Submitted by Emilio Lara Vargas
I study cello at The Royal Conservatoir of The Hague, and it was very interesting for me to
see that a car shipping company was offering a scholarship for any type of studies, which
meant that this company was looking for a great variety of points of view when asking for an
essay, so I offer you one from a musician.
Transportation is a very relevant topic in my life and in the history of my family.
I was born in Mexico City in 1997, but I also have Polish citizenship thanks to my
grandmother, who had to move to this city because of the imminent war in her country. She
arrived by ship to the port in Veracruz, and then she went by railway to Mexico City, but
before that, her ship had to stop in Marseilles for two months because of a malfunction, and
there she learned French. Thanks to her travels and to the diversity of the members of her
family she knew eight languages; she even taught Spanish in a junior high school in Mexico.
She died in my country, and she never wanted to return to Poland, but a big part of my
family did, including me during a certain period of my life, but I now live in the Netherlands.
When I was little, I used to travel very often around Mexico with my father; visiting small
villages, big cities, forests, beaches, deserts. And we did so by different means, but my
favorite was by renting a car because we could go at our own rhythm, stopping wherever
we wanted to stop, seeing and exploring whatever we wanted to see and explore.
Afterward, I started traveling to different countries. I learned to enjoy and love the timeless
sensation of spending hours walking through different airports, hearing different languages,
flying, feeling that for my internal clock is night, but where I am is noon, knowing that after
this process I will be in a place totally different from the one in which the journey started.
The one physical place in which you can feel everything is strongly connected is an airport.
Every gate is, almost literally, the opening of a totally different world.
Even though I could keep talking endlessly about the importance of transportation in my life
and the beauty I see in it, what I think it would be more interesting to do, is to talk about
how movement and motion are an essential part of artistic human creation. This may seem
obvious in fields like sculpture, painting, and dance; but maybe not so obvious in music, at
least not for someone who´s not related to this art, and this is what I´m interested in talking
about right now.
Movement is the periodic change of position of an object through time and space, so music
literally moves, as music is formed by sounds, which are waves MOVING through time and
space; but music also “moves” in other ways. Music is for the time what paint is for a canvas;
music will never alter the physical and objective passing of time, just as paint will never alter
the physical structure of a canvas; instead, what it does is to embellish it, to change the
listener´s perception of time. This is because a piece of music is not something that exists as
a whole at the same time, like a painting, but it is something that uses the time to impregnate
the memory of the listener so that, after listening, he can remember it as a whole. Music is
only alive in the memory. If you take a specific place in a score and play it, you will only hear one sound. Music only happens when you hear a piece for a certain amount of time and
your memory puts together every separate moment of it, giving sense to every new instant.
So, what we perceive psychologically when hearing music, is something that moves only
through time, and our memory is the hook we need to catch it and make it ours. This is
evident if we think about the way we normally talk about music, we talk about how fast or
slow this or that song is, but that song is not going anywhere physically. The sensation of
velocity we get from hearing a piece or a song depends on the amount of time passed
between one sound and the next.
Every piece or song, no matter how simple, has metrics and rhythm, which are the two
elements that give movement to music, but there are some (pieces or songs) in which these
two elements make this alteration of the perception of time easy to feel or notice. I will use
as an example Piledriver Waltz, by the Arctic Monkeys, because in this song they noticeably
alter the metrics of the music (its accentuation) in a way that makes us feel everything slows
down, even though real physical time never changes (of course).
A waltz is a type of dance, and its most common characteristic is that the rhythm is ternary.
For those who know a little bit about music, every bar should have three beats, and if not,
the beats are divided in a ternary way (so you can have two beats per bar, but each beat
should be divided into three).
But the Arctic Monkeys start the song with two beats per bar, and each beat divided in two.
You can notice this two-beats-per-bar feeling by, at the beginning of the song, tapping with
your hand every time the guitar plays a note (every note by the guitar is a beat), and you will
notice that the accentuation is binary, i.e., you feel an accent every second beat (1-2, 1-2, 1-
2…). And, as an extra clue, the tambourine plays in the second beat (the non-accented beat).
Then the drums and the bass appear together; afterward, Alex Turner starts singing (keep
tapping along). After less than one minute of the song, all the instruments stop for a few
seconds, and Turner says: “You look like you´ve been for breakfast (…)”.
When he says “been”, the instruments start playing again and something very interesting
happens: they start to accentuate not every second beat, but every third beat (1-2-3, 1-2-3,
1-2-3…), giving it the waltzish character the name of the song suggests. And even though the
amount of time between each beat is exactly the same (you should be tapping at the same
speed than before), everything feels slower, because they expanded the length of the bar by
grouping the beats by three.
The song then returns to its binary accentuation, and this process is repeated.
This work by the Arctic Monkeys is a very good example of how music, without altering
physical time itself alters our perception of it when “moving” in certain ways.
I hope this “poetic” approach to movement and motion in music helps someone to realize
and think about the presence of this phenomenon in every single human activity. Seeing,
feeling and understanding the variety of its presence in different fields can be beautiful.
Submitted by Emilio Lara Vargas
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