Publication details: Music Analysis 25/1-2: 125-154
Jonathan Kramer defined postmodern music as an ironic, fragmentary mix of past and present compositional procedures embodying multiple temporal dimensions. Recent theorising grounded in phenomenological and cognitive-scientific accounts of musical experience suggests that it may be possible to develop a more insightful interpretative perspective by extending Kramer's notions of ‘direction’, ‘linearity’, ‘narrative’ and ‘motion’ to more fundamental concepts of continuity, beginning and ending. With respect to the search for a coherent analytical method, the music of the acclaimed young British composer Thomas Adès merits special attention, in part due to the consistency with which his work employs elemental continuities, but also on account of the variety of temporalities that he composes from them. The present survey aims to explore the means by which these continuities are made apparent, at the same time showing how they are obliged to co-operate in order to articulate and direct time in characteristically postmodern ways. Excerpts are examined from a range of pieces, including Traced Overhead, Arcadiana and Asyla. These analyses illustrate the paradoxical nature of postmodern musical time, in which linearity can be understood to emerge from locally various periodicities and trends.