24th January 2003 at 00:00
The ordering of time and the ordering of music are almost inseparable.

Clocks, after all, are really instruments playing lengthy sets of ostinatos, and Gyorgy Ligeti's (in)famous Po me Symphonique for an orchestra of 100 metronomes makes spirited use of the way they combine and run down in dizzyingly complex inter-relationships.

Try listening to Harrison Birtwistle's Harrison's Clocks. Inspired by Dava Sobel's best-seller Longitude, each of the five sections in this half-hour piano piece, superbly recorded by Joanna Macgregor, is a "portrait" of a different chronometer, with its own internal mechanism and its own shifting patterns of ticks and tocks. It's almost impossible to play but marvellous to hear. And if you want a brief contrasting piece about the disordering of time, listen to Penny Lane by The Beatles. The apparently simple 8-bar opening tune is unusually divided into a pattern of 4+3+1, and then the dominant 7th on the word "meanwhile" precipitately wrenches the song's harmony, confusing simultaneously our sense of syntax and chronology.

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