Performance Issues – Time


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)

1) The issue of 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. The issue of 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 necesserally 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. The issue of ‘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-quanities (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.

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

In interdisciplinary context, the issue of Rhythm is about the way time is marked or woven, truncated, pushed and pulled in different directions while it progresses. Through rhythm we can get into a ‘groove’ or into a feeling of military marching strictness, to give just two examples.

A closely related word is Dynamic, and both words are useful in interdisciplinary context. While rhythm (except when we talk about ‘free rhythms’) has mostly a clear, repeating pulse and is a about sounds or movements that are going on for a while, with dynamic we can describe how time is treated in e.g. a small series of gestures/sounds, or even just one single gesture or sound. Dynamic as a word is used in many ways, but is often about the amount of force with which something is happening, or about the way it starts (impuls/onset), gathers momentum, and dies down again.
This last aspect of dynamic is closer described under the lemma of Phrasing, elsewhere on this Knowlegde Base.


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