Rhythm

Rhythm

By way of introduction, I would like to say a few words about the concept of rhythm itself. The most general definition of rhythm presents it as a periodic return of a set of strong beats and weak beats. Is considered rhythmic, a flow whose flow is not completely smooth or conversely completely chaotic.

A flow is punctuated in which we perceive an organisation thanks to a succession of reference points which come back regularly. This first definition is accompanied by a second which targets rhythms, in the plural, that is, what each rhythm is specific.

What distinguishes a rhythm from another rhythm, in the traditional definition, is the basic module made up of strong beats and weak beats which, by repeating itself, gives this impression of organisation.

Each particular rhythm is in a way an expansion of this basic module, which makes it possible to differentiate, for example, the rhythm of cumbia from that of salsa or that of tango. This second definition is most often used but it should be understood that it is in fact only a corollary of the first.

What matters is that the rhythm organises the duration by creating a series of intervals, made sensitive by the regular return of a marker – whether this duration is the musical duration, the duration of the reading of a poem. or the duration of the visual journey of a painting or a building.

This definition explains the very broad use that is made of the concept of rhythm in the various human and social sciences, as well as in the various arts. On the model of the Pythagoreans, Plato associated this definition with a primacy of number and proportion.

For there to be rhythm, in his eyes, it is not enough for there to be repetition of a pattern; this repetition must also be done in an orderly, measured, that is to say, numbered or arithmetic manner.

From this point of view, the rhythm is first of all a matron,  a word that is still used in this form in poetics where it remains in the form of the “metric”.

This suggestion was systematised by one of Aristotle’s disciples, Aristophanes of Taranto, in the second half of the fourth century and then continued continuously until today in all treatises concerning music, dance, architecture and the plastic arts.

The antiquity of this definition has at least two consequences: on the one hand, it has spread universally and the word rhythms has been transposed into all languages. It has become rhythm in French, rhythm in English, rhythms in German, ritmo in Italian and Spanish, etc.

the other hand, this definition is so old that it seems to us today entirely natural and that we have forgotten that it is in fact only a question of a cultural and historical construction, resulting from the fight of Plato against most of the per-Socratic doctrines.

However, if it is that this traditional definition can still provide many services, we quickly realise, firstly, that it is perhaps precisely a little too broad to be effective, and secondly, that there are very many phenomena whose flow is well organised, but whose organisation cannot be reduced to a succession of strong and weak times arranged in relation to each other in arithmetical proportions.

It is true that, according to a cliché which is very pervasive today, it is often claimed that the metric and mechanical aspect of this definition could be overcome by associating it with the notions of “gap” and “lag”.

The principles of order, meter and period could thus be re balanced by contrary principles – principles of disorder and creation – which would introduce a game in the return of the same. But it seems to me that we are wrong.

These principles do not change anything fundamentally: they always presuppose a primacy of the metric standard, which we imagine a little quickly that they could defuse its binding power.

Admittedly, the maladjustment’s, the delays and the advances, the variations and the diversification introduce a certain complexity of the measure, but it is clear that all these ornamentation can only appear in relation to the regular accentuation which follow one another and constitute the conditions for them. of possibility.

Across the gap, number and its order remain the reason for rhythm.

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