Axis of time

In last night’s edition of Horizon, entitled How Your Memory Works, neuroscientist Dr. Donna Addis of Harvard University showed MRI scans highlighting similarities in brain activity when volunteers were either reflecting upon the past or imagining the future. It would appear that these two areas are sufficiently related to provide an axis of time along which we enjoy freedom of movement. As if to corroborate the findings, one of programme’s other subjects, suffering from considerable memory impairment, turned out to have little vision of the future.

Of all the time arts (music, performance poetry, dance, mime, film, theatre, animation) instrumental music is perhaps the one which relies most heavily upon this axis, as narrative thrust cannot be helped along by language, image, location etc. I should imagine, awareness of the axis is heightened when one progresses from appreciation to performance and, perhaps, eventually to musical arrangement & composition. Midway through a crescendo, for example, a performer ought to have some idea of the beginning and end volumes. The feeling of inevitability wrought by composers into the arrival of the big tune is often organically achieved by seeds sown earlier in the work and (unconsciously) noted by the listener. Beethoven and Sibelius are both famed for their rigorous attention to this aspect of form.

Does the study of music simply employ this axis or is it able to enhance it in any way? If indeed possible, is enhancement necessarily a good thing? Would it be possible to prove music’s role in this area? Is there any current research into this area?