Messing with Time
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In 1959, back home from a tour of Europe and Asia, Dave Brubeck and his band recorded the album “Time Out.” It messed with time. It threw out the convention of recording music in either 4/4 time or ¾ time, in which respectively there were four and three beats to each measure.
While in Turkey, Dave heard street musicians playing traditional folk music in an odd 9/8 time signature. He was enchanted by it and returned home to record “Time Out” – and entire album in which time was messed with, at least time as understood by western ears listening to popular music.
One of the great serendipities of that effort is a drum solo on the piece entitled “Take Five.” The song, composed by their sax player Paul Desmond, was written in order to feature the brilliance of the band’s drummer Joe Morello. The entire song is a masterpiece. Written in 5/4 time, it became quite a sensation, rising to number two on the Billboard charts. And sure enough, Joe’s solo is a piece of art worth checking out on their YouTube video.
I write about that song here only to reflect for a moment on what disrupting expectations can do to enhance our worldview and deepen our lived experiences.
There is nothing wrong with familiarity of form. Our lives can be made safe and comfortable when certain things come at us in ways we can expect, appreciate, and anticipate. But art, good art, often seeks to question the familiar – either as a statement about how it has lost its value and impact or as a way of saying it is time to open new horizons and explore new possibilities.
We can reach a level of arrogance where what is familiar to us casts doubt and derision on cultures and peoples who have adopted different forms and patterns. It is one thing to recognize differences in a way that leads to appreciation, and quite another to recognize it and call it an aberration, an evil, or a disgrace. Colonialism kind of embedded that way of thinking into our American patterns and lifestyles.
Which is why I not only love when artists like Dave Brubeck intentionally disrupt us with new beauty that expands our thinking and dissolves our arrogance, I actually seek out art with that intent.
There is an impulse in our culture that wants to censor the avante garde, silence those exploring the limits of our current horizons, or deride art that breaches conventional boundaries.
Americans have begun burning books.
We are passing laws that criminalize race consciousness and forbid opening up the deleted histories that tell us about how white power came to be.
We are censoring and silencing the voices of artists called to speak new truths.
As a still-listening audience to a still-speaking God, we should resist this with every fiber of our being.
Let the artists among us mess with our understandings of time, of place, of power, of self, of consciousness. Put it all on the table and show us new light and new life. Let there be new pathways to truth, exploring new avenues to awakenings within us that speak differently about the sacred and the profane and how we value them all on this, our journey Into the Mystic.