Electronic Music creates unique experiences of time and space perception.
Music makes us feel in ways that nothing else can. It can transmit an infinite number of emotions, binding us together, and transporting us to other worlds. Understanding the scientific reasons behind music’s power isn’t necessary, however I think it’s definitely worth exploring, if merely for the intrigue of going beyond the surface and into the depths of what makes music, and in particular electronic music, affect our human system. One of the ways it does is through our perception of time and space, changing the way we interact with the world around us when we get lost deep in the sound. I dove into this topic and discovered many levels of how we as humans become altered by electronic music.
Through both experimental evidence and subjective reports, it has been shown that music strongly influences our experiences of time and space. The excellent article by Thomas Schafer, Jorg Fachner, and Mario Smukalla “Changes in the representation of space and time while listening to music” goes into great depth on the different ways that we are influenced, and the why behind it. It shows that our experience in relation to music can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors such as familiarity, volume, tempo, and style, which causes time to slow down or speed up, or both. These experiments and observations provide explanations as to why electronic music in particular changes the time and space around us when we are listening or dancing to it.
Although there are a variety of effects people report from listening to music, the most widely reported experiences are feelings of timelessness and time dilation.
In the article, the authors lay out several models explaining the science behind why these phenomenons occur.
– Music distracts cognitive processing away from time processing, which leads to a decrease in the estimation of elapsed time in retrospect and to the feeling that “time flies”.
– Tempo, loudness, complexity, and other factors effect the influence of music on the estimation of time intervals.
– The more information we take in, the more “traces” remain in our memory
– Music—as compared to silence—would require more processing and produce more traces in memory.
– State-dependent cognition and state-dependent recall of time passages are more profound when they are connected to strong emotional and personally meaningful experiences.
– Some scholars suggest that time “perception” is a mental construction that is continuously updated during “ordinary” mental functioning, using single events as temporal markers (number of breaths, lines of a paper read)
– Under the influence of music, this construction may be changed drastically as there are no more single events in the consciousness, but only the music that expands to a boundless moment.
– We have an experience of the flow of time only because we have conscious access to our memory.
– Hence, the “flow of time” can change because the succession of experienced moments of “nowness” occurs against the background of memory.
– Music may influence both the length of the units (how many notes or musical elements are bound together) and the existence and duration of gaps between them.
– Music that is more captivating will cause the listener to become addicted to the flux of pure perception, giving rise to only a few moments in which the ego can make a conscious judgment of elapsed time.
– Whether the passage of time while listening to music is experienced as being more quickly or more slowly depends on the emotional involvement of the listener and on the effects the music causes in that listener.
Captivating music will cause the listener to become addicted to the flux of pure perception.
Absorption & ASC (Altered States of Consciouness)
– Research on ASCs has shown that music is one of their most important triggers. A constant musical rhythm together with monotonous and repetitive elements seems to lead the listener to states of absorption, trance, or ecstasy, where the focus of attention turns to an inner view.
– The representation of objects and events in the outside world diminishes somewhat and attention is focused instead on memories and emotions elicited by the music. Time just ceases to be important and disappears when attention is captivated by memories and emotions.
– When reviewing the psychobiology of ASCs, researchers have argued that drumming and dancing have been used since time immemorial to induce trance, which includes a distortion of time representation. The distortion seems to depend on the rhythm as an external timekeeper inducing entrainment of internal biological processes.
– Descriptions of music-induced ASCs—namely, “ecstasy” and “trance”—are connected to the amount of body movement within contexts aiming to induce an ASC. Although trance is connected to dance, ecstasy describes an inwardly turned ASC accompanied by music.
– Dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine have been found to be involved in the processing of temporal information.
– Menon and Levitin found that, starting from the auditory center, the cascade of activation initializes changes in parts of the frontal cortex and from there proceeds to the mesolimbic reward centers, finally reaching the nucleus accumbens, releasing waves of dopamine.
– As expected, the cerebellum and the basal ganglia—dopaminergic regions of the brain involved in motor and timing processes and the analysis of rhythm and meter in music—became active as well.
The effect of music on Space has not been studied to the extent as its effect on time, with most information coming from anecdotal evidence. “Space” is referring to our perception of the space around us, such as distance, size, shape, and movement of objects and other persons.
The study by Herbert, R. (2011). “Everyday Music Listening: Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing” found that the more the person is captivated or absorbed by the music the more experience is characterized by “narrowed awareness, inwardly focused attention, and a lessened orientation to reality”.
When investigating the relationship of specific musical and motional parameters, researchers Eitan and Granot found that aspects of timing were related to speed, aspects of pitch contour were related to vertical and horizontal movements (pitch fall moves downward and to the left) and to distance (pitch fall is associated with decreasing distance), and aspects of loudness were related to distance and energy.
In general, rhythm appears to be the predominant musical feature inducing ASCs. Research has suggested that “techno dancers” lose their ordinary sense of space when they experience states of vertigo owing to the music’s characteristics. It’s also suggested that a need for temporal decomposition of self-awareness can be managed through music and dance. Researcher Hill described new-age and ambient music as “celestial or cosmic music [that] removes listeners from their ordinary acoustical surroundings by creating stereo sound images of vast, apparently dimensionless spatial environments, in a word—spacey.”
In summary, it has been found that music can distort the ordinary perception of space, cause the experience of space ceasing to exist, be used as a source of information about the movement of objects through space, and trigger spatial mental images.
Rhythm appears to be the predominant musical feature inducing altered states of consciousness.
It has been shown through experiments and testimonies that music truly alters one’s relationship with space and time. The unique qualities inherent in electronic music create even more dramatic effects on our perceptions, and often come with intense experiences of altered states of consciousness.
In my experience, once certain people hear this music, they are forever changed – electronic music becomes a part of who you are, bringing feelings of home, connection, and expansion that cannot be found anywhere else. Maybe the music’s ability to direct our experiences of space & time effects those of us in the same way, influencing the way we interact with the rest of the world as we travel at the same speeds and share the same perspectives through sound. The “journey” that is often considered one of the most important parts of a DJ set can actually take us all on a trip together as we experience the same altered time and space while the music is playing… and especially if we keep dancing.