Time (& Duration)

Talking about TIME in live performance and improvisation, several issues can be addressed:
(now 4 – please add more if you think an important aspect is missing)

It is also relevant to note that for a lot of artists (and in physics) the concepts of Time and Space are very much interlinked.

1) Time as TEMPO or SPEED (how quick or slow is a given thing?)

Tempo and speed can be looked at on three levels:

a) single events
How fast is a given thing that you see or hear on stage? (a gesture / a body or object moving / a text spoken / a picture changing / sound repeating / music speeding up or slowing down / etc. )

b) performers / stage entities
To link a certain tempo or speed to a performer and indicate different ‘operational speeds’ to different performers. Moreover, as a performer one can choose to have several different speeds working inside for very different performative effects. (For example walking extremely slow, while thinking extremely fast and playing saxophone at a mid-tempo).
The same can be applied to other (non-human) ‘stage enitities’ like a video-projection or a piece of music, which can clearly visible/audible or more hidden run at different operating-speeds.

c) overall arch
There is also tempo or speed in terms of the conglomeration of actions on the scene and in terms of dramaturgical development: How fast is the performance going from one scene/arch to the next, how quickly are things happening, changing, developing?

2. Time as a DURATION or TIME-SPAN (how long is something taking?)

Here, the same three levels can be differentiated, as with TEMPO:

a) single events
Now the issue is not the speed at which these things are executed, but the time it takes before the action changes. On the level of single events this is most often connected to REPETITION. But a gesture can also just take a very long time (without necesseraly being executed slowly). So duration is always connected with the issue of when and how things are starting and ending (or changing).

b) performers / stage entities
E.g.: How long is is a certain person ‘holding the attention’, when do the dancers leave, how long is this particular music filling the room?

c) overall arch
How long is the whole performance taking (or one clear segment of a performance)? How and when is a segment changing, starting, ending?

3. Time as ‘FELT-TIME’ and ‘CLOCK-TIME’

(what is our awareness of the time itself ?)

or: What ‘type of time’ is present?

Clock-time: a sense of measurable time-quantities (seconds, minutes,…) / the sense of before (it’s not time yet), waiting for the exact time, & after. Agreements on measured time (what has to happen when), etc.

If this type of time is primarily present, it gives to performers and audience a certain ‘attitude’ or mind-set that shouldn’t be underestimated in it’s effect on the experience and which is very different to

Felt-time: a sense of time in terms of texture or ‘fabric’ of time. How does the time that we spend together feel? How does it expand and create space? How is it filled? In felt-time the boundaries of time (when will it end?) are much less important than the content (what is it now?)

What is also touched here is the well-known fact that ‘time’ can feel different on different occasions – e.g. the minutes are dragging, time is not moving on… but also: something takes one hour, but it feels like hardly half an hour has expired. In those moments we measure felt-time against clock-time and realize their discrepancy.

Real/Performance-time: read further under Falling out of time

4. The issue of RHYTHM, DYNAMIC and PHRASING (how is the time marked or ‘treated’?)

In interdisciplinary context, the words Rhythm, Dynamics and Phrasing are about the way the performer’s Material is used to mark time, or in other words how time is ‘treated’ (how is the performance time – through the usage of the expressive material – woven, truncated, pushed and pulled in different directions while it progresses?).

Rhythm for examples describes the way expressive material (for example body movement or sound) marks time in a certain, very present way. This treatment of time usually knows a certain duration: we can get into a ‘groove’, into poly-rhythmic playfulness or into a feeling of military marching strictness to give just a few examples. There is also the concept ‘free rhythms’ which don’t have a discernible steady pulse, but nevertheless are strongly focused on marking time in their own way.
It is relevant to note that also visual artists and architects talk about ‘rhythm’ in describing aspects of their work.

The word Dynamic is slightly complicated in interdisciplinary usage, because while for musicians the word ‘dynamic’ refers specifically to the range of volume of musical sound, for most people it is a much broader concept relating to force and momentum in a certain action or image. Dynamic most refers to the amount of force in relation to time or space (for example an image can be dynamic in the use of colours, a movement can be dynamic in the way it combines explosive and slow movements).

A sister of the word dynamic, and a term that seems more practical for interdisciplinary use, is the word Phrasing. Phrasing is about the way a piece of expressive material starts (impulse/onset), how it ‘takes time’ (gathers momentum, how it ‘treats time’ while it lasts), and how it dies down again (how that piece of material ends).

There is a lemma about Phrasing on this Knowledge Base where you can read more.

Connected pages:

(connecting Material to Time)

please add more…!

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