Author: Campbell, Bruce

Time and Relativity

At a festival a few years ago, I was watching and listening to an up-and-coming band. They had a lot of things on the ball – they were comfortable onstage, their song selection was interesting, and they played and sang in tune. But something was missing. I think I even muttered something aloud the effect of “what’s not quite dialed in here?”, because a guy next to me said “Their tempo’s a little ragged.”

Sure enough, he was right. It wasn’t obvious, but once you listened a little closer, they did what almost everyone does, sometimes: They sped up and slowed down just a bit – and that kept them from having a truly tight, precise sound.

Remember when you took music lessons as a kid and the teacher made you play to a metronome? It drove me crazy. Like a friend of mine once said “I don’t use metronomes, because I’ve never had one that didn’t speed up or slow down on me.” And that’s exactly what the metronome seemed to do!

Time and pace, for most of us, is inextricably linked to the moment, and the emotion of the moment. In music, however, we’re supposed to convey a mood change without a change in tempo, most of the time. And everybody in the ensemble is supposed to be on an identical meter. All of the best bands I’ve been in had a least one member, and usually more than one, for whom a steady tempo is a natural gift. As a bass player, I am ashamed I’m never that one guy. But I detect who it is quickly, and latch onto them.

Time is a slippery thing. Einstein, when asked to explain his Theory of Relativity, said “Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity!”

Boy, he was right. Almost every day, things come at me from all angles at a rapid pace, and I think I might just go out of my mind. But get me in a hot jam with some great pickers, and once I get on that train, things slow down and become focused. The view from outside the train is everything moving fast, but the view from the inside is simultaneously serene and exciting.

Honestly, life throws things at me at a constantly bewildering level – if I couldn’t retreat into music, I’d be in a rubber room.
Posted:  4/17/2013

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