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How the beat goes on

A project at the Aldeburgh festival aims to shed light on the mysterious art of keeping time

By Philip Ball   July 2010

All together now: String quartets have been found to operate under a form of “unspoken leadership” also exhibited in many animal communities

“There are two golden rules for an orchestra,” the conductor Thomas Beecham is said to have remarked. “Start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between.” Beecham was prone to witty overstatement, but his statement fits the intuition that we are acutely sensitive to failures of synchronisation in musical performance. “They were all over the place” is the typical put-down of ensembles with sloppy timing.

Yet playing together in time is…

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