These days, it’s common to come across the idea that while our conception of time may be strictly linear in its endless regular flow of hours, minutes, and seconds, our experience of it is not — that time can be felt to repeat, loop back, change speed, fold in on itself, or even foreshadow itself. We can think of the ‘scientific’ definition of time as a flat blank canvas onto which we project our memories, aspirations, and routines, sculpting our temporal perception through narrative and diagram in order to make sense of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we might be going. Hence recognition, and déjà vu, and premonition, and all those other tricks of the senses. But what about the pure flow of time — time shorn of all projections and structuring logics — can we experience that? This seems to be the question posed by two roughly 45-minute pieces by Maria de Alvear, both titled ‘besando el tiempo’ (‘kissing time’), followed by some dates, presumably the dates of composition.
This music, performed on a recording for Edition Wandelweiser by Antoine Beuger on solo flute, consists of a long stream of notes and short melodic phrases, broken up by brief pauses. Although there is a lot of variety in terms of dynamic range, articulation, etc., there is almost nothing in the way of structure — no repetitions, no contrasting sections, no tension and release, just a continuous stream of sounds. The beginning and end of each piece sound no different from the rest, and when played back to back the transition between the two is absolutely seamless. In this manner, the pieces approach the blank canvas of pure time, a contourless linear continuity. On paper this sounds like it could be about as exciting to listen to as drying paint is to watch, but experiencing time in this way is so rare that it actually feels like a surprise, and quite a beautiful one at that. It doesn’t take long once the music has stopped, or the mind has become distracted, for the habitual shaping and sculpting of time to resume, yet this only seems to underscore the refreshing lightness of the duration — the breathing space — opened up by the two pieces.
The delightful precision and articulation of Beuger’s playing further contributes to this demonstration of the old aphorism that the same river is never crossed twice. As our experience of time becomes all the more complex, it seems that for many those reference points that once imposed a degree of continuity (jobs, housing, relationships) are becoming more and more fleeting and tenuous. Against this contradiction “besando el tiempo” offers an alternative line of thought and perception.
Image: Maria de Alvear at the Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, photo by Philip Lethen