Time isn’t what we think it is…

Dom Coyote is an award-winning composer, performer and writer of songs who has created work with the RSC, National Theatre and Battersea Arts Centre. He is also a regular collaborator with Kneehigh Theatre. Dom brings his new show We Can Time Travel – think Stranger Things meets Kate Bush, Kate Tempest and Sigur Ros – to The Salberg on 4 to 6 October. Here he writes about time.

It’s completely impossible to actually live in the present. For example, now that you’ve just read that, it is in the past. In fact, the words you are reading right now are also in the past. Scientists believe it takes 13 milliseconds for the information you receive from your senses to reach your brain. So what we think of as the absolute present, even that is in the past.  That suggests there’s no such thing as the present, only the distant past, recent past, and immediate past. And then of course there is the future – our hopes, our dreams, our fears and educated guesses of what’s to come next… and next… and next… Yep, you’re right, I’m thinking way too much.

WE CAN TIME TRAVEL-30I can’t help it. I’m a musician. I work with the substance of time. It sounds overblown and a bit wizardy, but it’s true! We musicians work with time all of the time. We rehearse to be in time with each other, we learn to be out of time and play loosely with each other, we speed up and slow down time through tempo. We loop time in recordings and loop pedals and drum machines, losing years of our lives to bleeps and tones and notes and rhythms. We interrogate time constantly. We can time travel. But it’s not just us. Every single one of us can and does travel through time every single day. Here’s how…

Firstly, through our memories. We are such emotional beings, each memory has an emotional sub-current. Some of those memories make us who we are, for better or worse, and some of them won’t leave us alone, they come up to the surface when we least expect them to. The past has an active effect on our present. And some things trigger those memories immediately… like songs.

Songs are time machines. They take us back to deeply personal moments in our lives. A song can rewind a broken relationship back to the start, bring the dead back to life, remind us of the first songs our mothers sang to us. They rewind the clock and transport us through time. This is categorically not me waffling! The musical time machine is a well-used machine for music therapists dealing with trauma and dementia, a patients’ favourite song can unlock memories and bring them into the present.

“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” ― Keith Richards

Now onto the future… Expectation, hope, fear, ambition and promise. These are all ways of us imagining what our futures will become. We are not just emotional beings, we are imaginative ones. Imagination is another kind of time machine. A multi-dimensional one at that. We use it to perceive multiple futures, multiple currents in the river of time. Here’s an example… ‘I just worked out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m going to be a doctor, a rock star, a scientist, a pirate, a pilates teacher, the world cheese-rolling champion.’ Children are taught to imagine what they will become.

Here’s another example… ‘I want to win big. I wish I was rich. I deserve to be loved… For richer, for poorer, for better for worse, amen.’ We just can’t help ourselves can we? We are all fortune tellers, imagining the fate of our lives.

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.” George Harrison

Time isn’t what we think it is anyhow. Let’s not go too far down the rabbit hole, but… time is most likely a social construct combined with a chemical in our brains that makes us perceive time as a straight line when in fact all moments are happening simultaneously and déja vu is really just a future memory, like prophetic dreams where you see yourself as an old man quietly trumping in your chair as a form of resistance against your hospice overlords arghhh!

Ahem. So the question is, how do we live in the present? Well it’s impossible. But we can at least try. If we get too lost in our pasts, or too twisted by our futures, we stop seeing what’s happening around us. We become passive observers, watching as our lives become moments in history. Musicians have an ability to take a look at time and shape it. And music is one of humanity’s time machines. So next time you find yourself consumed by heartache or embittered by what might be coming, take a moment, take a breath and play your favourite song, really, really loudly. Remember. We are here. Right now. Every single moment is happening right now.

We Can Time Travel runs in The Salberg from 4 to 6 October. For more information or tickets visit www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk or call 01722 320333.

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