The point of this exercise is to move towards an understanding of rhythm and time which is not dependent on meters and cycles of beats. It should be said at the outset that cyclic patterns are not in themselves a bad thing, but one should be able to choose whether to allow one’s mind to sit within a cyclic metric framework. One temporal art-form we are all familiar with which is not typically metered is language. There are cases where it is, for examples stricter forms of poetry, however there are many shades of linguistic art, and we’ll be focusing on the prose end of things.
1. Select a text, this can be lyric prose, an excerpt from a novel, a section of dialogue. Ideally find a text in a language you can sound out phonetically but don’t understand so that there’s little chance of trying to interpret the content of the text.
2. Read through the text and notate the sounds within the words graphically, use a consistent kind of graphic to represent each syllable (e.g. a square) and vary the size and character of the symbols to represent the relative emphasis and length of each sound within the text. If there’s a pause in the text, i.e. a comma, full stop, or paragraph break, be sure to leave an appropriate amount of empty space to represent these very valuable moments of silence. These moments are the structural signposts of language, and it’s this system of shaping time which we’re observing.
Example: the phrase “Read through the text” would look something like === == = = (long sound, shorter sound, short sound, short sound).
3. If the text you used was in your own language then leave it for a while before you move on to the next step, if it’s in a foreign language then move right along. Using the graphic score you’ve made, which should now represent the rhythm and phrasing of the text stripped of it’s meaning, perform it. If you’re a musician make sounds of the duration and character represented by the shapes, if you’re a dancer make gestures of the duration and character represented by the shapes. Don’t forget the pauses. If possible record the performance otherwise observe yourself as well as you can during the performance, you should be performing using time in an organised way without being dependent on pulse.
4. Looking at your graphic score, observe the variation in the size and character of the shapes, the variation in length of the phrases and sentences, the relative proportions of paragraphs. Keeping all these things in mind, try to draw another score which obeys the observed principles of variation in duration of syllable, phrase, sentence and paragraph, without working from a text.
5. Perform it.
6. Bask in the freedom of unmetered time.
Note: Just because time can be unmetered doesn’t mean it necessarily becomes unpulsed, it can be very useful to mentally keep a very small time value ticking over, just like the sound of the second hand on a clock, it can help you keep track of the passing of time without having to be aware of what minute each second falls within.
Descriptors and their equivalents in literature and music:
Sentence Melodic Sentence