July 12, 2024


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Vijay Iyer’s music can be jubilant and dramatic, but Iyer is not: New video 2018

26.10. – Happy Birthday !!! He tends to stand slightly farther from someone he is speaking with than people usually do. Seated, he sometimes leans back from an engagement, as if the extra room allowed him more time to reach a judgment.

His gaze is examining, and he occasionally looks at people askance, which makes him appear skeptical. In conversation, he seems cautious but precise and quietly determined. He stands with his feet spread and his knees locked, like someone in the military. He has a round, handsome face and a sharp nose. His expression is not fixed, but it doesn’t vary a lot. People usually take him for an accountant, he says.

Lately, Iyer, who is forty-four and a Harvard professor, has been the most lauded piano player in jazz. Reviewing Iyer’s record “Break Stuff,” his twentieth, released last February, the critic Steve Greenlee wrote, “He may be the most celebrated musician in jazz.” Iyer appreciates the sentiment, but it makes him uncomfortable, too. “I have never thought of myself as a great pianist,” he told me. “I thought of putting myself in the service of some larger trajectory. For me, every choice is to take us closer to the next choice. I never had formal training and no one ever told me not to do anything on the piano, so I always thought of my progress as a series of accidents.” The observation that one hears often about Iyer, and that is not usually made about a musician whose career is twenty years old, is that he hasn’t yet achieved his potential. A strain of traditional authority appears to have withheld its approval, however. He considers it significant that he has never been invited to play at the Village Vanguard, for example. The history of jazz has white musicians and black musicians, but it doesn’t have brown ones, he said. Iyer is Indian-American. His surname is Raghunathan; he changed it to Iyer after college, at Yale, where he majored in mathematics and physics.

Iyer is currently the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s artist-in-residence, and in March he will perform during the course of eighteen days at the opening of the Met Breuer, the former home of the Whitney Museum. Iyer’s residency was Limor Tomer’s idea. Tomer oversees Live Arts at the Met, and she wanted to see “what a deep engagement with the Met’s galleries would look like to someone like Vijay.” For more than a year, Iyer and Tomer have been walking around the museum discussing what he might do. As one of his first events, on an evening last October, he played the pipe organ in the gallery where weapons and armor are displayed. The organ occupies a balcony at one end of the gallery. Iyer arrived a little before six. He hadn’t played a pipe organ before. Someone asked what the program would consist of, and he said, a little uncertainly, “All the hits.”

Iyer pressed several keys. “I’m an expert, because I watched the YouTube video on how to play the pipe organ,” he said. For a few minutes, he held down keys and pulled out stops and pressed a few pedals with his feet; then he stood. “It’s a little like sailing a yacht all by yourself, out there on the ocean, with all there is to take care of,” he said.

Tomer sat on a folding stool to one side of the organ, which was built by Thomas Appleton, a Boston craftsman, in 1830. “It’s the ultimate goyische instrument,” she said. “I love that he’s subverting it. It’s a reverse-colonial moment.”

Iyer was to play two programs, each twenty minutes long, and at six o’clock he placed his phone above the keyboard to keep track of the time. He played a single note, then another, then three together and held them. People began gathering on the floor among the armor and on a balcony at the far end of the gallery. The single-note figures lengthened into phrases and lines and began to swirl and spill over one another and form clusters that resolved periodically but did not come to rest. Iyer played mostly with his eyes closed, opening them only to find a stop.

He ended by holding down several keys, then he walked to the balustrade and waved. “I kept trying to play harder, as if that would make a difference,” he told me. “It’s like trying to turn on a light switch harder, but I can’t get that out of my arms.” For the second piece, he played three works of his own, which seemed more orderly. At the balustrade, he made a small bow.

Two of the first people to approach him were Andrea Morgan and Maria Castillo, whom he had gone to college with. “You looked very priestly when you bowed,” Castillo said. The three left the museum together to have a drink.

I asked if they had imagined at Yale that Iyer would become the musician that he has. “The idea of a professional jazz career then sounded fictional—even today,” Morgan said.

“It’s a bad idea,” Iyer said.

“I would never recommend it to any young person. We were very practical people.”

“A terrible idea,” Iyer said.

“You always had other stuff you were doing.” This was said in a consoling tone.

Iyer followed his sister, Pratima, to Yale—she is a scientist in Georgia who works in public health. Their parents’ marriage was arranged in India. In the mid-nineteen-sixties, Iyer’s father, Raghu, came to the University of Florida to obtain a doctorate in pharmacology. After a year, his wife, Sita, joined him. “Basically, the door was open to certain kinds of non-Western immigrants, ones with technical training—scientific, or medical,” Iyer said. “Hence all those stereotypes about Asians being doctors and engineers. They were curated by policy.”

Raghu got a job in Albany, New York, where Iyer was born, and then another, when Iyer was two, in Rochester. Iyer’s parents started him on the violin the next year. In high school, he was a member of a regional youth symphony that toured once a year. Pratima took piano lessons, and from as early as Iyer can recall he also “started banging on the piano.” As a teen-ager, he played keyboards in a band covering songs by the Police and Prince. At the end of tenth grade, he auditioned for the school’s jazz ensemble. There was already a piano player, so at first Iyer was assigned the vibraphone. The band director liked his playing but told him that he needed a deeper understanding of the music’s vocabulary. In the library, Iyer found records by Thelonious Monk, and was affected by his “staggering empathy, those pointed voids that he would finish with such a different sense of completeness.”

When Iyer began looking for colleges, he didn’t think he was fitted to attend a conservatory. “I was still figuring things out,” he told me. “I didn’t know that I would, or even could, be a musician.” He had skipped seventh grade, so he was sixteen when he arrived at Yale. He auditioned for the college symphony and didn’t get in, and he began to take the violin less seriously. There was a piano in the dining hall, and after dinner he would play it. In his second year, he was accompanied by Jeff Brock, a bass player who is now the chair of the mathematics department at Brown. “People were looking a bit askance—who are these guys playing dinner jazz?—but then we were sort of embraced,” Brock says. Iyer also began writing music, mainly in imitation of Monk and Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s collaborator, whom he studied in a workshop taught by the musician Willie Ruff. Ruff, who had gone to Yale and was known for playing bass with Dwike Mitchell in the Mitchell-Ruff duo, remembers Iyer as “quiet and industrious.”

There is permanent music and temporary music. Temporary music remains fixed in its period. Permanent music reflects its period but provokes responses deeper than nostalgia. It is no observation of my own that much of America’s permanent music has been made by African-Americans playing jazz, although “jazz” is a term that many musicians, including Iyer, tend to shun, partly in the belief that it has a commercial taint, as if the music were merely a commodity, and partly in the belief that it has a dismissive taint, as if it stood for music made by untrained musicians who groped their way toward expression. Iyer doesn’t care to have his music labelled at all, but he sometimes calls it “creative music.” Improvisation, whether artistic, social, or cultural, as in the manner of a diaspora, involves “the ability to perceive, think, decide, and act in real time,” he says. For more than ten years, Iyer has also written chamber music, usually for commissions, a process that he describes as “slowed-down improvisation.”

Iyer’s music sounds modern, but he feels that he is embedded in the traditions of improvised music. As a piano player, he regards his lineage as descending through “James P. Johnson, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Alice Coltrane,” he told me. The drummer Tyshawn Sorey, with whom Iyer has often worked, sees the music they have made together as both historical and contemporary. “It’s not really about the concept of trying to do anything new,” he said. “I think it comes more from the idea of history. We’re dealing with things in our time. What we’re exploring is stuff people have been dealing with for centuries: the mystical and transcendent powers of music.”

Iyer’s main engagement is with the Vijay Iyer Trio, whose other members are Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore. Crump plays bass, and Gilmore plays drums. Iyer is interested in “what happens from the shoulders down” among listeners, and he cares more for a musician’s ability to listen intently and for his or her ideas than for what he sometimes calls “the athletic rigor of playing.” Jeff Brock says that Iyer looks less for virtuosos than for musicians whose playing is “intensely personal. He gravitates to musicians who have a certain kind of cry, a howl. He’s trying to rend the fabric of whatever restraints are being placed upon them by the idiom.”

Iyer does not think of Crump and Gilmore as accompanists—the trio has “a non-soloistic way of improvising together,” he said. Onstage, Iyer decides “how to start, how to continue, and how to end, and I’m constantly assessing the shape of the performance—I have a sense of where I’m going and where the other musicians are going to meet me”—but he seeks a group exchange. “Vijay is interested in the collective dynamic,” Crump told me, meaning that he and Gilmore, while carrying out tasks, devise their parts according to what they hear the others playing. Gilmore told me that he approaches the drums from “a harmonic and melodic base.” He likes the examples he finds in Yoruban and Afro-Cuban music, where, he said, “the drums are melodic, they’re talking, it’s linguistic.” In other trios, the rhythm section might receive a map, in the form of chord changes, that lays out a route to a destination. With Iyer, the musicians might receive a map, but the route is a matter for discussion. “When people ask me what the music sounds like, I just say, ‘I play free,’ ” Gilmore says.

One morning, I had breakfast with Iyer at the Astor Row Café, in Harlem, near where he lives with his wife, Christina Leslie, a computational biologist, and their ten-year-old daughter. A song began playing, and he said, “That’s Jimmy Smith on the organ. The drummer is Donald Bailey, whom I played with in Oakland when I was in graduate school.”

In 1992, Iyer went to the University of California at Berkeley for a doctorate in physics. He lived in Oakland, across the street from a club called the Bird Kage, where there were jam sessions on Sundays. The Bird Kage’s piano was in disrepair. Iyer brought his own keyboard, and when the bandleader learned that he lived across the street he started paying Iyer forty dollars to bring the keyboard and play in the house band. “Most of the musicians were middle-aged and older African-Americans who cherished that era of music,” Iyer said. “The horn players would play chorus after chorus, and you’d have to accompany all of them. Some of them were great, but, more to the point, among all of them there was a real love of the music.” Bailey came now and then. He asked Iyer to be in his rehearsal band, an octet that he called Eight Misbehavin’, which met at his house, where “we’d really stretch out,” Iyer said.

Iyer was becoming more interested in music and less interested in physics, and in 1994 he gave up physics altogether. He began studying with a professor named David Wessel, who was also a musician. Wessel, who died in 2014, had a computer-music research facility, the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies. He taught music perception and cognition and computer music. “He was welcoming and generous, and a genius who created opportunities for people to flourish, and he took an immediate interest in me, because I was a bit weird,” Iyer said. With the oversight of a committee that Wessel assembled, Iyer began a Ph.D. based on “the study of how music works, not just how in the abstract but in our bodies. How we do it. How we hear it.” The study, then nascent, is known as embodied cognition. It proposes that the body is involved in thinking, and that the perception of rhythm is itself a form of intelligence.

In entering African-American music “and trying to figure out what my position is and striving for some place within it,” Iyer said, his status “has frequently been called into question. Since childhood, he has been aware of his racial identity—of being, as he has said, neither white nor black, and having a different-sounding name. As an Asian-American, he regards himself as existing “on the boundary of what it means to be American,” he said. He sees himself as someone of color but, as the child of parents who came willingly to the country, as being in a different position from people whose ancestors arrived as captives.

“To be a jazz musician is to express some American project, to be part of American history, to take in those rugged ideals to which improvisation is central,” he said. “Critical writing used to attempt to place me by othering me, by putting me outside the history of jazz. Everything I did was seen as different and not as the continuity of a tradition. Critics never describe black music as rigorous or cerebral or mathematical, although Coltrane was interested in mathematics. Since I was Asian, I was seen as having only my intellect to use.”

In San Francisco, Iyer encountered a group called Asian Improv, whose members “were committed to radical African-American traditions, but they were incorporating instruments from Japan and China, and dealing with issues of their own,” he said. “It became apparent to me that the history of this music is a history of communities where music was an uplifting force, and that situating myself in relation to that history was what mattered. It wasn’t about me trying to sound black. It was me figuring out my relationship to those histories.”

In California in 1994, Iyer met Steve Coleman, the bandleader and eventual MacArthur Fellow, at Yoshi’s, a club in Oakland. Coleman is a saxophone player and composer, whose complex, exacting music draws on African traditions and on elements of the African diaspora. Iyer, still a student, was unsure about whether to try and be a musician, Coleman told me. “His parents weren’t really in favor of it—they wanted him to stay in the sciences. He was going through this uncertainty over whether he could do this, and I was: ‘You can do whatever you want.’ He started to gain confidence, and we had confidence in him that he could join in.” Iyer says that Coleman’s view is “pleasantly revisionist.”

Coleman invited Iyer to go to Europe with his band. “At the time, I thought of myself as an amateur, and to be invited was a profound turning point for me,” Iyer said. “In his music, there’s a real gravity and rigor, and rhythm is at the center of everything. These are some of the best musicians in the world, I thought, so I better step up. It’s not a hobby anymore. I was in way over my head, and I felt like I was always messing up—I think I had something like impostor syndrome. But seeing what he worked on, how he worked on it, the scope of his knowledge was a tremendous education for me.”

Iyer received his Ph.D. in 1998. His dissertation’s title is “Microstructures of Feel, Macrostructures of Sound: Embodied Cognition in West African and African-American Musics.” At Harvard, among career scholars, he feels a little self-conscious—“my so-called Ph.D.,” he said. “I think of it as a hustle.” Ingrid Monson, a professor of ethnomusicology at Harvard, said, though, that “Vijay’s dissertation was one of the first to talk about embodied cognition. It foreshadowed the development of a now prominent direction in musical studies, called ‘embodiment studies.’ The field is less interested in scores and musical theory and more in the cognitive and embodied underpinnings of music. Vijay’s work was very important, and is frequently cited.”

After breakfast, Iyer and I stood on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 130th Street, and I said something trivial about how the sheer richness of things in view seemed hospitable to jazz during the period when New York was its main home, and he said that for him it was instead the nervous rhythm of the city that fed the music. Iyer made two records in California, but he said that when he moved to New York, in 1999, his music changed. “There was an intensification, the rhythms of the city and the street and how that influences you, there was a ratcheting up,” he said. Jeff Brock said that when he and Iyer rehearsed “we would play the same piece for an incredibly long time, until it started to feel natural. It was always an extreme experience playing with him, and you were almost exhausted at the end.”

“Historicity,” made in 2009, brought Iyer more notice than was customary for him. The first, title track, which he wrote, begins with an asymmetrical line in the left hand, and a darting, lithe one in the right. The right hand begins finding the spaces between the left hand’s wobbly progress. While some musicians give the sense that they are offering ideas as they arrive, almost fortuitously, Iyer’s ideas seem to come from a wide and deep reserve. He has a gift for narrative, for making a song feel like a procession of suspenseful events. The album’s third song is “Galang,” a rendition of a dance track by Maya Arulpragasam, who performs as M.I.A. Her version is spare, hypnotic, and urban. Iyer’s sounds wildly pagan, as if it took place in a warehouse on the edge of town.

Three things figure prominently in Iyer’s music: the acuity of his attention, the coherent template of his improvisations, and his touch on the piano. Improvised collective music is the sound of negotiation, according to George Lewis. Lewis, a MacArthur Fellow, is a composer, a trombone player, a musicologist and writer, and a professor at Columbia. “In any collective improvisation, you hear people staking out positions,” he told me one day, in his office. “Sometimes they try to take power, sometimes they advocate for their positions—where the music should go. Other people decline; they make collective decisions through sound alone. You don’t have to watch. You can have your eyes closed and hear it. Improvisers listen to the forms, notes, chord structures, and rhythmic cycles that are basically carriers of the fundamental signals. With the great ones, you can dialogue with the music and hear where it’s going—what the person’s definition of the current situation is, and sometimes possible futures. All of this is audible to Vijay.”

Iyer says that while improvising he makes a lot of “micro-decisions,” and that each moment involves “a set of potentialities.” Sometimes he finds solutions within the range of his right hand, discovering melodies that have a folklike character, and sometimes he spreads his hands to the ends of the keyboard, which is an Ellington gesture.

An Iyer improvisation has a shapeliness that involves holding in mind possible serial forms and evoking them. When I said something like this to him, he said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Then, “I honestly don’t know how a lot of what I do happens.” Improvising musicians are often taught to rid their minds of thoughts, which Iyer regards as “an impoverished view of thought.” George Lewis said, “I’m suspicious of people who say they blank their minds to play. With Vijay, I think he’s looking at the situation and making small tests. He’s being careful and deliberative, even in the most ecstatic moments, which I find attractive. The ones who blank their minds, I’m always thinking, How can we get your attention? Someone who can operate like Vijay, on multiple levels of consciousness, that’s what I admire.”

When Iyer was younger, he thought more consciously about rhythm, and he played with a heavier hand. Then he began to consider “the expressive variation of sound in time, the flow of sensation,” he said one evening at dinner. Something Crump thought when he first played with Iyer was that Iyer appeared to “have developed his own language with the piano. The overtones and harmonies, the polarities in the sound, the physicality of the instrument, the unparalleled touch—harnessing the beast that is, and can be, a grand piano.”

Jeff Brock told me, “The piano is this almost baroque machine, with mechanical linkages and hammers. It has to be hit strong.” Iyer’s tone, Crump said, is “extremely powerful, but it’s also sensitive and refined. It’s not just about getting quieter. It’s maintaining a control. There’s a ceiling to how loud you can get, but if you engage instead at the lower dynamic range you find it’s like the ocean, almost infinite.”

Iyer’s tone has a warmth and a clarity, like that of a singer who enunciates carefully. The notes go by so quickly that it is difficult to distinguish all the technical means at work, but part of the richness comes from the way he uses the pedals. “People treat the pedals as if they were binary—down or up,” he said. “But there’s a continuum of variation between all on or all off. Half pedal, it’s called. Controlling the duration has a lot to do with how you get the instrument to resonate, which then has to do with how different notes relate to each other, which is harmony. So harmony and timbre and other variables, such as time, are related. I kind of knew that, I guess, but I learned how to control it or ride it a little more.”

Iyer’s left hand occasionally comes halfway to his shoulder, as if recoiling. It is a characteristic gesture. Pianists usually care more about the force with which they bring their hands down. Watching drummers, Iyer learned about release. “A lot of what drummers practice when they’re warming up is uptick, or rebound,” he said. “On a piano, you can affect the upper edge of the spectrum a bit with the velocity in which you leave, at least on a good piano. On really nice instruments, all these extra variables reveal themselves.”

The period of immersion in technical prowess, which is common to musicians of all types, is absent in Iyer’s training. Brock noticed earlier in their friendship that “his record collection was enormous. He was doing a lot of listening and thinking about music, without necessarily taking the monastic approach. He decided late to be a musician, but at the same time he knew that, to do that, he was going to have a slightly different narrative. I think what he found is that people are as receptive to somebody speaking in multiple tongues as they are to someone clearly just focussed on the instrument.”

In early December, Iyer visited the Met Breuer building, using the entrance on a side street which construction workers use, and produced his driver’s license for a security guard. In the gallery on the first floor, where he will perform, he said, “My home away from home.” He wore a trenchcoat over jeans and a shirt, and stood in his soldier stance. He said that he hadn’t yet established all that he would do during his residency. “It’s not quite like Marina Abramović living in the galleries and staring at people,” he said. “But I’m going to be there almost every day, playing.”

His practical questions were answered by Kwabena Slaughter, the associate general manager of production and technical operations at the Met, who had come to meet him. Would there be a door to keep the noise made by people in the lobby from interfering? It might be possible to hang a theatrical curtain, Slaughter said. A screen to project images onto? Usually, they were projected onto the wall itself.

Iyer wondered where his musicians should be placed. If they set up flat to the wall, the sound would reverberate.

“Are you going to be loud?” Slaughter asked.

“Some stuff might be more chamber music, and some might be heavier,” Iyer said.

A centerpiece of Iyer’s tenure at the Met is a suite of improvisatory duets made with the master trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith in response to the drawings of Nasreen Mohamedi, an Indian artist who was born in 1937 and died in 1990. Her drawings of abstract geometric forms are so painstaking that it is as if each line were scored rather than drawn. In the second half of Mohamedi’s life, a neurological affliction made her hands tremble. In a journal, she wrote, “Difficult this tremor / I almost faint with exhaustion— / I lie still / It is difficult / Nearly all the time / Within the greatest despair / calm and truth are found.”

Mohamedi wrote in a journal, “Music—abstract quality yet real to such a degree that it is almost life.” This notion seems threaded through the suite, which has seven pieces and is called “A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke,” echoing a phrase from one of Mohamedi’s journals. The suite begins with Smith playing a bright, rising phrase, like a herald, that seems to announce a character’s taking the stage. What follows might be a two-figure play in which the exchanges involve mortality or impermanence or divinity. The musicians seem to trade remarks, and sometimes talk along with one another, as if each were reciting a text—a poem or a scripture—which they then consider. Sometimes they appear to reflect on an exchange, and sometimes they brood separately. The discourses are both cultivated and passionate. The occasional spareness of their playing and the stillness that sometimes surrounds their remarks suggest a region distinct from ordinary existence. The narrative reaches a climax in the sixth and seventh movements, which have the feeling of a leave-taking or a resolution, an acknowledgment that they have said what they wish for the moment to say.

There was no plan for how many movements the suite would include, and there was no score, but it wasn’t so much improvised as decided on after months of looking at Mohamedi’s drawings and discussing them. Iyer and Smith read Mohamedi’s journals as well as two penetrating commentaries on her work, by Geeta Kapur and Roobina Karode, that will be published in the show’s catalogue. By the time Smith and Iyer met to record the suite, in November, “there was a certain understanding, a certain set of governing ideas,” Iyer said. “It wasn’t necessarily about being in complete agreement but in being in conversation about them.”

They recorded everything in a day, in a studio in midtown on the far West Side. The album will be released in February. The version they will play at the Met Breuer in March will reproduce the entire suite, but not faithfully.

Iyer became a professor at Harvard in 2012. The music department wanted to hire a classical composer, but it couldn’t agree on one. Ingrid Monson encouraged Iyer to apply. “It’s always been my dream that we have a prominent jazz artist on the faculty,” Monson told me. “I sit at a table at a faculty meeting and can’t believe I’m looking at Vijay Iyer.”

Iyer usually leaves for Boston early Monday morning on the train, and he returns Tuesday or Wednesday. He prefers the train to flying, because he can sleep more easily on a train. After two days of committee meetings, teaching—which includes student ensembles and his graduate seminar, called “Theorizing Improvisation,” which has readings from sociology, cognitive science, anthropology, and cultural studies—and dealing with brainy kids who have avid minds, he is worn out.

Iyer’s office at Harvard occupies a windowless room in the basement of the music building. Along the walls are sliding panels built for Iyer to manage the sound, which might be brittle if left to reflect off the bare walls. There is a piano, a drum set, and two amplifiers. The students, mostly young men, prepare ensemble pieces. A typical ensemble has drums, a bass, a piano, and some combination of guitar, trumpet, saxophone, and possibly a vocalist. Iyer sits in a chair and often closes his eyes while he listens. The less confident students steal glances at him. An ensemble plays, and Iyer says, “It’s a little hard to know, as a listener, where to, or how to, distribute my cognitive resources. There’s kind of no center. That’s O.K. for a while, but hard to sustain.” And, “Sometimes, you might want to make a radical choice and drop out for a while. The cliché is you have to build, everyone building in with more notes. If you listen to Monk, there’d be stabs and silences, but that silence was filled with other things. You can build by not building. What that means is you build in the imagination of the listener by actually refusing to build, which arouses an expectation.”

One afternoon recently, Iyer met with a doctoral student named Rajna Swaminathan. Swaminathan plays a two-headed drum called the mridangam, which is from southern India. She and Iyer were working on a piece involving a complicated rhythmic pattern that Iyer has been struggling to grasp. The pattern has five parts, each shorter than the one before it. “Generally, in South Indian music we improvise in reductions,” Swaminathan said, for my benefit. Iyer said that he had to relearn the pattern every time they played it. Swaminathan sat on the floor with one leg bent and the drum against her knee, and the other leg forward with the drum against it. They started, and immediately Iyer said, “It’s too fast for me; sorry, I can’t hang.” Swaminathan set a slower tempo. They played for about twenty minutes, with Iyer striking percussive clusters of tones and Swaminathan slowly increasing the tempo. When they finished, Iyer said, perhaps disingenuously, “I’m not doing anything but re-orchestrating the same parts.” Swaminathan said, “What if you turned it into something more like a melody?”

It was near the end of Iyer’s second day, and he sat at the piano rubbing his eyes like a tired child. That night, he had dinner with a group of students as their guest, at a restaurant in Harvard Square. The train he caught arrived in Penn Station at two-thirty in the morning. Somewhere outside Providence, at around ten-thirty, he talked about a discussion in class which had involved the psychologist J. J. Gibson.

“Gibson advanced what he called an ecological approach to perception and cognition,” Iyer said. “It’s not that we just hear sounds. We hear the sources of the sound, and we’ve evolved to identify them. He also talks about time and events. There’s an article called ‘Events Are Perceivable but Time Is Not.’ We experience this tumult of events, and time is a ghost of what we actually experience. What we call time is really the feeling of eventfulness, so this kind of makes music a matter of events and our perception of those events. Music is made of us listening to each other.” I nodded, and he leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes.

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