Rhythm and Event

Rhythm and Event Symposium
The London Graduate School
Saturday 29 October 2011, 10.00-19.30
King’s Anatomy Theatre & Museum, King’s College London, Strand Campus, London, WC2R 2LS
10.00 – 10.45 Performance (plus discussion)

Rhythmic Materialism: dynamic patterning through corporeal media
Julian Henriques (Goldsmiths), Claudia Martinho (Goldsmiths), Paola Crespi (University of Surrey)

The dawn is always new.
(Lefebvre 1992/2004: 90)

Most people, when asked about the nature of the physical world, are likely to describe it in terms of the three dimensions of space and the one of time. In fact, we do not live in a world of time or space. These are only the abstractions often found useful in talking about our world. As the great French mathematician Henri Poincaré put it: “experience does not prove to us that space has three dimensions; it only proves to us that it is convenient to attribute three to it” (Poincaré 1907: 85). In short, space and time are only useful conventions.

With embodied ways of thinking and knowing, it is is argued here, it becomes possible to recognise how in actual practice we live in a world of surfaces. It is from these that we abstract the notion of homogenous space. We live in a world of periodic cycles from which we abstract the notion of continuous time. This experiential world of surfaces and cycles is at odds with the positivist scientific viewpoint and Kantian philosophy. This is because it refuses to be generalised and repeatable, that is, objective. The subject of experience is always grounded in a unique set of circumstances and contingencies in a particular locale. This is one particular distinctive place – not generic space – and unique and unrepeatable moment or duration – not abstract time.

This experiential world has nevertheless been theorised in a number of traditions, including phenomenology of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, the process philosophy of Whitehead and Bergson and more recently Deleuze, William James’ pragmatist psychology and James Gibson’s ecological psychology. The last researcher puts it most succinctly: “We live in an environment consisting of substances that are more or less substantial; of a medium, the gaseous atmosphere; and of the surfaces that separate the substances from the medium. We do not live in ‘space’ (Gibson 1986: 32, emphasis added). If Gibson had researched auditory perception, to the same extent he did visual perception, he might well have added – neither do we live in time.

The exercises with which Rhythm & Event opens begin to explore some of our embodied way of knowing concerning duration. Rhythmic inflection, repeating cycles, periodicity and propagation across several media are some of the key tropes by which the patterning of duration can be recognised.

As discourses on movement and space have flourished in the last decade (see in particular the works of two exponents of the Deleuzian tradition, such as Brian Massumi and Erin Manning), it is important to maintain a connection with an embodied manner of experiencing both corporeal motion and the environment. The work of practitioners such as Rudolph Laban (1879-1958) becomes important, because their thought is informed by movement practice, which is to say, by first hand experience of moving attentively through space. Rhythms are, for Laban, “audible gestures” (Laban 1935/75: 87), reverberating thus with the initial movement that caused them and propagating through movement. Bodies move in space in a kinesphere, a geometrical section of space taking the form of an icosahedron. But bodies give shape to space at the same time through affective qualities, part of the realm of intensities expressed by Laban’s dynamosphere.

In these exercises we consider the interconnection of rhythm, corporeal movement and intensities. This is not through the tool of language, but by trying to stimulate a bodily understanding of the concepts of resonance, propagation and novelty. We engage in a collective practice intended to expand our awareness of rhythm in different dimensions of attentional dynamics. Involving sequences of movement, perceptual grouping, regularity, accentuation and differentiation, the experience explored rhythm’s structural relationships, in what ways rhythmic patterns emerge from the context where it takes place, and how any single change or event affects it perception and propagation.

The experience of rhythm engages with relational space in vibrational fields. This can embody an awareness of movement at the macro-scale of dance and gesture, but also at the micro-scale of harmonic movements (energy) that produce the propagation of vibration through molecules (matter). Vibratory motion generates alternating patterns of expansions and contractions, and it is this continuous movement of the molecules that leads to propagation. In the micro-scale embodiment of vibrations, the auditory sphere plays an essential role. As sonic architect Bernhard Leitner defines it, our acoustic perception is spherical, and we hear with our entire body, not with the ears alone but also with the skin. The auditory perception amplitude is very wide and sensitive. Frequencies resonate in each part of our acoustic bodies, affecting us physically and psychologically, often unconsciously; and resonate differently between our bodies and specific acoustic spaces.

Exploring these notions further, the site-specific soundscape in the Old Anatomy Museum has been created as an introduction and connection to the rhythm exercises, with the intention to switch our attention into the vibration modes, through a multilayer of resonant frequencies, harmonics, echo, beats, cycles, rhythmic patterns and interferences.

Gibson, James J. (1979/1986) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbau Associates.
Laban, R. (1935/1975) A Life for Dance. Loondon: Macdonald and Evans.
Lefebvre, Henri (1992/2004) Rhythmanalysis. Space, Time and Everyday Life. New York: Continuum.
Leitner, B. (1978) Sound: Space. Koln: Du Mont.
Manning, E. (2009) Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Massumi, B. (2002) Parables of the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke University Press.
Poincaré, Henri (1907) The Value of Science, Popular Science Monthly, Jan – June 1907, pp. 79-89.

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