I’m hopelessly addicted to music—going to concerts, listening to recordings, attempting to create my own, and writing or at least talking about it pretty much most other times. And yet every now and then it occurs to me that music is a huge time drain.
Think about it: the typical work day is eight hours, and we’re supposed to sleep for eight hours; that means each day’s free time is essentially only eight hours long. And once you subtract other basic daily activities—such as meals, bathing, dressing, etc.—you’re realistically left with only about six. Concerts average two hours (one third of one’s free time on any given day), which doesn’t include the time it takes to get there and back. Full-length recorded media tend to be only between 45 minutes (typical LP length) and 70 (the average CD length), which means they take up somewhere between a 7th and a 10th of one’s free time. There are weeks that I attend five concerts and I typically listen to at least three recordings a day. Of course, the new listening paradigms that the internet has brought us chunk information quite differently, creating listening experiences that are less pre-determined by the medium itself than listener-determined, but I would contend (even though I’m well aware many will disagree with me on this) that a high amount of listener determination makes it more difficult for that listener to be immersed in music to the extent that one could be immersed in a book or a film, or even a visual art exhibition.
But in a gallery or a museum, ideally no one is controlling your time other than you. There’s no hard and fast rule about how long it should take you to wander through a space and process what you are looking at, though I would argue that really looking at something requires a serious time commitment. Books are a strange hybrid. The pace at which someone can read is totally time-dependent. (I’m a relatively slow reader; it usually takes me an hour to read 30 pages, but I can comfortably skim through 50 in an hour if I’m forced to.) However, the time one puts into reading is totally determined by the reader. Unless you have to read a book for a class by a certain date (which brings back many bad memories of cramming), no one but you determines when you finish a book.
There’s no such thing as speed-listening for music and a musical experience unfolds in a temporal sequence which listeners must submit to. That makes listening to music a difficult activity when there’s so little spare time on any given day. This is a good argument for listening to music while engaged in other activities—something you really can’t do with reading a book, for the most part, or looking at art—although I find when I’m not completely focused on something I’m not really paying attention to it.
Perhaps everyone should be writing shorter pieces of music, there’s much to be said for being able to get one’s thoughts across in a manageable length of time and frankly, these days the shorter the better. And there’s been a wellspring of 60-second and less music in every conceivable genre and medium. But it also seems that something is lost in such endeavors, perhaps what William Osborne has poignantly described as what is “inherently ‘sacred’ about listening” in response to Anne Kilstofte’s most recent post on this site.
Let’s not forget that music is not the only medium which requires a temporal obligation; films typically take more time than most pieces of music and are even less effective as an ambient medium. But maybe that’s why I all too rarely have a chance to see a movie.