Uncommon measure: a journey through music, performance and the science of time
224PP ISBN 9781942658979
Bellevue Literary Press €14.99
It’s one of those rare books that keeps you coming back again and again to re-read a sentence simply because of the elegance and insight with which it’s written. We’re only a few paragraphs away when Natalie Hodges reflects, “Our subconscious mind is constantly at work rewriting time in the margins of our memories, extracting narrative from timeline, temporal order from the chaos of time. “
It’s hardly the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a young violinist’s reflections on her recent musical past, but since retiring from concert life due to the he onset of performance anxiety, Hodges tried to make sense of his experiences through the twin portals of neuroscience and quantum physics. Rather than simply dwelling on the purely emotional aspect of managing extremely high personal expectations, she thinks outside the box and examines how music informs our experience of time, and whether we as musicians live in time, or whether time lives in us.
Hodges then insightfully explains exactly how his anxiety (and by extension ours) manifests. It usually started by obsessively fixing on a particular passage that never seemed to go exactly the way she wanted it to, so much so that the actual performance became temporally distorted. In addition to the temporal dichotomy that performers are familiar with – the coexistence of “real” time “out there” and the music’s internal time flow – she would experience a sense of uncontrollable acceleration towards “the doomed place”, then at the point of arrival would give the impression that time had stopped, “as if the sound waves, flowing in their currents, had suddenly crashed against a powerful barrage which they could not surmount”.
Along the way, Hodges sheds new light on even the most common musical terms, such as the rondo form, which she eloquently describes as having “the mesmerizing effect of moving you linearly and circularly through time, simultaneously time”. Almost like separate passages, it poetically sums up the function of music as “bending the flexibility of time into sound form”, and of musical memory as “lending shape and form to experience in biographical time”. And I guarantee you, Bach’s Chaconne in D minor will never feel the same again after reading Hodges’ penetrating insight into his temporal psychology. Unavoidable.