RHYTHM

February 15, 2011
berghain

blow
Berghain, Berlin (source)
Glassblowing Workshop, Portland, Oregon (source)

 

‘The architect should know music, in order to have a grasp of canonical and mathematical relations.’

—Vitruvius, De Architectura

 

 

‘Get into the groove boy, you’ve got to prove your love to me.’

—Madonna, Get Into the Groove

 

 

Most efforts to think about music and architecture together inevitably end up focusing on two intertwining logics, mathematics and phenomenology. Architecture and music employ mathematical measures of rhythm, harmony, and scale to construct immersive phenomenological experiences through time and in space. Vitruvius insisted that architects study music because, for the Greeks and Romans, the study of harmonics was just as much about melody, as it was about the mathematical and spatial structure of the universe. On the other hand, the groove that Madonna is talking about, while not architectural, references both the material topography of the LP and a physical and emotional mode of experience.

 

Given these dual avenues of understanding, the sensation of rhythm in architecture can be experienced as a sublime cerebral satisfaction in the perfect arrangement of forms. It can also be experienced as a brutal embodied sensibility brought on by the movement of an individual through a space and the degrees of architectural resistance to this movement. As certain built spaces often prioritize one form of rhythmic experience over the other, Peter Eisenman’s Berlin Holocaust Memorial and the legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain can be understood as two extremes of rhythmic space.

 

Eisenman’s memorial is rhythmic in a vulgar formal sense, all of its relationships conforming to a rigid Euclidean geometry. The sense of rhythm constructed by the memorial—a repetition of solid and void—is a tightly controlled mathematical rhythm which alternately tightens and relaxes its grip on the user, allowing the senses periodic points of escape before once again trapping the subject.

 

As a nightclub, Berghain is functionally rhythmic; the building provides a space for the experience of rhythm without formal repetition of material architectural forms. The frequencies of the sound system on which the whole function of the space depends are so expertly engineered that it is possible to converse in a normal speaking voice despite being able to feel the pulse of bass entering the body. Though these rhythms suggest how one might move through this space they are, unlike the forms of Eisenman’s memorial, designed to promote sensual freedom. Rhythmic architecture can impart banal mathematical harmony, or it can help you get into the groove.

 

David Knowles

 

‘The substance of the routine may change, metamorphose, improve, but the emotional payoff is one’s experience of doing it again. There’s nothing strange about this experience. We all know it; it is rhythm.’

—Richard Sennet, The Craftsman

 

 

Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman is a call to appreciate and value the kind of creative labor that once dominated in the craft trades, and which he points out is still alive and well in disciplines as varied as Linux code-writing and mobile-phone development.

 

Sennett does not advocate a return to an economy of pre-industrial manual work, instead he analyzes and explains how certain core elements, which were involved in these professions, made them intrinsically fulfilling and meaningful to those working within them. He explains that the distinction between conceptual inspiration and the act of making is an artificial, and recent one. It is a workplace separation that tends to generate an unhelpful stratification between ‘unskilled’ inflexible production lines, and ‘creative’ but unengaged researchers and developers.

 

Alternatively, Sennett suggests treating the act of making as a creative endeavor, where research, design and development can occur at the same time as developing the manufacturing process. This not only motivates the designer/maker to have a deep personal connection with the work, but opens up the possibility for mistakes, dead-ends, and tangential explorations within the framework of the process. These mistakes and dead-ends are positive inefficiencies which are necessary for the process to throw up unexpected opportunities and breakthroughs. And for these positive inefficiencies to occur, be understood, overcome and harnessed, there needs to be the space and time for the maker to repeat their process again and again, developing their own personal rhythm. In the same manner that pianists practice repeatedly, until the core skill of playing becomes instinctive, allowing them instead to focus on variations, emphasis and mood within each repetition, so the maker engages initially through repetition with the core skills of his process until they are second nature, by which time the act of repetition is thrown open to become an active field of experimentation, a generativerhythm—adaptive and evolving—of exploration and innovation.

 

It is when the repetition of work becomes the rhythm of craft that any form of labor can become creative, meaningful and fulfilling.

 

Adam Nathaniel Furman

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

 

One Response to “RHYTHM”

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