Listening to “Building the Barn” (from the movie Witness), doing the little dance I always do—an erratic, every-move-is-perfect jig—I ponder the piece’s awkward 5/4 time signature that just can’t be squared up like more traditional time signatures.
Nonstandard time is challenging to learn and to play. The broken flow makes it nearly impossible to instinctively move your fingers on your instrument, or vocalize if singing. It takes tremendous concentration, at first.
In Western society, the pieces musicians typically learn first are in easy-to-follow 4/4 or 3/4 time and their derivatives. They are rhythmically predictable. There’s a downbeat, then off beats, then the next downbeat. And repeat.
The tempo may slow down or speed up per the composer’s notations, but there is always the anchor of the downbeat.
Steady as sunrise. Oh, sure, the melody does its thing, but TIME—time does not liquify.
When you’re playing a nonstandard time signature, your best friend is the conductor. And the conductor had better be up to snuff. Because every musician is depending on you to keep the non-time. The conductor is the keeper of sanity. Reassurance. Stability.
The lodestar of the musical heavens.
When 5D comes our way, I imagine it might feel a lot like a nonstandard time signature. The structure and composition of reality may alter into excruciating unfamiliarity.
Whom will we follow? Whom will we recognize as a conductor?
Regardless of the music’s randomness, the unevenly distributed beats like a balance scale with more weight on one side than the other, we have to remember: we can still dance to nonstandard time. Not only that, it seems likely that, in this new realm, we are all destined to be the conductors.
We’re building. The barn, the silo, the windmill, the endless pasture fences. The glue holding the joists in place is the amalgam of trust bolstered by community.
Because the whole point of building the barn is, you never do it alone.