Spatiality vs. Temporality

Vision is clearly strongly biased towards spatiality. Vision has two identical and highly articulate spatial dimensions, with a third slightly less articulate dimension, depth. Colour and brightness together form a secondary type of dimension with strong expressive power. Temporality in vision is largely concerned with fluctuations in these features, i.e. spatial movement and colour change.

The expressive features of sound are almost all expressed across the dimension of time. There are primary features that are expressions of time, and then there are features which reflect the character of changes in these primary features through time.

One significant different that this imposes on hearing is that one moves through a sound phenomenon under the very strong guidance of time. You are forced by time to experience a very specific slice of the phenomenon at a particular moment. With vision, your attention is free to wander the spatial dimensions at will, even as the imagery changes over time. While one can bring one's aural attention to bear on some parts of the sonic field and ignore others, the ability to wander the field of sound is profoundly different than one's ability to wander the visual field. On the other hand, in vision, the fact that most of the usable resolution of the eye is located in the fovea, means that visual experience is quite serialized. Perhaps we can conceive of our experience of the present, where past experience and future expectations are less detailed and precise that the features of the present moment as a kind of temporal fovea. In certain processes like reading, whether text or music, the fovea is guided, by habit, over the material in a predetermined order, reconstructing the intended temporal dimension of the work.

So it becomes important to ask to what degree the enforced temporal flow in music is an essential part of the musical experience, and, conversely, if there is a way to represent the music without the flow, what forms of musical experience might it open?

The ability to wander a musical structure rather than be drawn through it is something that is present in some forms of interactive music. The work is constructed as a space of possibilities, and the interactor can wander this space along a path of their choosing.

But smaller scale temporality is also important to the musical experience. Part of the role of rhythmic patterns in music seems to be to engage the body. Rhythms can be tuned to relate to internal rhythms like breathing, pulse, and the natural rhythms at which various parts of the body move. Dance musics of various styles use tempi and rhythms that encourage the body to move in particular ways. Reggae has a slow beat that plays the body in a different way than faster tempo musics like ska and techno. A waltz engage the body differently than a tango. Taken out of time, these patterns lose an important relationship to the body of the listener. But of course, images can change through time, and so at least some of the temporal qualities of music will likely find direct visual analogues.