1, 2, 3…4.
That little bit, between each number—count it: 1, 2, 3, 4;
The essence of the fourth dimension, the way our bodies, lives, minds and souls are moving through spacetime;
When it’s even, when it’s expressive in and of itself;
Circadian, pulmonary, seasonal, tidal;
Everything moves, and has rhythm.
I’ve always found something thrilling in the measure of time, and the rhythm of music. Maybe that’s why I play drums, and maybe why I’m drawn to hand-percussion; cause I can feel the measure, the steady and the syncopated. Watch any musician, of any genre, and you’ll see them moved and moving to the measure. Concert violinists flow in intricate dances, emphasising and counter-pointing their legato streams of liquid sound. DJ’s pulse to the movement of the base and percussion: even, simple, intense.
Likewise, playing with this rhythm somehow seasons everything. Tap your fingers in a simple four-part beat: 1,2,3,4 , then cut it in half, so you’re tapping twice for every 4: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &… Finally, go back to the first, but play 1’s half and 2’s half missing out 2: 1& _& 3 4. It’s syncopated, the rhythm’s pulled back, altered. It’s emphatic, and it completely draws attention to itself. I love pulling these bits out of the steady measures. And I can’t help but pull out the counterpoints to any activity, from typing to chopping herbs.
I’ve been playing percussion since I was 5, and absolutely revel in it. However, it’s not just music that surfaces the measured passing of time in human expression. Words themselves—or, should I say, language itself—expresses meaning, emphasising expressions with steady and altered rhythm.
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
It has never surprised me that magic in stories works through hocus-pocus, or abracadabra—words that interrupt the ticking-over of English’ natural iambic rhythm. The division between moments is expressive, creative, and carries meaning and movement, and it’s magical. Shakespeare’s dialogues and soliloquies comprised five-sectioned pieces of English, which trip off the tongue. They flow out from our minds and lips with ease <– see? We have a natural way of talking, and when you play around with it, it gets powerful.
Fillet of a fenny snake
In the cauldron boil and bake:
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adders fork and blind worm’s sting,
Consider the Witches from Macbeth. They’re eerie, and exude menace. But not all the meaning and power of their characters is expressed through the words. Their chanting is drumming, powerful, and on the first beat of each two-part section: DAH dum, DAH dum, DAH dum: it’s unnatural, menacing, maybe even thrilling.
I don’t know what this all means, or what to “do” with this love of rhythm, except express it. Anyone can do this, no matter how “arrhythmic” you feel yourself to be. I’d invite you to play, any time, and we’ll pull out some measures.