A project from the University of Murcia compares the verbal and gestural expression of time in everyday language with that of musical compositions
Experts say that time is a typical case of a complex concept that needs to be constructed or imagined through more ‘tangible’ experiences. To conceive the duration, the past-present-future, the time before or after the moment in which it is spoken, or any other temporal meaning, it is necessary to use more sensorially direct experiences, such as the positions of objects (‘the year 2000 is already far away ‘) or movement (‘ exam day is coming ‘). Based on these and other spatial conceptions of time, cultures construct complex organizations, often supported by artifacts and measurement systems, such as calendars, clocks, timelines, and other graphs, and many other representations.
Cognitive scientists have become increasingly interested in temporal representations as a window towards the unique capacity for creativity that human beings have, especially for creativity that allows them to merge mental elements that are not connected in our experience into a single representation. everyday, like a line, which is a static object; the movement of objects, which typically takes place in different and non-aligned directions; and the complex concepts of time, past and future. Researcher Cristóbal Pagán Cánovas, from the Department of English Philology at the University of Murcia, assures that «seeing the time on a clock or opening a history book and interpreting the time line of a chronogram seems to us the simplest today, but We have only arrived at such representations after millennia of cultural effort, and we still do not know the details of how we are able to integrate such different elements to form something new.
And he adds: “Perhaps even more important, we need to understand much better how, once invented, these representations are transmitted and manipulated with great fluidity across cultures and generations.” For this, in the project ‘CREATIME: Time in the Creative Mind’ he compares the verbal and gestural expression of time in everyday language with the most creative and specific developments of ideas of temporality carried out by poets, composers, and visual artists. or filmmakers.
The ideas of time of the apparently more complex musical creations are based on the cognitive operations of integration of disparate elements that define us as a species
«In the case of the musical composition project, we have analyzed sketches and theoretical proposals of contemporary composers that at first glance seem eccentric, and we have been able to show how the same basic cognitive operations that underlie the language or gestures that we use to express work in them temporary meanings in everyday life, “he says.
“Understanding in detail how these processes of the imagination work and having an adequate theory to interpret them is crucial, not only to understand how we conceive time and other complex ideas, but to be able to define and study our ability to transcend the here and now through integration of disparate thoughts. This imagination and creativity are what make us human. They are behind all the unique behaviors of our species, from the daily improvisation that allows oral communication to the detailed planning of a musical composition or a literary text.
In the work, developed within the framework of the ‘Daedalus Lab: Murcia Center for Cognition, Communication, and Creativity’, the UMU researcher Javier Valenzuela also participates and, specifically, in the line referred to music they collaborate with the musicologist José Luis Besada, from the Complutense University of Madrid, and director of the RNE Clásica ‘Música Viva’ program.
In this part, they study how contemporary music composers (Xenakis, Grisey, Saariaho, among others) construct complex temporal ideas to apply to their musical compositions. The study is carried out mainly through the sketches and theoretical writings that these composers have left, combining it with the musical analysis of the corresponding works and with cognitive science theories about creativity and the construction of meaning.
In summary, it is about comparing the temporal expression in various manifestations of everyday language and the arts, to develop a theoretical framework on the cognitive bases of human creativity.
As a result of the work carried out, the team has published numerous studies, both qualitative (in-depth analysis of a case or a few cases) and quantitative (analysis of large data from linguistic or gestural corpus). “In the next two years we hope to considerably increase the number of studies in the different fields (language, gesture, music, literature, etc.) as well as to publish theoretical studies with conclusions that cover the different types of data studied,” says Cristóbal Pagán.
In the case of studies on composers, they have concluded that the ideas of time of the apparently more complex musical creations are based on the cognitive operations of integration of disparate elements that define us as a species. According to Pagán, “the way in which these ideas are manipulated and represented through visualizations, such as graphics and sketches, has many parallels with the everyday creativity that we observe in everyday verbal expressions. To explain these phenomena we need a dynamic model of the human imagination, which defines well the capacities that allow us to opportunistically take advantage of the sensory properties of objects, such as a wheel or the trace of a line, to create from something as everyday as the watch up to something as unusual as the compositional sieve technique used by Iannis Xenakis, from the University of Lorraine in Metz, in several of his compositions.
The CREATIME project has been funded by two knowledge generation projects from the Ministry of Science and Universities, as well as a postdoctoral fellowship and a predoctoral fellowship from the Seneca Foundation of the Region of Murcia. In addition, the articles on composers have received funding through a Ramón y Cajal Grant (Cristóbal Pagán) and an Aid for the Attraction of Talent from the Community of Madrid (José Luis Besada).
Likewise, the group from the University of Murcia collaborates with numerous researchers from Europe and America through the Red Hen Lab, a consortium that develops large digital resources for the study of human communication. The closest collaboration is with Case Western Reserve University, University of California Los Angeles and University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA, and FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg and EKU Tübingen in Germany
In the studies of temporal expression in contemporary composers, in addition to those already mentioned, Anne-Sylvie Barthel-Calvet, from the University of Strasbourg, has also participated.