Santa Fe Institute Collaboration Platform

COMPLEX TIME: Adaptation, Aging, & Arrow of Time

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Contact: Caitlin Lorraine McShea, Program Manager,

A Stab at Time/Time in music

From Complex Time

September 16, 2019
10:15 am - 12:15 pm


Gregory Spears (Composer)


In this session we started with a discussion on how meter, rhythm, and tempo work together to give a listener a stable experience of time flow in music. Then we focused on the way Stravinsky’s work for dance creates the experience of multiple layers of time. We traced these techniques back to composers like Bach and Perotin and also looked at how Stravinsky’s experiments with time influenced composers in the late-20th and early 21st-century. We focused this analysis on minimalist composers who employ process to create a uniquely modern sense of time. Along the way we discussed how concepts like entropy, decay, and rhetoric can be expressed in music and how they affect a listener’s sense of time progression in music.

Presentation file(s)
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Post-meeting Reflection

Gregory Spears (Composer) Link to the source page

It was exciting to participate in an interdisciplinary discussion of physics, dance, and music. I was also intrigued to hear a great dancer and choreographer talk about their art, which often exceeds language in favor of an embodiment of ideas. That reminded me of music, which makes its arguments sonically. It was particularly interesting to hear the ways in which our response to specific questions regarding time shifted depending on our training and our disciplines. We discussed how rhythm, tempo, and meter affect how music is perceived in time, whereas a series of movement events or a movement process can suggest time in dance. (Process kept returning as a theme for all of us.) John spoke of how entropy plays an important role in the directionality of time.

After a long discussion on our approach to the material, I now feel like John, Karole, Jock and I have a shared collaborative vocabulary to discuss the project going forward. I also have a better sense of Karole and John’s initial inspiration for this work and how music might support that vision. Specifically, I am hoping to generate music that is the result of a collision of various musical processes. My hope is that this approach will resonate with Karole’s movement-based experiments that seek to dramatize the collision of two types of time.

Reference Material