first sound to the loop. The perceived ‘risk factor’ inherent in this operation supplies an initial tension to the performance which has some relationship with a sense of beginning, and lasts, with decreasing effect, sometimes to the end of the piece, depending on perceptions of emerging form. Retaining an open-minded approach to events, allowing a balance between that which is heard and that which is played (similar to a sense of ‘being’), evokes an aesthetic approach closer to improvisation than composition. A balance is sought between ‘being’ and ‘becoming’. These terms are used here in the sense defined by Kramer when he describes umwelt theory as distinguishing evolutionary levels of time. The lower levels reflect concerns of ‘being – with the unchangeable, with the eternal - while the upper levels involve becoming, the changeable and the temporal’ (Kramer, 1988: 394).

As pieces evolve, concern may focus on providing weight to the soundscape, in the form of lower pitched tones, or multiple voicings of mid-range clusters, or on extending and framing a particular motive, frequently of higher pitch. A preliminary empirical conclusion from the results of practical research suggests that music composed focussing on looped temporal elements becomes music featuring textural colour. This appears to be true both for tempomorphic recordings and compositions for the B.N.M.E.

3 Future: Implications

To conclude this survey, I would like to provide an evaluation of findings: a review of cognitive impact on performance; comments on emergent sociotemporal features of the twentieth century; problems of atemporality; and aesthetic implications of temporal awareness.

3.1 Evaluation of findings

The question of how research data is gathered from performers to provide records of private time experiences for comparative evaluation points to an area for further investigation elsewhere. The necessity for such research may in turn be based on the perceived validity of the outcome. The validity of such a data-gathering exercise could be argued for from an heuristic viewpoint, and, equally, contested by an argument supporting methodological solipsism (Borst, 1993: 485-6). An argument for methodological solipsism lends validity to the observations of a single participant in a tempomorphic performance study, such as my own notes on various stages of research. The empirical observations expressed in this survey, therefore, find validation as methodological solipsist findings, dependent as they are on a subjective perception of issues and their perceived impact on the course of research. Conclusions regarding constituent characteristics of tempomorphic performance have been stipulated earlier, resulting in twenty identified aspects of what is perceived as an emergent performance practice, featuring a governing aspect of short-term empiricism.

3.2 Review of cognitive impact on performance

Definitions of tempomorphic performance have proven to depend on the perception of tempomorphism and alternative temporalities by the performer. Given that temporality is a cognitive phenomenon, the impact on performance derived from temporal perception is in the way the performer uses aesthetic language to inform his work. In addition to these conclusions, I suggest tempomorphic perception offers a model for a universal listening strategy, in addition to (or conceivably in place of) interpretative strategies dependent upon stylistic and cultural foreknowledge. Accepting the interpretation of musical works as soundscapes, the perceived evocation of a temporal umwelt by that soundscape is the result of a tempomorphic process in the part of the subject.

3.3 Comments on emergent sociotemporal features of the twentieth century

It is the adoption of innovative listening strategies which has led to such statements as those made by Prendergast, wherein ambient music has been described as the classical music of the future (2000: 4). The development of ‘listening strategies’ reflects a widening awareness of self and the social context within which the self operates, which in turn is a feature of aesthetic development in the twentieth century. In an appraisal of the development of philosophy, for example, Alfred Ayer points to self-consciousness as a characteristic of the twentieth century (1984: 14). Developments of listening strategies or self-consciousness among writers of philosophical tracts operate, as we have seen, in the umwelt of the sociotemporal, as indeed does the developed awareness of temporality shared by twentieth-century performers and their audience.

3.4 Problems of atemporality

It is the representation and perception of atemporality – the absence of time – in the experience of musical performance that has proved most difficult to establish in this survey. An analogy of this challenge - the musical representation of time without movement - is found in Jasper Johns’ concern with the back of the picture: 'One of the extreme problems of paintings as objects is the other side - the back. It can't be solved; it's in the nature of the work' (Rosenthal, 1989: 115-17). One conclusion to be drawn from Johns’ statement is that representations of temporality through music must at some stage confront, as those concerned with other media must confront, the aesthetic problem of the medium, which in the case of music is time.

However, the success with which the temporal art can depict atemporal, or non-moving, time (dependent, as the perception of non-moving time is, on the perceptions of the beholder) may come through an evocation of the atemporal umwelt. It is atemporality which is described by Kramer when he defines vertical music as ‘a holistic music that offers a timeless temporal continuum, in which the linear interrelationships between past, present, and future are suspended’ (1988: 387). The possibility of evoking atemporality is further supported by the view that time unfolds at the speed at which information is processed (Barry, 1990: 165), suggesting that limited, repeated information requires little processing and therefore, according to this theory, results in a perceived reduction in the unfolding speed of time. An alternative theory indicating the possibility of atemporality in the experience of music is found in the view of Robin George Collingwood, suggesting that music as a ‘work of art’ may exist ‘solely in the musician’s head’ (Ayer, 1984: 195).

3.5 Aesthetic implications of temporal awareness

Final observations of this investigation into definitions of tempomorphic performance concern two implications of feedback available to the performer at the interface between the participant and the technology in use to provide a loop system. Firstly, the increased speed of feedback for the tempomorphic performer making use of looping systems reflects the increase in speed of daily communication for the individual in a technological society. This increase in speed shows how the sociotemporal umwelt is subject to an evolutionary process. Secondly, the implications of antecedent- and consequent-action relationships are reflected in the recorded outcome of tempomorphic performance. Each action represents a decision for which the performer is responsible. The consequences of actions find a wider application as described by Eno in ‘The Big Here and the Long Now’ (1978). The empirical findings of practical research, underpinned by an investigation of temporal hierarchies, are mirrored in Eno’s observation regarding perceptions of ‘Now’: ‘The Long Now is the recognition that the precise moment you’re in grows out of the past and is a seed for the future. The longer your sense of Now, the more past and future it includes’ (2002).


Tempomorphic performance offers the participant an alternative subjective time world with an extended sense of ‘now’ due to the emphasised relationship between antecedence and consequence. Possibilities of exploitation offered by rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic variation and development are reduced and in part substituted with an enhanced sense of ‘becoming’ and ‘being’. This alternative time world evokes, as Kramer has observed in regard to involvement in the performance and audition of music, a sacred time in the sense referred to by Hall (Kramer, 1988: 17).

Findings of research regarding individual and cultural concepts of temporality suggest alternative criteria of temporal measurement are to be found in variances between time experienced by the individual and time perceived by the immediate culture within which the individual operates (Kramer, 1988: 15; Hall, 1984: 13). The inclusion of cultural criteria in the evaluation of the area of research necessitates a broad field of interdisciplinary study. Music-making, dependent upon perceptions of temporality for its operation, reflects multiple temporalities such as the representation of pattern against suggested pulse (in syntactical terms), as well as associative-characterizing languages associating certain music with specific styles for the participant (Meyer 1967: 34).

Research actions have underpinned a perceived complementary relationship between music and time, evident in the composition of music using criteria of a perceived temporal nature resulting in the generation of musics for a variety of media, dependant on the relationships of syntax, culture, and individual interpretation ('Metre Made', Doyle, 2001). Findings of this investigation are subject to interpretation from a musicological perspective, while acknowledging Heidegger, who has suggested that the search for a specific will result in data relative to that specific, according to perceptions of the individual subject (1995: 275).

Tempomorphic performance characteristics have been compared to a model of 'conventional' performance, although perception of a given style of an art form is arguably dependant upon the foreknowledge of the perceiver, or the 'share of the beholder' (Gombrich, 1968: 169). One musical (and interdisciplinary) style foregrounded by research is that of Minimalism, representing an evolving stylistic movement underpinning musical developments of the late twentieth century: 'As Terry Riley observed, the restless inquietude of European avant-garde music had never been able to give the world those moments of peace which were its greatest current need' (Polin, 1989: 229). The minimalist nature of the tempomorphic musical form, featuring an absence of conventional variation and development, serves to reaffirm Cage’s observation, quoted once again, regarding music recorded on magnetic audio tape, that ‘we are not in measures of two, three, four or any other number, but in time itself’ (1976: 70).


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[1] The use of the term tempomorphic to refer to the study of varieties of perceived temporalities, or forms of time, reflects terminology used in other disciplines, such as the investigation of land forms, and referred to as geomorphic study.

[2] The relationship between time and perception is identified by Fraisse as relating to the perception of order: ‘Rhythm is the perception of order. One of the perceptual aspects of rhythmic organization is tempo. It can be lively or slow. It corresponds to the number of perceived elements per unit time, or to the absolute duration of the different values of the durations. Evidently, one passed from a definition based on frequency to a perception based on duration. We will use both of them. The possibility of rhythmic perception depends on tempo, because the organization of succession into perceptible patterns is largely determined by the law of proximity. When the tempo slows down too much, the rhythm and also the melody disappear’ (1982:151)

[3] See, for example, Scruton (1997) for a discussion of matters relating to aesthetics and music, wherein the distinction is made early in the debate between that which is material and that which is intentional (1997: 4).

[4] For a comprehensive appraisal of species-specific temporal universes, defined as ‘Umwelts’, see Von UexKüll (1957).

[5] In a hermeneutic circle, Heidegger proposes, the participant’s foreknowledge of characteristics effects observations made by the participant to the extent that in knowing certain characteristics, defining aspects of those characteristics will be found by the participant in that which is observed. Heidegger writes in Being and Time: ‘Ontological investigation is a possible kind of interpreting, which we have described as the working-out and appropriation of an understanding. Every interpretation has its fore-having, its fore-sight, and its fore-conception. If such an interpretation, as Interpretation, becomes an explicit task for research, then the totality of these 'presuppositions' (which we call the hermeneutical Situation) needs to be clarified and made secure beforehand, both in a basic experience of the 'object' to be disclosed, and in terms of such an experience’ (1995: 275).

[6] See Griffiths (1994) for further information on Nancarrow.

[7] This music was realised by Honegger, Poulenc and Milhaud, members of ‘Les Six’, with works such as ‘Musique d’ameublement’.

[8] .’A holon is a more or less separable entity or event that forms part of a hierarchic structure. For instance, a motive would be a holon on a low level; a theme would be one on a higher level.’

[9] Hierarchical, plastic, and reductionist are use here as respectively defining concepts of nested perceptually prioritised levels (as of temporality), adaptable characteristics regarding the generation of form, and the applied reduction of component parts of a form.

[10] 'Oblique Strategies' is the title given to a set of cards, each bearing an aphorism to be applied in a creative situation at the user's discretion. 'The deck, which Eno developed and produced in collaboration with his painter friend Peter Schmidt, is a set of oracle cards modelled philosophically on the ancient Chinese I Ching, or Book of Changes' (Tamm, 1995:77).

[11] Further information on Optik and motion tracking research is available at: Body, Space and Technology

[12] Broadhurst, Susan. ‘Interaction, Reaction and Performance: The human body tracking project’ Body, Space and Technology, 2, June 2001.

Rob Doyle was awarded an MA at Middlesex University in 1999.

Further study for the completion of a doctoral thesis is informed by the practice and teaching of music.

This paper constitutes outcomes of practical and academic postgraduate research undertaken at Brunel University. Contributing material (including performance material) was presented at the Liminality and Performance Conference, Brunel University, Twickenham, UK, April 2000.

Compositions and performances have been recorded and published by Rough Trade, Island, and BMG, and presented via the ICA and Channel 4.



Rob Doyle





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