Volume 3: Time vanished

Time perspective fascinates me – particularly in how our perception of Time is affected, or manipulated, by music. That effect is probably due to the way in which we humans measure Time – the distance we are from an event – though that is a source of considerable disagreement among scientists.

It is not just music, however, that effects our perception – anyone bored knows this, as well as anyone in panic, anyone waiting, or those making love.  This is evidently also particularly germane to those in prison, as captured in the writings of Wole Soyinka, heard in Zealot Canticles: 

Time vanished. I turned to stone. The world retreated into fumes of swampland. I am alone with sounds. They acquire a fourth dimension.

Wole isn’t just referring to being a political prisoner, as he was, but to the effects of psychological oppression – an attempt to kill the soul, absent of killing the person, in his case through two years of solitary confinement in the late 1960s during the Nigerian Civil War. Time slowed down to a fourth dimension – a kind of nothingness in which past and present seem to coexist.

A body achieves, of course, true weightlessness. I am blown about by the lightest breeze, by the lightest lyrical thought or metaphor.  Layer by layer, layer by layer. 

In his essay Postmodern Concepts of Musical Time, Jonathan Kramer writes:

…we should expect postmodern musical time to be created at least as much by listeners as by composers, to differ from one listener to another, and to be fragmented, discontinuous, nonlinear, and multiple. The notion of the multiplicity of musical time – that music can enable listeners to experience different senses of directionality, different temporal narratives, and/or different rates of motion, all simultaneously – is indeed postmodern.

There are a number of ways in which Lansing McLoskey fulfills Kramer’s assertion, and they are all beautifully and artfully employed. In the mantra movement, ''Bi o ti wa,'' the choir, accompanied by string quartet, repeats over and over in Yoruba, ''Even as it was, so shall it be.'' In relief, we hear at first a lyrical soprano solo (Becky Siler), eventually, with a mezzo (Maren) joining, becoming a duet reminiscent of Medieval organum. After the mantra is firmly established as Time (Lansing directs, ''dreamy, longing''), the quartet begins to slow down, departing from the choir; the mantra, now moving in different times, at first blurs, then separates. It is as if the strings are simply slipping away in Time and that Time itself is somehow moving beyond our grasp, leaving us behind. A stunning, moving effect. ''True weightlessness.''

In ''The writing on the wall'' the string quartet plays an ostinato in its own tempo, while Becky and Donna Hall-Galuti, our clarinetist, create a duet in an independent tempo, just slightly faster than that of the quartet. The strings are marked “steady but questioning,” while the duet is marked “solemnly.” As the two worlds progress, Becky is again joined by Maren while individual string players leave the ostinato and join the duet. The result is that the strings suggest a kind of inevitability – an ontological reality (moving, not coincidentally, at one beat per second) – and that the voices, the human element, are out of synch with that clock-like immovable truth. The textures of that ontological foundation sometimes align with the human perception (the players move back and forth between Times) but most often do not. Again, it is a beautiful, nuanced, and subtle effect that leaves the listener floating. ''…blown about by the lightest breeze.''

That breeze is heard again in ''Where are all the flowers gone?,'' in which four sopranos exchange a single motive on that question – a reference to Pete Seeger’s 1955 song in the ubi sunt tradition – while Becky (again, the soprano, the upper female voice, the voice that brings together poetry and truth) sings an independent song ‘out of Time,’ though, by now, we are questioning what Time is. The four women are directed, ''reflective, with freedom,'' while the improvisatory soloist is told, ''longing, with great feeling'': their two worlds, one repetitive and unchanging, the other expressive and yearning, are parallel but divided.

Kramer asks, ''Does time unfold in music? Or does music unfold in time?'' This question is certainly worth asking, especially in a world in which all art is, in the end, about art. Yet, the question addresses only one aspect of the multi-faceted, textured, immediate, visceral, and emotional experience of Lansing’s new musical essay on a subject much simpler: how we treat each other. That timeless topic continues to present many unanswered questions.

From a distant
Shore they cry, Where
Are all the flowers gone?
I cannot tell
The gardens here are furrowed still and bare.

Garlands
Of scavengers weigh
Heavy on human breasts
Such
Are flowers that fill the garden of decay

I saw:
Four steel kites, riders
On shrouded towers
Do you think
Their arms are spread to scatter mountain flowers

Take Justice
In your hands who can
Or dare. Insensate sword
Of Power
Out-herods Herod and the law’s outlawed.

- Wole Soyinka, “Flowers For My Land,” in A Shuttle in the Cry