Audible Temporality

How Time is Structured in—and through—Music

Prof. Dr. Ricardo Eichmann, DAI

Prof. Dr. Jin Hyun Kim, HU Berlin
Prof. Dr. Lars-Christian Koch, SMB-PK

The purpose of this research project is to investigate the ways time is understood in antiquity by reconstructing music ensembles and conducting tests using modern reproductions and replicas of selected ancient musical instruments from different regions, based on their supposed sound structures and historic performance contexts. It is assumed that ways of understanding time in musical practice, including ritual acts, are reflected in how time is structured in and through music. Time as structured by means of music can be identified in a variety of cultural practices; for example, as an aspect of festivals and processions that take place at particular times, or in incorporated performative practices (music, theater and dance performances). Clues to this structuring are portrayed in texts and images at different narrative levels. In investigating how time is structured within music, it is assumed that musical meaning is established through the temporal connection (chronicity) of musical constituents with one another. This chronicity, which characterizes a musical action or activity, makes it possible to structure units of musical experience. That structuring in turn can be studied in interactive musical practices, such as ensemble performance contexts, and especially through considering synchrony and simultaneity. 


Sound-producing objects and related finds from archaeological excavations, experimental archaeological studies, iconographic and literary sources, and ethnomusicological contexts are essential for conducting this research. The goal of the research is to chronologically relate instrumental and ensemble sounds to particular epochs; and to investigate audible temporality, in theory and practice, for evidence of long term changes. Toward this end, existing knowledge is compiled and assessed. 


From ethnomusicology, questions relating to the continuity of meaning and the actual use of objects are central (for example, musical instruments such as groups of conch shell horns and ram's horns found worldwide, and their use both in archaeological contexts and in current sound-producing practice); therefore, types or groups of musical instruments from various cultural contexts must be studied from both synchronic and diachronic points of view to investigate temporal continuity and its accompanying changes. One approach could be to reconstruct ensembles for music experiments using instrumental and performance reproductions. The project will have a geographic focus on the ancient music cultures of various African areas (North Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria), the eastern Mediterranean region, and Mesopotamia; and any evidence of synchronous ensemble formation in those cultures. Many aspects overlap with particular domains of music archaeology and ethnomusicology. 


From systematic and cognitive musicology, the cognitive processes underlying the structuring of time in music will be investigated through current neuroscientific research on cognitive mechanisms of (musical) anticipation, prediction and synchronization. The understandings of time that are reflected in various ensemble practices will be studied, building on music theoretical and philosophical literature relevant to selected ancient musical instruments. It is expected that a unit of musical-rhythmical experience, based on chronicity, will be identified in the course of developing new research approaches to the cognitive music theory of rhythm.