Cantus for Harp: Cosmology and Composition: New Perceptions of Time, Space and Silence in Music

Timothy Blinko (Artist), Victoria Davies (Performer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition

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The recording of 'Cantus for Harp' from the Aloysiuskerk in Utrecht for the 'Muzikale Thema Vesper' performed by Victoria Davies on 10th April 2022 is available for download on this page (below).

The relationship of music and the cosmos is an ancient one. The discovery of buried bone flutes in China demonstrated human awareness 7,000 years ago of the special ratios of musical vibration called the harmonic series. And approximately 5,000 years ago, the ancient Mesopotamians had a highly developed tonal and arithmetical model for the cosmos, while their number base system of 60 remains with us in our measurement of time with the use of seconds and minutes.

Pythagoras developed his own ‘music of the spheres’ model with each planet producing a note according to its distance from the earth, but too exquisite for our ears to hear. And with his own form of music therapy, Pythagoras acknowledged the ability of music to affect us profoundly. Ptolemy, Robert Fludd and Kepler also contributed to the concept of ‘the music of the spheres’ with Kepler’s book Harmonice Mundi [Harmony of the Worlds, 1619] providing tonal patterns for the planets; the earth ‘singing’ the tones mi, fa, mi, but only audible at the point of creation.

In C20 Einstein’s theory of General Relativity proposed that matter causes spacetime to curve and that gravitational time dilation is not fixed. So time travel into the ‘future’ is possible. Humans could potentially move close to a black hole and return to an earth many years in the future as they would perceive it.

Timothy Blinko’s music interrogates these cosmological ideas, both scientific and historical. Space, time and silence are key aspects, while the harmonic series is often explored in novel ways. Blinko utilises our perception of time, which is quite different to how time really operates – without our minds creating an illusion of ‘now’ over 2-3 seconds we would struggle with existence. He also explores the fluctuation of time as well as reminiscence and memory which keep the past alive for us even though, in reality it has gone forever.

Cantus for Harp is annotated to the player ‘with a feeling of resonance, space and silence.’ It starts with single notes coming into the space, first with a dry xylophone playing technique and then with harmonics, which use the harmonic series to create their other worldly sparkling sound. An extended gradual increase of speed demonstrates the fluctuation of time, building to a stop, giving the impression of time standing still – something that does not happen in physics, but which humans can experience. The Cantus – like a chant – is then heard over a drone bass. At this point time is running slowly, but then it runs fast in an even way, but with disruptive changes of accent.

Throughout the piece, these devices of the fluctuation of time and the perception of time are deployed, with the magical technique of bisbiglando (light and murmuring playing) used to blur the sense of time even further. With our perception of time and ability to remember, we can start to understand how the structure of the piece is brought together in counterpoint through time and at the end of the music, the fast motoric pattern is slowed down and finally brought together in counterpoint with the Cantus. Thus, the seemingly disparate expressions of time are joined to demonstrate the connected flow of time throughout the universe, always moving forwards and never backwards.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2022


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