A chapter from the book, Faust: Stretch Out Time 1970–75. What is it about the treat­ment of time in music that makes music great?
Faust: Stretch Out Time cover Andy Wilson: Faust: Stretch Out Time 1970–75
Paper­back : 232 pages
ISBN-13 : 978–0955066450
Product dimen­sions : 13.97 x 1.35 x 21.59 cm
Pub­lish­er : Unkant Pub­lish­ers; Illus­trated edi­tion (7 Sept. 2006)
Lan­guage: : English

Fruit Flies Like a Banana

In Faust-musik, time ticks like a bomb.
Faust Mani­festo, 1973

Music does not last, it has noth­ing to do with time.
Ser­giu Celibidache

Zappa thought time was ‘a spher­ic­al concept’ so that, in a man­ner of speak­ing, everything hap­pens at once. Gnostics, Buddhists and WIl­li­am Blake agree, believ­ing that you can enter the gates of etern­ity in an instant, and that time is one of the world’s illu­sions. Wil­li­am Bur­roughs and Sun Ra thought that to sur­vive at all we need to evolve ‘out of time, into space’.

These ideas paint time as a mys­tery and a prob­lem, very dif­fer­ent to the com­mon sense impres­sions we live by, accord­ing to which time is just an empty frame­work in which things hap­pen. In fact the pro­ces­sion of the moments of offi­cial time, strung togeth­er like the beads of a neck­lace, help main­tain the worlds of con­sumer­ism and exploit­a­tion. Luck­ily for the qual­ity of exist­ence you can some­times snap the thread of lin­ear time to let the beads roll — but how?

The ques­tion bears on everything to do with music, the way it is made and mar­keted, sold and con­sumed. Music seems so pecu­li­arly involved with time as to be sat­ur­ated with it. Much of what music achieves is a res­ult only of its dia­logue with time. Take a snap­shot of the light around you and you have a pho­to­graph you might look at; try the same with sound and all you have is a read­ing of air pres­sure. At best you might get a map of pres­sure states at dif­fer­ent points in space, an image of sound, but you don’t have sound and you cer­tainly don’t have music. It is only by exper­i­en­cing fluc­tu­at­ing air pres­sure over time that you have an exper­i­ence of sound (and even that isn’t yet a music­al exper­i­ence). Notice too that once a pho­to­graph is taken the real­ity it depicts is gone forever, while a moment of music is always some­how smeared between times. Among oth­er things, music does the diabol­ic­al work of hold­ing past and future together.

Most music is rooted in empty time, the tick-tock­ing of wage slavery and bore­dom, the time of the etern­al return of the present, of the mar­ket and its drizzle of ersatz grat­i­fic­a­tions. This is also the time of clock watch­ing and of the ‘second nature’ of the eco­nomy, the time cap­tured by the math­em­aticians’ point-struc­ture tensor logic. It is the aspect of time Blake had in mind when he called Satan ‘the miller of eternity’.

Most music is made to be heard only from with­in this empty time, help­ing pin you down with­in it. To that extent music keeps you bored as you listen, aban­doned to the empty real­ity it evokes, and feel­ing there is noth­ing to be done but endure it. Bor­ing music is counter-revolu­tion­ary because it adjusts you to the broken real­ity it is a part of, and which it reflects.

Music becomes espe­cially impov­er­ished when the fact­ory invades the cit­adel of life. Adorno spoke of the libid­in­isa­tion of the pro­duc­tion line, how its dry-hump­ing rhythms take on a cathec­tic charge to become desir­able. Thanks to advances in tech­no­logy you can now have end­less per­muta­tions of this rhythm installed on your iPod for injec­tion dur­ing the work run, warm­ing you up for a pro­duct­ive day. Pop­u­lar music and fact­ory pro­duc­tion edge closer togeth­er. Music becomes a weapon of mood con­trol, all the bet­ter to drive con­sump­tion and the wheels of industry.

Music becomes espe­cially impov­er­ished when the fact­ory invades the cit­adel of life

Music becomes espe­cially impov­er­ished when the fact­ory invades the cit­adel of life. Adorno spoke of the libid­in­isa­tion of the pro­duc­tion line, how its dry-hump­ing rhythms take on a cathec­tic charge to become desir­able. Thanks to advances in tech­no­logy you can now have end­less per­muta­tions of this rhythm installed on your iPod for injec­tion dur­ing the work run, warm­ing you up for a pro­duct­ive day. Pop­u­lar music and fact­ory pro­duc­tion edge closer togeth­er. Music becomes a weapon of mood con­trol, all the bet­ter to drive con­sump­tion and the wheels of industry.

Per­haps the sound of the fact­ory is more import­ant to many now that so many factor­ies are clos­ing, and this indus­tri­al music expresses nos­tal­gia for the pro­duct­ive base as it flees from exper­i­ence. How you feel about the erot­ics of the pro­duc­tion line is likely to determ­ine how you feel about, say, Kraft­werk, techno or the disco. Cinema was way ahead of music in reflect­ing eco­nom­ic real­ity this way: Dziga Vertov set the stand­ards in the 1920’s with films such as The Man with the Movie Cam­era, pre­ci­sion-timed, micro-syn­chron­ised hymns to Sta­lin­ist pro­duct­iv­ism and the Five Year Plan – a film for which Kraft­werk could sup­ply the per­fect soundtrack.

Out­side of the fact­ory, on the con­sumer side of the equa­tion, time increas­ingly becomes linked to the cycles gov­ern­ing advert­ising cam­paigns and the pulsed repe­ti­tion of the super­mar­ket, designed to cre­ate that hyp­no­go­gic state in which the con­sumer is most sus­cept­ible to per­sua­sion. Whole schools of mod­ern music are geared toward recre­at­ing this exper­i­ence as a nar­cot­ic; the consumer’s befuddle­ment is gen­er­al­ised, abstrac­ted and sold back to the vic­tim as an ideal. In this state the listen­er is rendered qui­es­cent, per­fectly attuned to the rhythms of con­sump­tion and bask­ing in some state of sur­render. The music seems to have a calm­ing effect, just as an inmate might cool his cheek against the pad­ding of his cell.

The Man With a Movie Camera

Dziga Vertov
The Man With the Movie Cam­era (1929)

At what appears to be anoth­er extreme, ambi­ent music reflects the high gloss vacu­ity of the ser­vice eco­nomy, which is spared the need to actu­ally pro­duce, has no need for the pro­duc­tion line and, con­sequently, can defi­antly, pos­it­ively dis­pense with its rhythms. The free float­ing non-events of Eno’s ambi­ent music are just anoth­er way of stalling the exper­i­ence of real time, in this case actu­ally caress­ing the empty moment rather than ham­mer­ing it in with a beat. The amorph­ous­ness of ambi­ent music cre­ates not the feel­ing of space, but of con­fine­ment nor­m­al­ised and elev­ated to an ideal, the per­fect soundtrack to a long wait in the recep­tion room of a man­age­ment consultancy.

We gen­er­ally exper­i­ence things as expres­sions of a mys­ter­i­ous ground­ing force, an essence which the object to hand embod­ies and through which it appears to live and have sub­stance. Noth­ing is inde­pend­ently real in itself but instead becomes a com­mod­ity, the work­ing of which is inef­fable. As Marx put it, the com­mod­ity ‘abounds in meta­phys­ic­al subtleties’.

Records, sounds and entire life­styles become objects to be taken on board up as com­mod­it­ies. They are just as soon aban­doned to make way for the next round of con­sump­tion, keep­ing the wheel turn­ing indef­in­itely. The mys­tery is that dead products take on the signs of indi­vidu­al­ity and per­son­al­ity, while liv­ing indi­vidu­als slowly become ciphers driv­en to pur­sue mean­ing only by con­sum­ing the products which now seem to embody it. The per­son­al­ity of the con­sumer migrates magic­ally to become the sub­stance of the com­mod­ity. The com­mod­ity object is fet­ish­ised as embody­ing sub­lim­ated human qual­it­ies, while the per­son in turn becomes an object, his qual­it­ies sup­pressed by a cul­ture and eco­nomy that prefers all-pur­pose, blank slate, inter­change­able con­sumers to any kind of prop­erly indi­vidu­ated sub­jectiv­ity. People and things swap roles.

Empty time is the medi­um through which this com­mod­ity real­ity is doled out. Hav­ing been rendered mean­ing­less by being evac­u­ated, empty time turns around in revenge to usurp life, sub­or­din­at­ing it on the mod­el of the clock con­trolling the pro­duc­tion line. Put simply, as the motto of the Amer­ic­an Clock­makers Soci­ety reminds us: ‘time rules all’.

Along with empty time, our age cre­ates a sur­plus of death, inas­much as we inher­it a kind of liv­ing death as our birth­right under cap­it­al­ism. A com­mod­ity eco­nomy requires the walk­ing dead to keep things tick­ing over. As this require­ment is the first prin­ciple of the eco­nomy, huge num­bers of spe­cial­ists are kept busy clear­ing a route for the funer­al march, erect­ing sign­posts and way sta­tions and lin­ing the pave­ment to cheer the rest on. Uni­ver­sit­ies, advert­ising agen­cies, gov­ern­ment depart­ments, polit­ic­al parties and media cor­por­a­tions work to smooth its path and keep things run­ning to order. At the entrance to the eco­nomy is a sign announ­cing: Wel­come to the Death Fact­ory.

More spe­cific­ally, life and death are locked in con­flict, and their struggle is embod­ied in two meas­ures of time. For the liv­ing, to the extent that they slip out­side the work­ing world, moments are incom­men­sur­able and they live freely in them. But these freedoms turn out to be moment­ary this side of any real com­munity. Before that they are quickly returned to a deformed social exist­ence, offer­ing only the image of free­dom rather than its sub­stance. Cru­cially, how­ever, it is in these images that free­dom hibern­ates, hav­ing been strangled else­where. The point is to end freedom’s quar­ant­ine and return it to the entirety of existence.


For the dead, moments become so flattened as to be almost indis­tin­guish­able. In this dead world everything is etern­ally new, though noth­ing ever changes. Its suf­fer­ers also learn to dread the moment when the clock stops tick­ing for them per­son­ally, defin­it­ively put­ting an end to a time already largely empty of mean­ing, sens­ing the threat that they will die before they even begin to live.

Dead time rein­forces the con­di­tions of its exist­ence by keep­ing you inclined to play the role assigned you con­sum­ing ali­en things. Each new product claims to fill the hole in your exist­ence while actu­ally only affirm­ing and rein­for­cing it. Accord­ing to Sufis and Situ­ation­ists, as you run after products and thrills, or just pur­sue your daily life, you hov­er tan­tal­isingly close to the thing you uncon­sciously want and need: the beach beneath the pave­ment. The solu­tion is ‘closer than your jug­u­lar vein, closer than your heart­beat’, but escapes you because it is ortho­gon­al to the world you have learned to inhab­it and per­ceive. In the words of the Sufis, you pace up and down the shore but nev­er shove off for the oth­er side.

The nav­ig­a­tion between dead and liv­ing time doesn’t hap­pen in a single mira­cu­lous event, the dead time of com­mod­ity music stacked up on one side so the only way to escape it is to take one final leap into etern­ity. In this con­text at least the Gnostic, mys­tic idea of time is only suggestive.

What hap­pens instead of the lonely release into the ecstasy of nir­vana is that dead time is chal­lenged per­man­ently in every­day exper­i­ence. A field of force binds the world and its oppos­i­tion togeth­er into a single, embattled total­ity shot through with con­tra­dic­tions cre­ated by the con­flict at its heart. Just as phys­ics main­tains the pic­ture of a stable macro-world des­pite the inde­term­in­acy of the quantum world below, the big pic­ture of cor­por­ate mar­ket­ing, high soci­ety art ritu­al and mass mar­keted cir­cus games is com­pat­ible with a more or less under­ground, more or less recog­nised and under­stood world in which art, polit­ics and life cap­ture the per­son­al exper­i­ence of expan­ded time. The big pic­ture per­sists – Sony and Sting, trivia and bore­dom – while the under­ly­ing real­ity sees untold musi­cians and listen­ers, artists, rioters, rabble-rousers, strikers, demon­strat­ors and oth­er con­trari­ans engage in a war aimed at break­ing the back of its routine, suc­ceed­ing moment­ar­ily. Each of these moments con­tains in cell form the uto­pi­an vis­ion of a free society.

Music fights dead time by play­ing against it. Sun Ra under­stood, and built his music on this insight. Here is what he told the Arkestra in a rehears­al pep talk;

That last phrase was off because you played it cor­rectly. You should play it wrong — a little ahead of the beat. It’s very effect­ive. That’s the way the older jazz musi­cians played it. They played a little bit ahead, then, later, Chica­go musi­cians decided to play a little bit behind the beat and that’s not easy to do. It’s a little ahead or behind. Then there’s music that’s on the beat. Well, white people can do that.

You don’t have to buy into the afro-cent­rism that wraps up the argu­ment — ulti­mately, even Sun Ra didn’t. He means only that musi­cians should spar with time to defeat it rather than just count­ing out the changes. Under Sun Ra’s guid­ance the Arkestra learned to play ahead of the beat, behind and around it at once. What Sun Ra means is about much more than finicky jazz syn­co­pa­tion or even a more gen­er­al, abstractly tech­nic­al skill. It isn’t even ulti­mately about time as such, but touches on everything worth say­ing about music and its struggle with death and bore­dom. Ra even goes on to tie this way of mak­ing music to polit­ic­al aggrav­a­tion and the struggle against what soci­olo­gists call alienation;

Now, Lex Humphries [Arkestra drum­mer] is pass­ive. He’s think­ing ‘Everything is beau­ti­ful, ‘cause I’m going to heav­en when I die’ So he’s happy. But don’t you believe that, you are rest­less. You look out at the world and you say ‘Something’s wrong with this stuff.’ Then you get so mad you can play it on your instru­ment. Play some fire on it. If you’re not mad at the world, you don’t have what it takes. The world lacks for war­ri­ors. Pre­pare your­self accordingly.

None of this should be taken to mean that music suc­ceeds in over­com­ing empty time simply by dodging the met­ro­nome. When it works at all, the effect is the res­ult of the organ­isa­tion of the music as a whole, the rela­tion­ship between the themes and ele­ments that make up the music to the music­al total­ity they pro­duce by being brought togeth­er in a par­tic­u­lar situ­ation, which is why Adorno could say of the sym­phony, of sym­phon­ic form, that it pro­duces a “con­trac­tion of time which anni­hil­ates… the con­tin­gen­cies of the listener’s private exist­ence”.

Music fights dead time by play­ing against it

 I talked about two meas­ures of time rather than two ways of exper­i­en­cing it because this isn’t simply a mat­ter of how you look at things, two ways of exper­i­en­cing the same under­ly­ing time. But the situ­ation isn’t neces­sar­ily as sym­met­ric­al as I have implied since lived time seems untimely — out­side of time because not lim­ited by it. In lived moments time slips away, and this neg­a­tion of time is felt as an exper­i­ence of space. Bound up in time, music, when it plays with time, releases you into space. That is why there is music called ‘space rock’; it is one of the reas­ons Sun Ra believed that ‘space is the place’, and why, for example, Col­trane played in ‘Inter­stel­lar Space’, ‘Stel­lar Regions’, the ‘Cos­mos’ and ‘Out of this World’. Varèse shared this intu­ition, describ­ing his own music as ‘spa­tial’ and arguing that the block and beams of sound organ­ised by his scores pro­duce the exper­i­ence of “pro­long­a­tion, a jour­ney into space”. Space, out­er space, comes to rep­res­ent the every­day world’s oth­er, a world broad­er than our own lim­ited per­spect­ive and embody­ing the sum of uto­pi­an pos­sib­il­it­ies, and music seems to offer a means of get­ting in touch with it.

In com­mod­ity music it is the idea, the theme or the unwind­ing of a tune that counts. The res­ol­u­tion of chords in a key obvi­ously con­firms some pre­de­ter­mined idea about music, and the pro­gress of this happy res­ol­u­tion is meas­ured out in empty time. Pre­dict­ab­il­ity (and hence some sort of expli­cit or impli­cit repe­ti­tion) is neces­sary for music to become a com­mod­ity. For the com­mod­ity to work it has to be embed­ded in a net­work (of mar­ket­ing, advert­ising and so on) that makes sense of what it seems to offer, and this means that a com­mod­ity must repeat what has already been said about it in order to be iden­ti­fied. On the oth­er hand, freely impro­vised music (to give one example) has less interest in such repe­ti­tion, in the sense of planned and pre­dict­able move­ment; it invests more in the yawp of the moment as the ful­crum of change and devel­op­ment regard­less of any plan.

The same argu­ments regard­ing the music­al treat­ment of time could be made as eas­ily with regard to ton­al­ity. Des­pite all pro­pa­ganda to the con­trary, ton­al sys­tems are unnat­ur­al; they are ulti­mately only more or less con­veni­ent sed­i­ment­a­tions of dead sounds, feel­ings and prac­tices. Music which insists on the primacy of the old ton­al sys­tem (or any par­tic­u­lar ton­al sys­tem) is as awk­ward as music that treats time met­ro­nom­ic­ally, set­ting in stone feel­ings and rela­tions belong­ing to the past without refig­ur­ing them for today. Con­son­ance, like time, has to be per­petu­ally rethought if it isn’t to remain stuck in a cul de sac. This is not to argue for nov­elty and dis­son­ance for the sake of it, but recog­nises that the world needs to move on. Music can­not avoid the respons­ib­il­ity of hav­ing to address the new cir­cum­stances and account for the chan­ging situ­ation of music, musi­cians, and listen­ers with­in it.

Sun Ra

Sun Ra

Music isn’t up to much if it doesn’t incor­por­ate new sounds and tex­tures, and seek to address new exper­i­ences, new lim­it­a­tions and new pos­sib­il­it­ies. Cer­tainly it has to be alert to keep ahead of the market’s drive to turn everything into a com­mod­ity. Without this explor­a­tion and devel­op­ment music is in danger of being swamped and turned into some­thing used merely to help paste over and obscure the cracks in the work­ing day. The his­tory of the blues, jazz and mod­ern art and aca­dem­ic music is the his­tory of musi­cians strug­gling to bring new sounds to the music in order to keep the music rel­ev­ant in this way, wheth­er through seri­al­ism, micro­ton­al­ity, spec­tral­ism, free impro­visa­tion or any­thing else that leads out of famili­ar­ity and comfort.

Just as the Sur­real­ists sought to devel­op a rep­er­tory of tech­niques for pro­du­cing a derange­ment of the senses, there is an arsen­al of music­al man­oeuvres aimed at sub­vert­ing time and ton­al­ity, build­ing new forms and tex­tures. Impro­vising musi­cians try to base their music spon­tan­eously on these private and col­lect­ive tech­niques. Mod­ern com­posers have their own ideas for treat­ing time, har­mony, dis­son­ance and col­our to this end. Rad­ic­al pro­duc­tion and record­ing meth­ods allowed Faust to do some­thing sim­il­ar in the stu­dio, while in live per­form­ance they depended on elec­tron­ics and their approach to group improvisation.
Charlie Patton

Charlie Pat­ton

A little over a cen­tury ago, coun­try blues pos­ited the body as the centre of music­al mean­ing, har­ness­ing itself to the body’s rhythms and urges in defi­ance of offi­cial agen­das. Musi­cians played slower or faster in accord­ance with their sense of the song’s dra­mat­ic mean­ing, allow­ing the song to ebb and flow like a force of nature, ignor­ing any concept of fixed bar lengths or strict time. Idio­syn­crat­ic tim­ing at the very least was val­ued as a part of the singer’s per­son­al inter­pret­a­tion of the song. In the case of the greatest blues­men this per­son­al inflec­tion was more than a mar­ket­able style or ‘unique selling point’, and they could cre­ate coher­ent worlds of their own in their per­form­ances. It was when the music took the train out of the coun­tryside and plant­a­tion and moved north to the city that it began to adopt some­thing like a reg­u­lar, stand­ard­ised pulse, echo­ing the rhythm of the pro­duc­tion lines that black work­ers at the time were being intro­duced to.

The his­tory of jazz from the time of its emer­gence from the blues through at least until the six­ties is a his­tory of expand­ing free­dom

 The city held great­er oppor­tun­it­ies for col­lab­or­a­tion, and plenty of work was to be had for musi­cians in the bars, clubs and brothels cater­ing to the newly trans­planted work­force. The music began to be played by groups of musi­cians rather than solo, as had been often been the case at home. It there­fore became use­ful to stand­ard­ise blues tim­ing so the indi­vidu­al musician’s know­ledge could more eas­ily be trans­planted between groups. Musi­cians needed to be able to play with a new group without first hav­ing to learn an entire uni­verse of idio­syn­crat­ic phras­ing from scratch, and this meant devel­op­ing stand­ard songs, tun­ings and tim­ings. Co-oper­a­tion at first required the devel­op­ment of stand­ard­ised time in order for the work of indi­vidu­al musi­cians to be syn­chron­ised in the group con­text, just as it was required for the co-ordin­a­tion and con­trol of work­ers in the con­text of the fact­ory. The his­tory of the blues in this peri­od is a his­tory of creep­ing standardisation.

The his­tory of jazz from the time of its emer­gence from the blues (and else­where) through at least until the six­ties is, on the con­trary, a his­tory of expand­ing free­dom, as the music pro­gress­ively dis­tances itself from stand­ard­ised music­al forms in a series of shocks and rup­tures. For example, the mod­al­ism that Col­trane took from his time with Miles Dav­is uses a mode (scale) as a frame­work to be filled with spiralling impro­vised con­tent, inflec­ted by an indi­vidu­al and col­lect­ive (group) sense of time that can be gained only by months and years of group prac­tice. Coltrane’s impro­visa­tions com­press the world’s music so tightly that par­tic­u­lar forms melt and merge under the pres­sure: all that had been stand­ard­ised in the blues and jazz starts to evaporate.

With his impen­et­rable the­ory of ‘har­mo­lodics’ and, more con­vin­cingly, with his play­ing, Ornette Cole­man edged even fur­ther toward the bound­ary of form­al­ism and free­dom, to the point where, in the­ory at least, form is allowed to fall away entirely: “There’s a law in what I’m play­ing, but that law is a law that, where you get tired of it, you can change it.” Cole­man aims at lev­el­ling music­al hier­arch­ies and “remov­ing the caste sys­tem from sound.” Ayler found his own response to Col­trane by over­load­ing march­ing tunes, the blues, field hollers and, above all, church music with raw power until they snapped apart — a sound, accord­ing to Ted Joans, “like shout­ing ‘Fuck’ in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor set out their stalls on the fron­ti­er ahead of every­one else in jazz. Almost from the start it seemed that Taylor aimed to finally over­come the divi­sion of labour, return­ing music to an organ­ic unity of mind and body: “Music does not exist with­in nota­tion, which pro­ceeds from heretic­al cul­tur­al aggrand­ise­ment, asso­ci­ation, abstrac­tion. ‘They’ have divided the body, treat­ing the mind as a divided agent.” He makes an anti-idealist’s dance music for the embod­ied per­son — head and heart, mind and body without dis­tinc­tion, break­ing the back of intel­lec­tu­al, abstract time, ton­al­ity and har­mony, releas­ing us, at best, into some­thing approach­ing an ecstasy of pure sound and physics.

Incred­ibly, des­pite this tra­di­tion of innov­a­tion, con­tem­por­ary jazz is now more or less comatose any­where out­side of Taylor and the dif­fer­ent free jazz com­munit­ies on either side of the Atlantic. In the name of con­tinu­ity and respect for tra­di­tion, the Mar­s­al­is broth­ers and their friends turned jazz into an stand­ard­ised, eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able com­mod­ity, trad­ing openly on its most con­ser­vat­ive tra­di­tions and recyc­ling the music of the glory years — accord­ing to Stan­ley Crouch “the jazz tra­di­tion is not innov­a­tion”. Talk­ing the lan­guage of black pride, Mar­s­al­is & Co. in fact pro­mote the fear­ful, con­ser­vat­ive ideo­logy of the black bour­geois­ie. For them jazz is just anoth­er asset in the racial trophy cab­in­et, proof of the inher­ited cul­tur­al cap­it­al that gives them too the right to sit at the top table. At best it is reduced to being the sigh of an oppressed and piti­able minor­ity rather than an attempt at super­sed­ing the cul­ture of the soci­ety which cre­ates that oppres­sion, offer­ing a hint of what might lie bey­ond it. With the rise of these tend­en­cies, much that was worth­while in jazz passed over into the free impro­visa­tion com­munity, which kept faith with jazz’s quest for music­al free­dom only by break­ing with its char­ac­ter­ist­ic styles: a true dia­lect­ic­al neg­a­tion which has seen it largely detach itself from the rest of the jazz community.

Through much of the cen­tury art music and its avant garde developed in ways ana­log­ous to jazz, though typ­ic­ally approach­ing sim­il­ar ends through very dif­fer­ent tech­nic­al means. In his book Free Jazz, Ekke­hard Jost offers as an example the way that Taylor’s shak­ing loose of con­fin­ing tempo can have much the same effect as is some­times achieved para­dox­ic­ally through the pre­cise tim­ings of seri­al­ism, releas­ing the music into a less con­stric­ted, more sub­ject­ive space.

This par­tial con­ver­gence of jazz and clas­sic­al tra­di­tions encour­aged the con­scious devel­op­ment of a ‘third stream’ music which sought to prop­erly fuse those tra­di­tions — the term was coined by Gun­ther Schuller in 1957 on the basis of an ana­logy with the way Bartók mar­ried the clas­sic­al and folk tra­di­tions. Apart from this devel­op­ment, with the excep­tion of the ‘new com­plex­ity’ com­posers (par­tially and sporad­ic­ally), some of those work­ing in elec­tro-acous­tic and spec­tral music, and, def­in­itely, the group around the Romani­ans Ian­cu Dumitres­cu and Ana Maria Avram, con­tem­por­ary art and aca­dem­ic music has largely thrown in the tow­el over the last thirty years, seek­ing instead to address its eco­nom­ic mar­gin­al­isa­tion by attach­ing to itself the eas­ily diges­ted but inert tex­tures of min­im­al­ism and the ‘new tonality’.

Main­stream clas­sic­al music, or what is mar­keted as clas­sic­al music, has, like much of jazz, been racing to com­modi­fy itself com­pletely. There has been a huge effort to build new mar­kets by build­ing up the clas­sic­al equi­val­ent of pop stars such as The Three Ten­ors and Nigel Kennedy, and through Clas­sic FM pro­gram­ming. Between them these tend­en­cies turn the tra­di­tion into a com­bin­a­tion of grand spec­tacle and hum­mable mood music. Unable to move for­ward, they skirt the issue by throw­ing up glossy diver­sions as if to buy time.



Rock music derived its sense of time from blues and jazz, but ten­ded at first to smooth over their more quer­ulous syn­co­pa­tions in favour of a brute, reg­u­lar beat. Zappa was the first major fig­ure to make sus­tained, expli­cit use of time bend­ing tech­niques through his use of xeno­chrony, lay­ing pieces of music with dif­fer­ent time sig­na­tures togeth­er to cre­ate new poly-rhythms and son­ic ten­sions. As a devotee of Varèse, Zappa was open to such innov­a­tions. In the years since then oth­ers have taken up jazz and clas­sic­al tech­niques in the drive away from ton­al­ity and strict tempo toward some sort of freer expres­sion. Some even cre­ated tech­niques of their own. Much rock and related music is simply part of the enter­tain­ment spec­tacle, but there is a long his­tory of innov­a­tion there too.

Although based in very dif­fer­ent music­al styles, Faust’s music often stakes out its space on sim­il­ar ter­rain of music­al free­dom to that cleared by free jazz and free impro­visa­tion, allow­ing music­al forces to fol­low their innate logic by free­ing them from what is ulti­mately an arbit­rary order, allow­ing them to move tent­at­ively toward the realm of unpro­cessed phys­ic­al real­ity. This is the logic of nature but also (shock­ingly, from a hippy or new age point of view) the logic of machines, prop­erly under­stood: Faust tuned into the stochast­ic poetry of the cement mix­er in a way that could not have occurred even to Rus­solo and the Futur­ists, though John Cage had an ink­ling of it and Ian­nis Xena­kis would make this under­stand­ing one of the found­a­tions of his music.

This nat­ur­al-machine-logic is also the logic of dreams, dreams being expres­sions of the ‘nature of mind’. It is an all-inclus­ive logic because, looked at from the widest angle, everything is nature. So, as Dumitres­cu puts it, the musi­cian needs “to agree with phys­ics, to listen to its laws”. This talk of phys­ic­al nature is no atav­ist­ic bunk­ing off into an inhu­man, unciv­il­ised exist­ence, scut­tling across the floors of silent seas. It simply recog­nises that the total­ity of man — machines, civil­isa­tion and all — is part of expan­ded nature, or what used to be called the Cosmos.

Nature, to be com­manded, must be obeyed. Faust’s music, at its best, is not only a Dadaist erup­tion bey­ond the con­fines of the rock music of the time: it is also, like all great music, a product of an organ­ised sub­mis­sion to son­ic mater­i­al that sets it free by mas­ter­ing it, and mas­ters it only by fight­ing to set it free. It strikes a bal­ance between con­trol of mat­ter and con­cord­ance with it, by way of recog­nising that so much about mat­ter remains unknown. The music reflects the real­ity of nature bey­ond instru­ment­al reas­on. Music­al forces com­bine and take leave in unforced, art­less com­bin­a­tion, much as the poly­morph­ous per­versity of the child­like uncon­scious may find the world end­lessly grat­i­fy­ing. When this hap­pens, dead time is sus­pen­ded and life comes for­ward under its own col­ours: time implodes into space and sense.

Until the social revolu­tion, these lived moments out­side of time remain fleet­ing and private. Death threatens to erase them alto­geth­er, ‘like tears in the rain’. To res­cue them, and every exper­i­ence like them, we just need to upset the world and put it on its feet.