Linear Time

Wikis > Glossary > Linear Time

As described in Kramer (1988), linear time is the experience of time that results when one perceives a succession of events as being causally linked to one another; that is, that ongoing events are consequences of past events, and are leading to particular future events. It is one of the many types of time Kramer describes (see Musical Time). In the words of Robert Ornstein (quoted in the Kramer),

“In the linear mode, time is directional, a duration carrying us from the past into the future; the present is always fleeting away behind us…In the nonlinear mode, however, the present exists, and is all that exists.”

In this way, linear time places more emphasis on the past and the future of the present moment, while nonlinear time focuses on the present.

According to Kramer, both linear and nonlinear time are present in the experience of music. For instance, tonal/chordal progressions give a sense of linear time, while music’s “timeless existence apart from any performance” and its “permanence” are some of its nonlinear aspects.

Leah Latterner