Chrono-Cathexis: also, ‘Sequence-Obsession’, or ‘Time-Fixation’.
Chrono-Cathexis is a late music form and listening condition that results from synthetic obsessions with sequential processes and their illusions. Chrono-cathexis is likened to the process of crystallization, or ossification, though on a much smaller, condensed, and man-made scale.
Chrono-cathexis often works with time via structures that are impressionistic models for organization. For instance, directional phrases may imply the shapes of polyhedra or other impressionistic shapes, manifesting the illusion of complete objects where there are none. Fixation on the shapes (cathexes) results from sequencing. Even pitch and more recently timbre are incorporated into the music organization as a function of time, and not an autonomous thing. (e.g. ‘Hertz’: cycles per second in the former, frequency modulation in the latter, etc.)
Chrono-Cathexis emerges out of the Western music canon, and the ‘culture of space and time’ that came of age in the Enlightenment. By the period of the industrial revolution, time had come to structure and determine all of society, with music being a primary mode of exploring broader experiences. The early 20th century saw composers sequencing permutations of all sound material, and so it was possible for e.g.
Stockhausen to write an explicit study of time in music (How Time Passes). However, with the spatial turn in critical music towards sound art (e.g. multi-channel spatialization, sound installation etc.), time appears to have passed, if time is also understood as a plaything of modernization the usage of which has eclipsed. The use of time as an organizational tool has been truncated, while inevitably being the continuing raison d’etre for music in the modern world. What results is the longing for time-structures, and overdetermined or hyper-organized arrangements. Time appears as a contradiction: to have already passed, creating static objects, as well as being an open-ended dynamic process. The Chrono-Cathexis condition then also suffers from a repetition or iteration impulse: the tendency towards loops and cycle systems has its origins in the constant returning to a historical moment in which time is paramount. Chrono-Cathexis aestheticizes its complexes with history by making time itself the subject of music.
This is the result of a synthetic relearning of temporal organization after the spatial turn. Inevitably primitive repetitions co-exist with expectations for more complex arrangements. Architectonic impressions are placeholders for a more complete resynthesis of time. On the other hand, while there has been a lapse in the subjective interest of time as a compositional tool, the materials for organizing time have developed beyond comprehension. This means that much music is easily able to construct novel time formations that are beyond comprehension. As a result these works are highly abstract, and inevitably compelling.