I have always spent a lot of time playing, listening to, and talking about music. Music of all kinds. Music has punctuated my story, and has always been there at important times.
These musical memories are clear: my dad telling me it was all right to cry with emotion when I listened to Elgar’s Nimrod, when I was at junior school; learning to play 12-bar blues in the music room at school; hearing Let It Be on the beach in France with the incomparable , but fleeting, Anne-Marie; playing Needle of Death at a school concert, forgetting the words, and muttering into a live microphone, “I’ve forgotten the fucking words!”; my mastery of Angie on the guitar, and the resulting night of rookie sexual delight; the disasters of the folk-rock band, Salthouse Lane, and the mud of the Bickershaw festival; writing the libretto of The Saint Petersburg Mass for the classical composer, David Golightly, and going to its world premiere in Saint Petersburg, where we received a ten-minute standing ovation; hearing the incredible a cappella singing of villagers in Fiji.
These are all golden moments, and never-to-be-forgotten experiences.
But, just at this moment, I am being drawn to jazz improvisation. Right now, I am writing this listening to Keith Jarrett, playing live at Cologne.
Jazz improvisation is a reflection of how life develops and how we learn, somehow, to surf it. In improvisation, Time spreads out, with a kind of broad structure, but, like life, we never really know how long it will be, although we know it will eventually end somehow, and it will not be predictable.
It will weave and change, just as a stream will go round obstacles. Unlike classical sonata form, or the three-part structure of a popular song, or the verse-chorus structure of a folk song, it creates and encounters difficulties on its way, and creates spontaneous solutions to them..
It can be joyous, or intellectual, or bluesy.
Picasso said, “if you haven’t got blue, use yellow.” Improvisation is a musician’s way of using Picasso’s yellow when he hasn’t got a blue.
It is a skill we need to learn, and that I needed to learn very urgently when I went blind. The new chords that I would have to somehow structure and weave into a coherence, were strange, even unpleasant, but I had to find their beauty.
Jazz and, say, classical music exist within two different kinds of time (although some modern classical music is very akin to jazz and jazz time.
There are two forms of time, both owing their descriptive names to the ancient Gods of Greece. The first sort is called chronological time, named after the Greek God Chronos. This is clock time, through which we travel remorselessly. It doesn’t slow down, or speed up, and we have to navigate it like sailors in a stormy sea. It always ends in tears.
It is sometimes called urban time, because we have a sense of moving through it, chasing goals, targets, money people. It is well-suited to city life.
The other sort of time is called kairological time. It is rural time, suited to a slower pace of life, where we wait for time to come to us, like waiting for the seasons, or even waiting for death. We don’t try to control this, like we do with urban time, which is trapped in a human net of numbers and clock hands, because it comes to us as itself, in its own time, in its own way. It is fluid and flexible, and is measured in events, in happenings, not in hours, minutes and seconds. It is the difference between saying “I eat when it’s one o’clock” and saying “I eat when I am hungry”.
The military march is the music of chronological time, as is the music of Bach. Jazz improvisation and the slow movements of Mahler are the music of kairological time.
One form of time is not superior to the other. They are different, and serve different purposes.
When I used to put on theatre productions, I had to work in chronological time, I had to move towards the First Night. But now that I was ill, time could come to me, like clouds that bring the rain or the blue sky, and living in time suddenly felt like living in a field, rather than living on a road.
While I write this, I live in kairological time. The view of physics is that time is like an arrow. It travels in a straight line, starts at the beginning and goes on relentlessly to the end, and it is irreversible.
The writer, Jay Griffiths, categorises this arrow of time as patriarchal time. But my memories don’t exist in linear time at all. There only existence is now. Rather than describe it as the arrow of time, it seems more like a pebble dropped into a still lake. The ripples spread out in all directions, and, when they reach the far bank, they no longer look the same.
Personal time is not a line. It is a field, a matrix, and all time – past, present, and future – are contained in the now. The memories don’t actually exist anywhere except in your brain, now, at the moment of remembering them. Your future doesn’t exist anywhere except in your brain at the moment of imagining it.
Kairological time is the time of meditation and prayer, the time of creation, the time of the joke and the time of tears, the time of the child absorbed in play.
Maybe – and this is really pushing the boat out – it is the Time of death.