Joe's Blog

In the Flow of Time, the Effect Turns Into the Cause

November 15, 2018

How constantly do we need to be aware of what we are hearing while playing.

I find that I have a tendency for the following to occur when I am trying to pay attention to what I’m playing.  For instance if I am playing a string of four sixteenth notes, I seem to be able to pay close attention to how I connect note 1 to note 2 but then, without realizing it, I don’t become attentive again until I’m connecting note 3 to note 4.  It seems like my awareness, like my one of my nerves, needs a short period of rest before “firing” again.

If were speaking in the language of cause and effect it would be as if knew that note 1 acted like the cause of note 2, and I knew that note 3 was like the cause of note 4, but note 3 somehow passed by without having an intentional cause.  We are so used to thinking of things in groups of two that we missed making the connection between note 2 and note 3.  So the latter connection just sort of happened on its own.

Another way of putting this is that at times I fail to recognize that something can be, at the same moment, the effect of one cause, and the cause of the next effect.  In the magic solvent of time one note can change from being an effect to being a cause.

The note that has displaced the note immediately past itself becomes eclipsed by the next note in the next moment.  The  recent past has already gone, and the present is but a flicker of consciousness holding off the future.

I know that one may object to this and say that all the notes are already present because they are all there in front of us printed in the score.  But for the listener, who has things revealed to them one moment at a time, the next note is still partially or totally hidden in the future, although if we complacently wait a moment the  mystery of the future will subside into the common daylight of the present.

Music exists through time, almost by being time, in a way that no other art is able to do.  There is always something happening in space going in the other arts.  Music, however, is very close to being in identity with the nature of the flow of time itself.

The current note, itself the most unstable event in the ongoing flow of time, because it will not last, is yet the scene of an alchemical transformation of what has already just passed to what is just about to happen.

If we think that the next moment in time happens because the prior moment has happened, then the current note in the piece starts out its brief, but important life, as an effect of the past but undergoes a transformation under the performer’s hands into the cause of the next note which, very soon, will no longer to be in the future.   Each note links past and future through the ephemeral present.  It is through the artist’s consciousness this alchemy is made to happen.

How this applies to our attention while playing a series of notes:

As performing artists we cannot let our energy down even for an instant.  We cannot “take it easy” during any one of the notes that fly through the sudden illumination of the present.  Otherwise we let the state of our energy slump, as if the goal had been reached, and we do not have to think of anything further, at least not for a while, at least for a note?  If there really is any “resting on our laurels” for having caused the current note, it can only last for a quiver of time.

It is hard for us to catch in our consciousness that exact instant* when the current note ceases being the result of something and is now the cause of something else.  That moment is there, though, if we seek it. A flash in our awareness that the transformation is taking place.  A single note, like in the TV commercial is saying “do you hear me now, do you here me now”.

All which lives in time is bound to the advent of change.  Every outcome becomes an initialization, every goal becomes a starting point**.  A resting point becomes restless.***

* I recall from High School Chemistry about how an atom of one element, if unstable enough, can spontaneously change into an atom of the next element in the periodic table.  This happens because a neutron in the nucleus of the atom becomes a proton (plus an electron and a neutrino)***.  Since the proton count is the basis of labeling where an atom resides on the periodic table the new proton bumps the atom up to the next position on the periodic table.  What we do not know is when one particular atom will go through this process of “beta decay”, but we can detect it as it happens.

** This is a clumsy attempt on my part to diagram what is being talked about:

Less good diagram:

notes:        1         2          3           4  …

             cause   effect   cause   effect

Much better:

notes:       1          2           3          4 …

             cause   effect

                          cause   effect

                                       cause  effect ….

*** Perhaps it is like two hemispheres of a spinning top. The two halves may be colored differently, but ordinarily the top is spinning too fast for us to detect one color changing into another (but even in this case, is there not a chance that we see a color, the color that results from the merging of the other two colors).

 

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