In a 2004 article for the New Yorker, British-born neurologist Oliver Sacks explores the phenomenon of Speed (the title of his article). Among the speed-related subjects that Sacks delves into is the apparent slowing down of time in near-death experiences.
“It seemed like the whole thing took forever,” Sacks writes, quoting a race-car driver who was thrown 30 feet in a crash: “Everything was in slow motion, and it seemed to me like I was a player on a stage and could see myself tumbling over and over … as though I sat in the stands and saw it all happening.”
“There is much to suggest that conscious perception (at least, visual perception),” Sacks notes, “is not continuous but consists of discrete moments, like the frames of a movie, which are then blended to give the appearance of continuity.”
Drawing upon the ideas of neuroscientist Christof Koch at Caltech, Sacks speculates whether the apparent slowing down of time in emergencies and athletic performances (at least when athletes find themselves ‘in the zone’) could be traced to “the power of intense attention to reduce* the duration of individual frames.”
Speed (Oliver Sacks): https://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2004-08-23#folio=CV1
Such ideas are interesting in the context of modern life; if brushing shoulders with death causes the intensification of attention so that the percipient hones in on an individual frame, which then slows it down, modern living must exist on the opposite end of the spectrum—where 10 frames run simultaneously, diluting and dispersing the observer’s attention, so that time appears to buzz by.
Existence in the 21st century, one finds, is a series of near-life experiences.
If there is any aspect of modern living that best exemplifies the speed of our age it is rap music, where one artist may release as many as 12 mixtapes over the course of a single year (i.e. Gucci Mane in 2013).
It is perhaps no wonder then that Icelandic rapper Cell7 chooses to begin her new album (Is Anybody Listening?) with a lyrical gesture tantamount to the throwing of hands in the air:
I don’t give a damn /
I shouldn’t give a fuck /
But I don’t understand /
Why they ain’t listening? /
The answer to that question, at the risk of sounding presumptuous, may have something to with the speed of the industry, where an artist like Cell7 (an audio engineer working something like “three jobs,” in her own words)—who labors over her music, taking great pains with every step of the creative process—is in danger of falling between the cracks; it’s been six years since Cell7 released her last album (Cellf), compared to Herra Hnetusmjör, (arguably Iceland’s most popular rapper) who has released an LP every year, along with dozens of music videos, and a few collaborative albums to boot.
That being said, there is much to be said for Cell7’s implied ethic of slowness. There’s a consistency to the songs on Is Anybody Listening? that instantly elevates it above quicker-made projects (Fonetik Simbol produces most of the album, with Gnúsi Yones and Intr0beatz contributing one beat a piece), and there is a richness to the soundscape—a sumptuousness to the blend of beats and vocals—that, one would like to believe, could only be the product of time invested.
And while it may be an exceedingly strange thing to say, Is Anybody Listening?—as a whole, and through its standout tracks, City Lights, All Night, and I Wonder (although every song has its own particular appeal)—may be as close as we’ve come this year to the musical equivalent of a near-death experience—which is a good thing; if time doesn’t slow down when one listens to the album, one wishes, at least, that it would.
And we could all do with a little bit of slowness.
PS. The album’s artwork by graphic designer Eysteinn Þórðarson is magnificent.