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Temporality And Listener Experience

Bryan Parkhurst (University of Texas at Austin, Oberlin College & Conservatory), Chair

Comparing Temporal Fictions in Tonality and Triadic Post-Tonality: Chopin’s Fourth Ballade as a Link Between the Ages

Jason Noble (Université de Montréal)


The temporalities of tonal and post-tonal music have often been characterized as radically different: notably, Jonathan Kramer (1988) contrasted “linear time” in tonal music with “vertical time” in some post-tonal musics. Whereas tonal (classical) music typically presents the standard paradigm of beginning, middle, and end (Agawu 1991), post-tonal music often presents as an indefinitely extensible middle, without beginning or end. Post-tonal music may also invoke various other temporal meanings such as dilation or contraction (e.g., Grisey’s “time of whales” and “time of birds or insects”; Hervé 2001), or temporal polyphony in which multiple temporalities are presented simultaneously (Rings 2008). These are examples of temporal fictions: emergent temporal meanings expressed by music, which may deviate significantly from the chronological time within which music is structured. 

But as this paper argues, many practices that contribute to the temporalities of post-tonal music are anticipated in earlier tonal practices. The difference is often simply one of degree: devices that tonal composers employ within the bounds of tonal forms may be expanded to entire pieces by post-tonal composers. In both tonality and triadic post-tonality, which employ similar harmonic units, interactions between harmonic structure and temporal organization are often crucial factors in the emergence of temporal fictions. This paper demonstrates how such interactions—manifested in the more specific categories of harmonic direction, harmonic repetition, harmonic process, and harmonic rhythm—contribute to temporal fictions in both tonal and post-tonal repertoires, focusing on Chopin’s Fourth Ballade as a striking example of continuity between tonal and post-tonal temporal fictions. 

Lewin’s Dubbit, Husserl’s Post-horn: A Multistable Model of Polytonal Perception

Derek J. Myler (Eastman School of Music)


Results from cognitive studies of polytonal perception have been equivocal as to whether listeners can hear multiple tonal centers simultaneously (Krumhansl and Schmuckler 1986; Thompson and Mor 1992). From a phenomenological perspective, a methodological drawback of such studies is their reliance on the post-test probe tone paradigm. That is, establishing listeners’ retrospective awareness of concurrent keys does little to address the experience of perceiving conflicting tonal centers as polytonal music progresses in real time. In this paper, I aim to reorient the discussion of polytonality around this experience and argue that the perceptual challenge of polytonal discriminability inheres in the ongoing present, resulting in a multistable phenomenon wherein a listener toggles between competing tonal hierarchies. 

I take Husserl’s account of time-consciousness ([1928] 1991) as the foundation for my multistable model. For Husserl, temporal objects are apprehended within a dynamically unfolding tripartite process of retention—primal impression—protention that engenders a certain unity in consciousness. I argue that polytonal music disrupts the unity of Husserl’s temporal model, and it is this feature that induces multistable switching between tonal centers. To depict this process, I adapt Lewin’s (1986) p-model and ground it explicitly in Husserl’s time-diagrams, investigating a network of temporally situated p-relationships (or P-net). I apply the P-net to excerpts from Ives, Milhaud, Bach, Britten, and Prokofiev. In so doing, I argue that the loose term “polytonality” encompasses a wide spectrum of compositional techniques and I demonstrate the P-net’s versatility in exploring the ongoing temporal landscapes of such variegated works.

Supplementary Material(s)