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Some

Aspects of Rhythm
Peter Nelson

Music, School of Arts, Culture and Environment,
University of Edinburgh, 12 Nicolson Square,
Edinburgh EH8 9DF, Scotland.
email: p.nelson@music.ed.ac.uk

Thinking about rhythm has been dominated by two strands of enquiry: on the one
hand is the investigation of the notion of pulse, and the nature of the repetition inherent in
ideas of pulse; on the other hand is the cataloguing of rhythmic patterns, from the lists of
poetic feet found in ancient Greek treatises to the hierarchical pattern structures proposed
by Lehrdahl and Jackendoff1, Karlheinz Stockhausen2 or Simha Arom3. Composers of the
Western tradition in the post-1945 period often tried to conceive of rhythm in statistical
terms, with regular pulse, and irrationally related streams of sounds that subvert such
notions as pulse and pattern, as the two ends of a continuum. But all of these approaches

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are united by a search for, or invention of mechanisms: that is, rational processes which
can be theorized as underlying the composed or performed phenomena of rhythm, and
which are susceptible to notation. Thus psychological and physiological investigations of
pulse look for clocks, within the body and outside of the body, and semiotic or
grammatical investigations of pattern look to language and the natural world for sources
of imitation. Both of these investigative traditions could seem to be in the service of
writing, and they provide the dominant modes by which composers and performers in a
number of traditions have developed their musical practices.

While much of the historical writing about rhythm has been undertaken by
philosophers or music theorists, in the twentieth century a number of important
contributions have in fact been made by composers. Both Olivier Messiaen4 and Karlheinz
Stockhausen produced highly influential theories of rhythm, which document aspects of
their own compositional practices. Messiaens contribution is based on a catalogue of

1 Lerdahl, F., and Jackendoff, R. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT

Press, 1996.
2 Stockhausen, K. how time passes in Die Reihe (English Edition) 3. Vienna: Universal Edition,

1959.
3 Arom, S. (trans. M. Thom et al) African Polyphony and Polyrhythm: musical structure and

methodology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1991.


4 Messiaen, O. (trans. J. Satterfield) The technique of my musical language. Paris: Leduc 1956.

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patterns, introducing ideas from Indian music, while Stockhausen cleverly extends the
theory of the harmonic series into the domain of time, and thus rhythm. However the only
really general account is that produced by Iannis Xenakis5. With his theories, of sieves on
the one hand and stochastic or indeterminate probabilities on the other, he lays a
conceptual foundation for the study of rhythm which links both pulse and pattern, with
clocks at one end and imitations of random natural processes at the other. John Cages
contribution is more curious, since he is the only one who starts to move away from both
pulse and pattern and considers instead the purely temporal perceptions of the listener.
You might say that his work, 433 is stochastic, in Xenakis sense, imitating by actually
presenting us with the rhythmic contingencies of the real world. But the later works,
which present rhythms as performer-actions, to be carried out only within a given time-
frame, are clearly informed by a different conception of rhythm, concerned with temporal
perception rather than with pulse or pattern. The most philosophical of them all of course
is Igor Stravinsky, who with his pronouncement that, Music is the sole domain in which

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man realises the present.6 begins to address the wider context within which rhythm
actually has meaning.

This is not to say that meaning has been ignored by other writers, and indeed some
of the earliest philosophical fragments concerning rhythm address the most fundamental
matters of meaning and perception. Thus Aeschylos has the captive Prometheus, chained
to a rock, exclaim,

I am bound here in this rhythm.7

echoing a fragment from Archilochos (from two hundred years earlier, around 700 B.C.),
where he strives to,

understand the rhythm that holds mankind in its bonds.8

Both of these quotations are from the start of Curt Sachs monumental work, Rhythm and
Tempo9, where he discusses the ways in which the earliest theorists try to develop an

5 Xenakis, I. (ed. S. Kanach) Formalized Music: thought and mathematics in composition. Stuyvesant,

NY: Pendragon Press, 1992.


6 Stravinsky, I. Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons. The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1939-

40. London: G. Cumberledge, Oxford University Press, 1947.


7 quoted in: Sachs, C. Rhythm and Tempo: a study in music history. London: Dent, 1953.
8 ibid.

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understanding of rhythm. Aristoxenos definition of rhythm as taxis chronon, the order of
times, seems to link with the images of Aeschylos and Archilochos in showing an
understanding of the human condition as being bound into time as time is bound into
rhythm. But this still rather begs the question as to how rhythm itself operates. Of these
early accounts, Sachs laments, The confusion is terrifying indeed.

It seems to me, and to a number of other writers, that this confusion does not abate
over the succeeding centuries of writing about rhythm. I will take just one example of this
confusion, which is investigated at some length by Simha Arom in his chapter, A Brief
Survey of Western Rhythmics. In his analysis of African polyrhythm, Arom is clearly in need
of some useful concepts and analytical methods, so he undertakes a brief but critical
survey of the theory and terminology current in Western theorizing of rhythm. The
example I want to consider concerns the notion of accent or stress. This seems to me to be
a critical example since it is centrally involved in the writing of barred music with which
we are at this point in Western music most familiar. Stress and accent are also critical to

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Arom, since the African, polyrhythmic music which he is investigating poses perceptual
problems for Western listeners: the flow of sound events often seems reasonably regular,
yet the placing of a regular downbeat within the flow is not so obvious. It would seem to
us that an investigation of the accentual patterns within the music might be helpful. Arom
considers a number of discussions of the idea of accent , but it is the work of Cooper and
Meyer10 which most clearly presents the problems. For those of you not familiar with this
work, Cooper and Meyer propose a very thorough methodology for the analysis of rhythm
in Western Classical music which takes as a basic assumption that there is an accent on the
first beat of each bar. This probably comes as no surprise to you, and Lehrdahl and
Jackendoff11, who attempt to present a theory of music which takes its cue from Chomskys
theory of generative grammars, make exactly the same basic assumption. However, its
clear, when you think about it, that actually making an accent on the first beat of every bar
in performance is not very musical, so Cooper and Meyer are forced to substitute the term
stress to account for the first-beat-ness which gives what we would call the meter of the
music. This manoeuvre is picked up by Arom as follows:

9 Sachs, C. Rhythm and Tempo: a study in music history. London: Dent, 1953.
10 Cooper, G.W. and L.B. Meyer. The Rhythmic Structure of Music. Chicago: The University of

Chicago Press, 1960.


11 Lehrdahl, F. and R. Jackendoff. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music.

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Two questions now arise. First, what is the difference between stress and accent
when both fall on the first beat in a measure? Then, if stress on a weak beat does
not accent it, though it does involve a dynamic intensification, how is it
perceptible? The problem becomes even more complicated when Cooper and
Meyer turn to the causes of accentuation. After emphasizing that definitions
should be free of ambiguity, they write,

Though the concept of accent is obviously of central importance in the theory and
analysis of rhythm, an ultimate definition in terms of psychological causes does not
seem possible with our present knowledge. That is, one cannot at present state
unequivocally what makes one tone seem accented and another not In short, since
accent appears to be a product of a number of variables whose interaction is not
precisely known, it must for our purposes remain a basic, axiomatic concept which is
understandable as experience but undefined in terms of causes.

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This brings us back to the question raised above: since an accent can only be
perceived by contrast with unaccented, and stress is defined as dynamic
intensification what is the difference between them?12

I think there is an answer to this question, but like many of the problems which arise in
the literature on rhythm, I think it is not susceptible to an answer within the confines set
for this whole discussion. Indeed it is not until Simon Friths two extraordinary chapters
on rhythm in his book, Performing Rites13, that the curious blindness which has afflicted
most other accounts of rhythm becomes apparent. The crucial moment of Friths insight,
which I think has huge implications for the actual creative work of composition, is the
changing of the question, from how does rhythm work to the much more challenging, yet
also much more fruitful question, what is rhythm for?

Now Im not going to rehearse here what Frith says: anyone who has not read
Performing Rites really has to read it. But the realization that there is another approach;
another context for discussions of rhythm, instantly reveals another literature, not so
obviously to hand but perhaps containing possibilities for breaking out of some of the
impasses that conventional rhythm theory presents us with. To return to the confusion of

12 Arom, S. op. cit. pps 187-188.
13 Frith, S. Performing Rites: evaluating popular music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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terms which so concerns Arom, and which in the end leads him to the conclusion that even
such a fundamental, theoretical property of rhythm as meter does not actually exist, once
one changes the question not how does it work? but what is it for?, other possible
explanations for our actual rhythmic practice start to raise their heads.

The notions of stress and accent which are so crucial to the notation of the bar-line
definitely pose problems for composers, for performers and for thinking about rhythm.
One interesting way of at least thinking about these problems is provided by the French
psychologist, Gaston Bachelard, in his book, The Dialectic of Duration14. Bachelard is a
follower of the great French philosopher, Henri Bergson, and this book attempts to show
that the perception of duration, one of Bergsons main themes, is subject to a dialectic or
duality. So Bachelard identifies Bergsons philosophy as what he calls, a philosophy of
plenitude time and experience for him are full. Bachelard argues for a sort of
psychological duel between fullness and emptiness, where the moments of fullness have
special meaning for us, and we have to work at them. However Bachelard is concerned not

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just with the internals of individual psychology but also with the connections and social
implications of communal perception, and moments where we have a communal sense of
fullness. The passage I find interesting is as follows:

(But) the equalisation of timing is already one of the great tasks of relational
psychology. When one has effected this synchronisation, that is to say, when one
has put precisely together two superpositions of two different psyches, one sees
that one has almost all the attributes of physical adhesive bonding. The time of
thought marks thought profoundly. Perhaps one is not thinking the same thing,
but one thinks something at the same time. What a union! [my translation]

And then about rhythm itself,

The beat acts as a signal, not as a mere duration. It binds into coincidences, binds
rhythms into instants that will stand out.15

This last comment is so striking that Simha Arom uses it as an epigraph for his chapter on
western rhythmics, and its strange he doesnt really pick up on its implications for his


14 Bachelard, G. La Dialectique de la Dure. Paris: Boivin & Cie , 1936.
15 quoted in: Arom, S. op. cit.

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discussion. If the beat after the barline cannot really be a moment of stress, or accent, it is
clearly the moment for performers at which we know we are together. Perhaps .. not
thinking the same thing, but (thinking) something at the same time. It proposes one of the
essential moments of rhythm as a moment of social integration, and as Simon Frith so
clearly shows us, social integration is one of the things that rhythm is for.

Simultaneously it provides a way into that most contentious of rhythmic issues,


regularity of pulse. Many writers have proposed a regularity of pulse, whether conceptual
or actual, as one of the foundations of human rhythmic practice, inescapably related to
human walking motion. It is a clear theme in the clock strand of rhythmic theory,
measured as equal by its clock duration. Yet it encounters a clear contradiction from
musicians in the Greek and other Eastern traditions, who maintain that what theorists
would regard as an unequal pulse short, long; or short, short, long is, for them, a
fundamental regularity. Curt Sachs16, for example, tells the story of visiting a Cairo
nightclub in the 1940s with some Egyptian friends who complain that the, Western, music

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being played by the clubs orchestra is not music at all because every couple of beats has a
bit missing. If one simply substitutes this notion of pulse as a sort of theoretical clock
measurement with Bachelards notion of the beat as signal, one can happily theorise the
socially integrating effect of both kinds of pulse practice. For Sachs, and for his Egyptian
friends, the thinking together which constitutes the beat as signal simply happens at a
different moment. Each is subject to exactly the same regularities of memory and
protension, but within a social, culturally defined environment. In this reading, even foot-
tapping becomes not a natural physiological function, but a social physiological
function, capable of different meanings and different inclinations to the purpose of the
beat. Simon Frith is again the cue here, when he quotes Ruth Finnegans study of African
oral poetry, where she says,

cultural factors help to determine what is appreciated as rhythmic in any given


group or period: it is not purely physical17.

and he himself expands on this when he comments,


16 Sachs, C. op. cit. p.?
17 Frith, S. op. cit. p.132

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musical rhythm is as much a mental as a physical matter; deciding when to play
a note is as much a matter of thought as deciding what note to play (and in
practice, such decisions are not separable anyway).

A moments thought will convince us that this is as true for a jazz solo as it is for a Chopin
melody, and that binding a culturally primed audience into the beat as signal is as crucial
as agreeing with our co-performers. One might add that with a metronomic notion of beat
there is of course no decision to be made; one has to play with the tick, and the actual,
practical difficulty of this seems to confirm both Frith and Bachelard: we really need to be
able to decide when to play the note, and our being in or out of time can only be decided
by our co-musicians performers or listeners not by a clock measurement.

It seems to me to be not at all a radical step to reverse the notion of rhythm


engaging us, mentally and physically, and say that we use, or even need rhythm in order to
effect interpersonal, social engagement. (This is clearly neither a new nor strange thought

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to many psychologists and musicians, but in parenthesis I have to say that the implications
of this have not yet had much significant impact on the business of creating or composing
music.) So Colwyn Trevarthens definition of what he calls, the intrinsic motive pulse
gives a hugely convincing account of the beginnings of this situation in mother-infant
interaction. Just to complete the discussion of pulse, beat and accent, it is worth
remembering exactly what Trevarthen says:

Pulse is the regular succession of discrete behavioural events through time, vocal
or gestural, the production and perception of these behaviours being the process
through which two or more people may co-ordinate their communication, spend
time together, and by which we may anticipate what might happen and when it
might happen.18

This seems to accord, roughly speaking, with Bachelard, and although the word regular
gives more than a nod towards clock-time measurements, the communicative priority tied
into rhythmic activity seems to give us a basis for the slight change in perspective I have
been discussing.


18 Trevarthen, C. & S. Malloch. Musicality: Communicating the Vitality and Interests of Life in

Malloch, S. & C. Trevarthen (eds) Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis of Human
Companionship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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Arom describes the phenomenon thus:

emergent music takes place when a mother seeks to pacify a crying baby,
During those brief intervals in which the baby catches its breath, the mother
punctuates its crying with a meaningless syllable, an o. Little by little , a
dialogue is set up between cries and responses, This also represents a sort of
unconscious musical socialisation, the first stage in the future musicians
apprenticeship thus beginning at the earliest possible age.19

The communicative, to-and-fro rhythmic alternation of mother and infant is an


interesting backdrop to Simon Friths comprehensive discussion of music as a form of
communication and social integration, working through rhythm. If Bachelard celebrates
the social unanimity achieved through the beat as signal, Frith makes clear that what
rhythm is for in the making of music is altogether more subtle and sophisticated. One
might indeed make some kind of distinction between kinds of cultures, based on their

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rhythmic practices, but I will come to that in a moment. So in his discussion of African
musical culture, Frith, citing the work of the ethnomusicologist John Chernoff, notes that in
polyrhythmic music the social participants, resist the tendency to fuse the parts, or more
precisely,

The music is perhaps best considered as an arrangement of gaps where one may
add a rhythm, rather than as a dense pattern of sound.

This is a sort of opposite of the beat as signal for unanimity, where the rhythms of each
participant as in the mother/infant interactions I just described leave spaces for the
presence of others. One can see a clear example of another social relationship attached to
this rhythmic structure in an eastern European tradition related to matchmaking. When a
match is made, the matched couple are given a bed-sheet to shake out and fold. If the
collaborative rhythmic interaction is judged to be good, the match will go ahead; if not, the
matchmaker thinks again. One presumes there is a variety of rhythms in which one can
shake a bed-sheet.

Im going over again what I think is probably rather old ground by now, because I
want to fully disclose a change of emphasis I have come to value. In all the discussions of

19 Arom, S. op. cit. pps 9-10

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mother/infant interaction in which I have been involved, music has been called on as an
explanation, or a means of describing and accounting for certain phenomena. After all,
musicians know how to talk about rhythm. But it is only now that I am beginning to see
what the reverse; the implications this has for music and how we perceive it.

Simon Friths account of the way rhythm works is both similar to that of Simha
Arom and others, and also profoundly different in aspect. What Frith succeeds in doing is
actually to change the whole context of the musical discussion of rhythm, to show not just
what rhythm is for, but how it does what it is for in sophisticated, grown-up social
situations, and how the implications of this change of viewpoint impact on our aesthetic
and categorical judgements about music. Of course he does this in pursuit of his own,
fascinating account of the ways in which different sorts of music collide and interact. But it
seems to me that this change in understanding can actually make us listen differently, and
certainly, for me, raises new ways of thinking about composing music.

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One of the things one would have to relate about music that attempts to play with
the social roles inherent in any culturally specific rhythmic practice, is that, however
traditional the musical materials, it turns out to be rather hard to actually perform. And I
dont mean hard to perform in the way that the complex rhythms of Modernist composers
can be hard to play. A pianist friend of mine told me an interesting story about rehearsing
a piece by Iannis Xenakis for a recording he was making. The piece was for violin and
piano, and the violinist was a very famous one; a specialist in this repertoire. My friend
said that throughout the rehearsal there was one point where he played just after the
violinist, and the violinist would stop and say, no, we should be together there, but still
after several attempts the coincidence did not happen. Eventually they had to take the
score and calculate just exactly where all the beats came; at which point they discovered
that they had been playing it correctly all along. The point of the story, as it was told to me,
was that the violinist had already made several recordings of this piece where the violin
and piano were together at that point hence his confusion, but my point is that the
difficulty they were encountering was of an entirely different type to the difficulties posed
by a changed perspective of social interaction. It is not necessarily hard to play or co-
ordinate such rhythms, as alignments. It is hard to play them as social agreements. The
moments where the beat is a sign come in different places in the different parts. These
differences are disorientating for the performers, who want to be together, and this says

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something about the normal possibilities for negotiating rhythmic relationships in a
particular cultural setting. Complex rhythmic parts are difficult to master, but if the ethos
is coincidence even at irregular places the social interrelations are different to where
each part makes a space for the other to inhabit with its own regularities.

Ill take one final step in this discussion by giving an example of what Curt Sachs
terms non-adaption. Of non-adaption, he says,

Much as the co-operation of voices and instruments enhances a common rigid


rhythm, we have to accept the bewildering fact that the two media often remain
independent of one another.20

The example he gives is from the music of the Chippewa or Ojibwe people of North
America, of which he relates,

One of the most unexpected experiences is to hear the regular drumbeat of the

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accompanist follow a tempo entirely different from that of the voice. In one song
of the Chippewa, the singer would proceed, say, in quarter notes of M.M. 168, and
the drummer, much more slowly, in M.M. 104. Or the other way round, (this)
testifies to a more or less total independence of the two media and their
perception.

Sachs accounts for it in an interesting way, when he says

Perhaps this independence is similar to that found in our own church services,
where we not dream of co-ordinating the organ and the choir inside the church
with the bells above.

However, at the risk of cultural inaccuracy, though with no bad intentions, I might say that
the image for me is more reminiscent of the relationship between human sounds and non-
human sounds. All the accounts of rhythm I have discussed use rhythm to relate people,
yet it is clear that we also have to relate to the world we live in, and the image of a human
voice going alongside a pulse to which it bears no calculated relation seems a powerful
one. In a similar vein one might cite the piece, Seiltanz (Tight-rope dance) by Hans-
Joachim Hespos, where instrumental music is performed as a performer cuts their way out

20 Sachs, C. op.cit. p.43

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of a metal tank with an oxyacetylene torch. And this, post-industrial imagery, also goes
neatly with contemporary notions of Critical Post-humanism, where the music we make
might go alongside, rather than merely imitate, the sounds of the animals with whom we
share the planet Im thinking here of the gentle singing of Joseph Beuys during his Action
Piece, I Like America and America Likes Me, where he shared his living space for three days
with a wild coyote, or indeed Paul McCartneys song, Blackbird, where he actually duets
with a recording of the bird.

I am interested in characterising even these, eventually rather extreme, examples


as rhythmic, in order to try to think out the details of the social relationships they involve;
so that those types and energies of interaction might move back into thinking about the
compositional processes of my own music.

However, if one can consider music as a set of rhythmic, social interactions, one
cannot forget the importance of the audience in the rhythmic equation; so the last thing I

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want to consider is the audience of music. Arom, in his book on African Polyrhythm, clearly
sets out one of the common viewpoints on the nature of the music-audience relationship.
At the conclusion of his introductory essay, he remarks:

Whatever music is being performed, whether ritual, ceremonial or simply for


entertainment, no Central African society has a relationship between musicians
and listeners that may be compared with that existing in Europe. The radical
division prevailing in the West between active musicians and their passive
audience could have no meaning here.

This characterisation of the audience in Western music culture as passive has a long
history, and not just with ethnomusicologists or critics of classical music: Bertolt Brecht,
for example describes the audience at an orchestral concert as,

transfixed, as if in the grip of a severe poisoning attack.

While I think I know what he means, I dont really believe that these descriptions do
justice to the realities of the situations they try to describe. I could acknowledge here that
the idea, that just listening to music is somehow superior to, say, dancing to music, is
clearly ridiculous. Some of the weight behind the critics of so-called audience passivity
might be rightful indignation at a sort of unnecessary, but nevertheless existent, cultural

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snobbery. But there are situations where people do just listen to music, and it seems to me
to be dangerous to judge the internal dynamics of such a situation by its appearance. If
people do just listen, what do they get out of it? Simon Frith is absolutely clear on this
matter, and at the start of Performing Rites second chapter on rhythm, he states with
echoes of Igor Stravinsky:

What all music offers us is a way of being present;

I think I completely agree with this, and I find the discussion and elucidation of this
thought through the rest of the chapter totally compelling. So with that in mind, I suppose
my thought as a composer is, what is this audience present at? Now there is a strong and
clear injunction in all areas of creative work that thinking about the audience is a bad idea.
It can lead to the wrong sorts of decisions, and anyway characterises the audience as a
group of people who need to be looked after and thought about, when their own view is
likely that they are quite capable of looking after themselves, and would judge badly any

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obvious attempt to play up to them. What Im describing here is a bunch of people who do
not shape up as very passive, even if their mode of engagement is rapt attention. What are
they attending to?

In his essay, Form, Substance and Difference, Gregory Bateson says the following:

Blake noted that A tear is an intellectual thing, and Pascal asserted that The
heart has its reasons of which the reason knows nothing. We need not be put off
by the fact that the reasonings of the heart (or of the hypothalamus) are
accompanied by sensations of joy or grief. These computations are concerned
with matters which are vital to mammals, namely, matters of relationship, by
which I mean love, hate, respect, dependency, spectatorship, performance,
dominance, and so on. These are central to the life of any mammal and I see no
objection to calling these computations thought, though certainly the units of
relational computation are different from the units which we use to compute
about isolable things.21


21 Bateson, G. Form, Substance and Difference in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago, London: The

University of Chicago Press, 1972. p.470

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This passage has significance for me in a number of ways: first because it effortlessly
attaches emotion to computation, second because it proposes performance and
spectatorship as two of the defining moments of what it is to be a mammal in our cases,
to be a human. And we have already seen how a rhythmic interlacing of performance and
spectating can happen at fast tempos, enacting intense human relationships of varying
sorts Bateson also has many examples. My favourite is dogs saying the opposite of
what they mean in order to show that they mean the opposite of what they say. Thus,
two dogs meet, snarl at one another and bare their fangs, tussle with one another as a
demonstration that the signal of attack is not for real, and then become friendly. This is a
timed and rhythmic performance, and is example just to say that the mammalian
understanding of relationships is sophisticated, and spectating is a real sort of
engagement. Batesons essay is actually about the ecological relationship of humans with
the world they live in, and though he doesnt go into it, it seems that performance and
spectating (as well as love, hate and all the rest) also get enacted between us and the

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physical world.

In a paper presented to the UNESCO conference on Music and Technology, held in


Stockholm in 1970, Pierre Schaeffer, the founding father of musique concrte, speculated
about the nature of the moment of the human discovery of the ability not just to hear the
world sound but to make the world sounds, the pre-historical birth of music:

I think that man had to cry out, that man had to sing ... but that man, probably, did
not perceive music until it had passed onto an instrument, even if that was a stone, or
a skin stretched on a gourd. Probably man needed to go outside of himself, to have
another object: an instrument, a machine.22

If the notion of the instrument is central to music, this image of the musician leaves us
with the important matter of characterising the precise relationship between the human
and the other thing that makes the sound. The binding links are breath and touch, and
Schaeffer clearly proposes a relationship which is balanced, rhythmic and communicative,
rather than one based on control and domination. Schaeffer further presents a


22 Schaeffer, P. A propos des ordinateurs. In La Revue Musicale, 214-215. Paris, 1971. (this authors

translation)

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refreshingly non-dualistic and indeed tactile aspect to human thought itself when he
continues,

I will say that while we are listening to music, we must always ask ourselves how it
is made. We listen to music with our hands.23

In the same way, I would like to say, following Bateson, that we also listen to the rhythmic
interplays of music with our sense of mammalian social interaction. In rhythms, we hear
relationships being played out, not symbolically in Wagnerian leitmotifs but actually:
between one player and another, between each player and their instrument. What we are
present at, and attentive to is an interplay which is now, which is why it is fascinating,
rather a representation of something imaginary. The proper power of music lies in its
social and relational dynamics, and these are not abstract strategies but real material as
we say in the trade. I think these are fascinating, and potentially fruitful areas for creative
invention and discovery.

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23 Schaeffer, P. ibid.

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