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Music exists only in time. As musical events succeed each other through time, tension is maintained through the connection between antecedent and consequence. Rhythm in the larger sense controls all the relationships within a composition. The meter of the piece is the fixed time pattern in which musical events unfold. Within meter, rhythm is allowed to flow freely, and musical time is a beat, the regular pulse to which we tap our toes. Rhythm is an expression of the spontaneity of not only the individual who creates the music, but also the listener. This condition demands a kind of physicality on the part of the performer and a similar response of the listener's senses in an exchange of attention.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, classical music was composed to hold the listener's attention in a manner similar to the narrative of a play. In theater, events such as a murder set up a tension. This holds the viewers' attention until a resolution occurs (the murder is solved). This is called denouement, which releases the tension in what Aristotle (Greek philosopher, 384-322 BCE) called catharsis. Catharsis is the release of the viewers' tension as they watch a dramatic tragedy unfold: they are able to direct their real fear and anxiety onto the fiction unfolding in front of them, and thereby ease their fear.

Classical music begins with a central magnetic chord (called the tonic), which expands, pulling the rest of the composition back to it: the tonic is established so that departure from it makes the listener await its return. Like most of the world's population before the advent of modern modes of travel, tonal music starts a brief journey with the expectation of returning home after a short time.

Image: Ripple in pond
Charles H. Traub, Louisiana, 1973

Richard Wagner (German composer, 1813-1883) and Gustav Mahler (Austrian composer, 1860-1911) began to break with this tradition, and the beginning of the twentieth century abandoned considerations of time as it was previously conceived, with the advent of the new classical music of Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer, 1882-1971) and Arnold Schoenberg (Austrain-born composer, 1874-1951), and in jazz. According to Theodore Adorno (German philosopher, 1903-69), Stravinsky exemplified this change: "His music is devoid of recollection, and consequently lacking in any time-continuum of permanence. Its course lies in reflexes." There is no narrative. The exposition, development, and recapitulation that marked the canon of nineteenth-century music were no longer elements. The music of the new space of the twentieth century lacks thematic material and is self-contained within its own progressions, patterns, and pattern breaking. Like the experiments of the futurists and the surrealists, contemporary music anticipates the time-space continuum and the schizophrenia of the postmodern era, collapsing any linear continuity. It turns us toward the sensuous world of the unconscious and our connection to the exotic and primitive. It works like our busy minds.

Older forms of music—such as chamber music—require an attention that may, unfortunately, no longer be possible for today's MTV generation, and are threatened to sink like the background music of tony restaurants, while the music of Snoop Dogg (American rapper, born 1971) or the Chemical Brothers dissects and reassembles time in our disjointed present. Looking back at Rock and Roll and its roots in rhythm and blues, music got louder and more jarring as it had to compete with the social activities of the public spaces—clubs, parks, and so forth—where it was performed. By the early 1970s, music had moved to large venues like football stadiums. As the performers became farther and farther removed from the audience, their relative size changed and some, notably KISS and other glam rock bands, turned to elaborate and outlandish costumes and elaborate stage shows to keep the audience interested.

Sometimes I rhyme slow / Sometimes I rhyme quick

- Nice and Smooth

Uniquely, urban hip-hop—with its booming bass beats—developed in the playgrounds and on the stoops of New York City, where it may best be heard blasting from the speakers of car stereos, whose intended audience is both inside and outside of the car. Its rhythmic paradigms resist narrative structuring by a cyclical repetition more akin to non-Western music than classical composition.

An important factor in the evolution of oratory and musical styles has been the nature of the building (or space) where the music is heard. The cathedral, with its extended reverberation times, heightens the effect of choral and organ music. The cathedral's vault creates a transcendent environment that enhances religious worship, both visually and acoustically. Baroque chamber music was written for small spaces; Renaissance courts commissioned works that encouraged sociability, such as the waltz. Although the harpsichord and clavichord are too quiet for the cathedral, they are well suited to intimate social gatherings. The space of a performance hall also has an effect on the timing of the piece: in a building with long reverberation, the performer either has to use a slower tempo or runs the risk of having the reverberation blur the sounds together. Today, the realm of the circuit is the performance space for digital music. It is at once a private space—the iPod—and yet also a space that allows music to be heard by a nearly limitless audience. The electronic sphere has no space and thus the acoustical properties of any space.