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Henri Lefebvre and Elements of Rhythmanalysis

Aleksandra Vojcic
University of Michigan
French philosopher Henri Lefebvre (19011991) and his prolific body of work have
thus far been relatively neglected in English-speaking countries. Yet, the sheer quantity
of his output is matched if not exceeded by its breadthLefebvres works wrestle
with socio-political writings of Marx and Hegel and philosophical stances by Foucault
and Bergson;1 his sphere of influence extends from reflections upon and influence by
Nietzsche and Proust, concerns shared with Husserl, Heidegger, Deleuze, and Baudrillard, and a direct inspiration of Sartre.2 With a few exceptions (e.g., Elden 2004,
Goonewardena 2008), new Anglo-American scholarship devoted to Lefebvre has been
limited, relatively recent, and primarily drawn upon the seminal work The Production of
Space (1974), with an emphasis on those aspects of Lefebvres thought that are representative of ecologically and socially green urban theories (including any number of
works by David Harvey, Dolores Hayden, and Edward Soja).
The primary aim of this essay is to introduce Lefebvres concept of rhythmanalysis
as it is expounded upon in his final book and to provide a larger context for those ideas
that arise from Lefebvres lifelong interest in and practice of music. Like much of
1
2

For a complete list of publications, see Elden 2004.

Lefebvre frequently refers to Nietzsche, particularly with respect to concepts of eternal recurrence and
moment (Augenblick in Also sprach Zarathustra). This point is revisited in greater detail later on in the essay. Connections with Heideggers thought center on the relationship between spatiality and temporality: while in Being and Time
Heidegger founded spatiality on temporality, he later admitted it as failure in On Time and Being, a stance closer to
that of Lefebvre. Scott Elden claims that a number of ideas Lefebvre appropriated from Heidegger were essentially processed through a Marxist sieve (Elden 2004, 77). Concepts of difference and repetition are featured in the
eponymous work by Gilles Deleuze (1968) and also prominently figure in Lefebvres Elements of Rhythmanalysis. The
influence on Sartre is most notable in The Critique of Dialectical Reason, 1960. While this intricate web of cross influence exceeds the scope of the current essay, some attempts will be made to juxtapose Lefebvres views with those
of his predecessors or contemporaries on those topics pertinent to the current discussion.

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Lefebvre scholarship in general, the sparse reflection on his work within the field of
music also derives from a few readings of his earlier work The Production of Space: (a)
Berish 2009 evokes representational spaces as symbolic transformations of lived
spatial experience, specifically reflecting on Django Reinhardts place in American
Jazz; (b) Riikonen 2008 explores social spaces through shared authority of electronic and live music production; (c) Sanga 2007 uses the theory of spatial trialectics
as means of understanding the changing gendered mental space in the music of
Muxiki wa Injili of Tanzania; and (d) Larsen 2002 applies abstract spaces of modernism to music reception, e.g., techno is now based on a sculptural understanding of a
musical work.
The scarcity of scholarly reflection on Lefebvres musical experience and influences limits not only our understanding of Lefebvres social-political writings, but also,
potentially, our understanding of and discourse on the concepts of musical time and
musical space. Lefebvres experience as an amateur pianist favoring Beethoven and
Schumann informs his theory of (social) space as it is intrinsically connected with
timetime and space in Lefebvres thought are inseparable, a total space-time dimension.3 It is worth noting that Lefebvres tastes and perspectives are not limited to 19thcentury music since he also reflects on challenges to existing music theory orthodoxy
as introduced by Schoenberg, Webern, and eventually carried on by Boulez.4 The pervasiveness of musical references in Lefebvres writings also find place in the introduction to Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes (1962), where he explicitly states that the
book is meant to evoke musical qualities through the manner of its construction and
discourse. He wishes the reading process to be more akin to hearing a song (and understanding it in the minds ear) and less like reading a theoretical or discursive statement.5 Writing a book (Twelve Preludes) as an attempt to highlight its musical qualities is
similar to the construction of Production of Space, which was written so as to reflect
3
Lefebvres works most explicitly dealing with music are not translated into English (Lefebvre 1966, 275
86, and Lefebvre 1971).
4
For example, he compares the vanishing point of the geometric space and the fixity of a tonic note, where
the resulting change in perspective leads to the near-vanquishment of both.
5
Lefebvre is also explicit that the number of preludes (twelve) is not meant as a parallel to Bachs WellTempered Clavier or Schoenbergs dodecaphony, although it can be inferred from his other writings that the number
twelve is intentional because it is representative of cyclical rather than linear temporal units (such as the metric unit
of ten). Towards the end of the book, Lefebvre makes a further reference to Schoenbergs revolutionary path for
music, part of which indicates a dismantling of the common-practice harmony and its monolithic structures.

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upon the various spatial quirks such echoes, reverberations, or redundancies that arise
due to the depths of spatial constructs and contrasts.
In Lefebvres philosophy, all reflections on (the nature of) space also entail discussion of time, and all discussions of time grow into reflections on rhythm: Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy,
there is rhythm (Lefebvre 2004, 15).6 This important statement is the closest to a
succinct definition of rhythm that Lefebvre offers. It is also reflective of his insistence
on the expenditure of energy, or a body-conscious approach to space and time.
Lefebvres focus on a broadly defined space that can be mapped across a variety of
domains views sound as a phenomenon that occupies space and, for it to be music,
that sound has to be real and have rhythm.7 He also claims: the spatialisation of musical time cannot be deemed a betrayal. Perhaps music presupposes a unity of time and
space, an alliance. In and through rhythm (sic)(60). Time and space are, for Lefebvre,
both (and together) understood primarily as lived. Time is not simply calculable, nor
reducible to its chronometric representation (the clock), just the same as the space is
not reducible to Cartesian geometric lines and coordinates.8 For Lefebvre, clock-time
is a reductive measure of temporal comprehension, just as Cartesian geometry represents a reductive understanding of space (Lefebvre 2004, xi).
This interest in a space-time dimension informed by rhythm pervades all of Lefebvres writing, but culminates in a posthumously published volume on rhythmanalysis.9 As the original title implies (literally, Elements of Rhythmanalysis: Introduction to the
Knowledge of Rhythms), this volume is devoted not only to a new discipline of rhythmanalysis (rather than the analysis of rhythms), but it also aims to understand and dif6
Henceforth, all page references are taken from Lefebvre 2004, unless otherwise specified. The words in
bold are from Lefebvres original text, and have not been edited by the author of this essay.
7
Lefebvre posits: The concept of (lived or dreamed) time remains abstract if one leaves the rhythmic
aside (60).
8
Slowik 2005 criticizes Lefebvre and other lived-space or subjective-space theorists for their misunderstanding of geometric space as just flat and for their disregard of those advances in geometry (such as differential
geometry) that render obsolete traditional Euclidean interpretations of a point or a line. Lefebvre follows Heidegger who also sees Cartesian space as calculable and controllable, thus allowing political and technological domination (formulated in Being and Time). Furthermore, Lefebvre considers the geometrical conception of space as not
a naturally human endeavorwe think of space geometrically only when we pause to think about it, when we
conceptualize it.
9

Co-authored in part with Catherine Regulier-Lefebvre, Elments de rythmanalyse: Introduction la connaissance


des rythmes, was translated into English in 2004 as Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life.

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ferentiate various types of rhythms.10 There is currently little published work acknowledging Lefebvres preoccupation with rhythm, even by his biographers (e.g., Shields
1999, Meyer 1973, Hess 1988). Elden 2004 does include a brief summary of The Elements of Rhythmanalysis, but his interpretation is rather short.11 Since Lefebvres theories
on time and rhythm are informed by music, and musical scholarship knows little about
them, my essay serves as an introduction to Lefebvres concept of rhythmanalysis and
aims to situate it within a larger context of related ideas.12
The remainder of this essay is divided into three parts. The first section summarizes some of Lefebvres strongest stances on epistemology and ontology of the temporal domain including the discussion of dualistic vs. dialectical thinking and timespace. As we shall see, despite Kants great influence on Lefebvre, the later philosophers
views on time and space diverge from Kants categories of experience: there are no
longer empty formal containers; rather time and space could be experienced as such,
and their experience was directly related to the historical conditions they were experienced within (Elden 2004, 185). The second section explores those ideas of Lefebvre
that are more closely related to rhythmanalysis, such as his musings on moments, re
petition, and difference. Lastly, I summarize some of Lefebvres specific definitions
related to music and rhythm, which include his classifications for different types of
rhythms.
Part I
Like Adorno 1982, Lefebvre remains critical of epistemology as a primary framework
for addressing the social world. Lefebvre is equally critical and apprehensive of Adornos lordship of the subject as he is towards the lordship of the object: The critique of a thing and of the process of thingification (or reification) in modern thought
10
Lefebvre adopts the term of rhythmanalysis from Gaston Bachelard (Dialectic of Duration), who, in turn,
embraces the concepts introduced earlier by a Portuguese writer Pinheiro dos Santos. Elden 2004 sees an even
greater influence of Bachelard in the veiled reference contained in the title itself: he suggests that the word elements also stands for the primal building blocks of the world, air, water, fire, and earth, all recurring topics in
Bachelards oeuvre (Elden 2004, xiii).
11

Some of Eldens readings (2004a, xi) understandably fail to clarify the usage of terms like beat, meter,
and measure considering that Lefebvre uses the same word (la mesure) to extend to more than one meaning.
12

A planned subsequent essay will extend his categorization of rhythms into the purely musical domain
and delve more empirically into musical examples and analyses.

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would fill volumes (3). This topic has great ramifications to music scholarship and has
been explored in Brian Kanes essay on David Lewin and phenomenology. On the one
hand there is Lewins specific rejection of thingification of musical entities (like
chords), reflective of a more general stance of post-Husserlian phenomenology to
incorporate embodied and active parameters into an act of perception (Kane 2011,
27). On the other hand, Lewin warns against the founding of a music theory based on
music perception alone. The connection between Lewin, Lefebvre, and post-Husserlian phenomenology is not direct, nor is it accidentalthe concept reaches Lefebvre
via Heidegger, who was mentored by Husserl.13
With respect to epistemology, Adorno contends with the differences among the
stances of Heidegger, Husserl, and his own views, whereas Lefebvre does not take a
critical position with respect to the application of scientific methods (mathematics,
logic, and physics) towards a resolution of metaphysical problems. He does not follow
Heidegger or Husserl, grounding the experience and perception of the subject in the
rhythms of a natural body. Ultimately, exploring the role and the modes of perception,
which raise the questions of subject/object dichotomy, is not Lefebvres goal and he
simply states: music gives us an alternative to purely mathematical modes of calculation and measure (Elden 2004, xi). Lefebvres primary criticism of reification is leveled at the reign of commodity, regardless of whether it is one of capitalist or intellectual production. He goes on to further define the object:
Things matter little; the thing is only a metaphor, divulged by discourse, divulging representations that conceal the production of repetitive time and space.14 The thing has
no more existence than pure identity (which the thing symbolizes materially). There
are only things and people. (7)

Lefebvres quest to find a middle ground and ultimately a dialectic approach to


entities and phenomena appears to cause some contradictions in his writing. Despite
his extensive critique of the conceptual thing, Lefebvre concludes the same paragraph stating that there are (emphasis mine) only things and people, perhaps evoking
Heideggers distinction between das Sein (that which is and may be perceived, e.g., as a

13

Kane 2011 details Lewins connections to the West-Coast school of phenomenology, if not Heidegger
or Husserl directly.
14

The notion of repetitive time or space refers to repetitive organization or scheduling demands of the
everyday life (le quotidien).

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chair) and das Seiende, which represents life and existence.15 Lefebvres dismissal of
pure identity and things separate from representation and perception echoes Heideggers position that the true understanding of a being can only be pursued in relation to a particular being, above all a self-aware being.16
Lefebvre insists it is only through use and through practice that the thought
strengthens itself (69).17 However, thinking is but one part, and not a totality of human experience; it represents a Cartesian emphasis on the consciousness of the act of
having a thought: Thought explores, expresses, but since everything is present there
are no secretsinaccessible movements and temporalities (17). 18 It is interesting that
Lefebvre connects the thought process with its silent nature and explores the ramification of an externally silent act (i.e., the thought process is never verbalized). He specifies that silence is not equivalent of a secret, which appears inaccessible; rather, silence
is inaccessible simply because it is un-publicized (it remains private, rather than
public). Lefebvres distinction between public (extrovert) and private (introvert)
thoughts, movements, and temporalities can certainly be extended into different domains, such as music, and in more than one way. In one possible interpretation, we can
view many approaches to music analysis as directly focusing on the non-self-publiciz15

Additionally, Heidegger defines Dasein as a (human) being for whom the question of being (as a verb, not
a noun) matters: Being that is not something like beings. The original reads: Sein ist nicht so etwas wie Seiendes (Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 4).
16
For Heidegger Seinsverstndnis ist selbst eine Seinsbestimmtheit des Daseins (Sein und Zeit, 12). The
awareness of Being [Sein] gives beings [Seiende] a quality of Dasein [self-aware being].
17
The emphasis on a thinking practice is not the same as Lefebvres concept of dressage (training or breaking in), modeled after Foucaults means of control and methods of domination in Discipline and Punish, as well as
Marxs working day in Capital. The physical practice that causes stress on the body is brought about by mechanical
repetition (of the capitalist system of production) imposed over biological rhythms. Dressage means we train ourselves and are trained in a number of socially acceptable and expected ways, but not by using or strengthening
thought. Dressage, on the other hand, has everything to do with control. One of Lefebvres strongest assertions is
that women have traditionally been dressaged in order to control and suppress their stronger internal biological
rhythms (40).
18
Unlike Husserls strand of phenomenology, Lefebvres view is curiously more akin to Paul Ricoeurs, who
views phenomenology as limited, and a method to be used only in conjunction with other philosophical approaches and critiques. Husserl was also critical of naturalists and their tendency to regard nature as a unity of spatialtemporal being subjected to exact laws (Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaften, 1911). Lefebvres philosophy revolves
around spatial-temporal unity and the laws he describes, while not exact, tend to be precisely defined in terms of
cyclical rhythms in nature. For Husserl things are not simply and unequivocally there and equally open to observation and investigation. The Lebenswelt (life-world), as the immediately present world of daily living, is explicitly
there and becomes important to Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, but is interpreted through the lens of social spacetime by Lefebvre.

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ing aspects of a musical workthe initially or temporally (and/or temporarily) inaccessible elements that may initially appear secret, but are eventually uncovered.19
In addition, he insists, we know more than we can possibly perceive with our
limited senses; e.g., we perceive light and sound in a very narrow band of wavelength.20
The issue of a lack of reciprocity between perception, knowing, and expressing
finds resonance with Vladimir Nabokov who puts it succinctly: I know more than I
can express in words, and the little I can express would not have been expressed, had
I not known more (Strong Opinions 1973, 45).21 Do actions like thinking inform our
sense of knowledge that surpasses our sensory input via perception? Lefebvre eventually sheds the light on the matter by situating human space-time partly in nature and
partly in abstraction. Namely, the space is produced and experienced as much as a
social formation (a mode of production) as a mental construction (a mode of conception).
Any undertaking of analysis and presumption of knowledge presuppose not only
existing categories, but also a point of reference that varies in relation to the obser
vera movement is perceived as fast or slow only in relation to another speed, often
one of our own biological functions, such as breathing or walking.22 In Lefebvres
work the temporal dimension is an integral part of every reflection, even in thinking
about thinking: relativist thought [dependent on scale and proportion] obliges us to
reject all definitive and fixed references (83). Despite frequently evoking relativist
physics, it is the human body that remains a primary point of reference for Lefebvre
and often represents the basis for further discussion. For example, he posits that body
19
Without attempting to privilege certain analytical pursuits over others, examples could include the process of uncovering hidden (secret, silent) motivic parallelisms or transformational networks. Explicit use of extrovert/introvert dimension underlies Richard Cohns motivic analysis of Beethovens Tempest sonata in the short
poetic essay This Music Crept by me Upon the Waters(Cohn 2000).
20
Elsewhere, Lefebvres statements seem to contradict this limitation and advocate for the senses: La
signification est prcise et abstraite, mai pauvre. Le sens est riche et confus, mais inpuisable (Le Langage et la socit, 238). This phrase translates as: Meaning (signification) is precise and abstract, yet impoverished. The meaning
(sense) is rich and confused, yet inexhaustible (translation mine).
21
Kevin Korsyn, on the other hand, believes that we always say more than we know or less than we realize (Korsyn 2003, 5).
22
The relativist aspect of the observers point of reference as well as Lefebvres claim that rhythm arises
through the interaction of time, space, and energy, clearly evoke the important elements of Einsteins special theory of relativity.

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is a primary point of contact in the coexistence of social and biological rhythms.23


While social rhythms do affect biological rhythms, even in mundane matters such as
the modification of the rhythms of sleep, hunger, and other biological functions to the
environment of our working lives, the body remains his fundamental point of reference.
This last point clearly resonates with the new work in cognitive musicology that
views musical experience as primarily embodied. Expressive gestures exhibit movement in time and spacesymbolic linking of an auditive event to an emotional content through expressive gesture indicates a narrative in which gesture/emotion is embedded (Khl 2007, 4).24 The comparable sense of motion in Lefebvre is not
approached cognitively and contains no semiotic pretense, but it is similarly embodied
on a fundamental (biological) pre-verbal level.
The process of rhythmanalysis, as Lefebvre proposes, does not aim to isolate an
object, or a subject, or a relation [but it] seeks to grasp a moving but determinate complexity (determination not entailing determinism) (10). The entire concept of rhythm
analysis is therefore one of using rhythm as a tool or a method, rather than an object
of analysis.25 In this manner rhythm can be an instrument of understanding for a
broad array of topics outside the field of music: one can listen to space as one listens
to music.26 Even Lefebvres focus on the body as a central referent for any study of
rhythm and cycles is not one of subjectifying the body, but using it as a starting point
in analysis and as a tool (our body as a free-range metronome).
23

This and other conceptual (dialectical) triads are reminiscent of Kant and Hegel, the latter philosopher
viewing the conceptual and logical as internal (mental), nature as external (physical), and spirit (Geist) as their unity,
one that includes and has overcome the duality.
24
There are a number of theoretical and analytical essays that have grappled with this issue, from the cognitive schemas by Saslaw 1996 and sheer breathlessness of Mead 1999, to the large-scale study led by Hallgjerd
Aksnes and currently in progress at the University of Oslo.
25

For instance, one might develop an analysis of a work like Lutoslawkis Dance Preludes using rhythmanalysis as the method for delineating the internal dynamic shape of contrasting movementsa type of dynamic
totality previously reserved only for the elaboration of the Ursatz. The changing, yet interactive, metric schemas in
two compositional parts ebb and flow, come together and fall apart, and their interaction defines the formal shaping
of the movements, imbuing each with a distinct dynamic quality. This type of analysis will be explored more fully
in a subsequent essay.
26

Since expenditure of energy through time and space represents rhythm in its most basic form, man-made
and natural noises, movements, and interactions would coalesce into a music-like structure. Lefebvres notion of
listening to a town was the topic of WNYCs Radiolab on what makes a city be heard and felt (Cities, Season 8, episode 4).

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Lefebvre identifies three historically recognized types of analysis: (a) classical analysis is reductive in that it isolates an element or an aspect of an object; (b) structural
analysis studies relations and interactions of pairs of terms (time and space, signifier
and signified); and (c) dialectic analysis separates three terms for interaction (thesisantithesis-synthesis, time-space-energy, or melody-harmony-rhythm). This last approach to analysis is the one Lefebvre keeps returning to, although he refuses to fuse
the three terms into a true synthesis, and they remain distinct.27 Lefebvre does not ignore the historical dimension and further identifies four types of historical spatial
practices as abstract, absolute, relative, and concrete. He argues that time must retain
both its abstract and lived sense, lest we attempt to eliminate history, which he consi
ders impossible. In addition to the plurality of space, the plurality of time already exists due to the many differentiated temporal cycles that exist in nature. Lefebvre, however, corrects Marxs over-emphasis on the historical (temporal) over spatial
dimension, seeking to keep the two in balance.28
He would likely level the same type of critique upon Bergson who states that
questions relating to subject and object, to their distinction and their union, should
be put in terms of time rather than of space (Matter and Memory 2002, 71). The differences between Lefebvre and Bergson are, however, even subtler: while Bergson
remains critical of spatialized quantitative concepts of time, Lefebvre embraced spatialized qualitative concepts of time.29 Additionally, Lefebvres understanding of history is
not one of a linear progression advocated by Marx and Hegel, but of a more periodic
one, closer to Kants concepts of cycles and change.
27
In the Production of Space Lefebvre also specifies a conceptual triad of spatial practices: (a) (purely) spatial
practices; (b) representations of space; (c) spaces of representation.
28
Lefebvre also criticizes the subjugation of time in relation to space: With the advent of modernity time
has vanished from social space. It is recorded solely on measuring-instruments, on clocks, that are isolated and
functionally specialized as this time itself. Lived time loses its form and its social interestwith the exception, that
is, of time spent working. Economic space subordinates time to itself; political space expels it as threatening and
dangerous (to power). The primacy of the economic and above all of the political implies the supremacy of space
over time (Production of Space, 1991, 9596). While the preceding quote echoes situationist Guy Debords concerns
in The Society of Spectacle (1967) written during the period of close friendship with Lefebvre, Debord insists on the
primacy of time and its restoration in the modernized society. Lefebvres foremost concern remains with the balance
between time and space.
29

Lefebvre claims: time may have been promoted to the level of ontology by the philosophers, but it has
been murdered by society (as quoted by Goonewardena et al., 9). Concepts of quantitative and qualitative time are
revisited below. I do not pursue the historical arguments further in this essay due to the heavy slant on socio-political ramifications of Lefebvres discussion of historical spatiality.

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Lefebvre derives the triad of spatial practices from the notion that human space
and human time lie partly in nature and partly in abstraction. As previously noted,
Lefebvres spatial triad comprises a perceived space he calls spatial practice, a conceived space (representations of space), and a lived space (Representational space), but
these three distinct spaces coexist and are considered dialectically.30 From the standpoint of the temporal domain, the notions of conceived time and perceived time are
linked to the concepts of lived space or time.31
The tripartite ontological division of spatial practices and their ongoing interaction
parallels the topic of Juilliard lectures delivered by Roger Sessions in 1949, which explore the conception, interpretation, and perception of musical phenomena through
the intersecting standpoints of a composer, listener, and a performer. While Sessions
at times romanticizes the notion of a composer as a musical thinker and a creator
of values, and identifies the listener as a psychological receptacle of musical impulses,
for whom the knowledge of compositional techniques is best forgotten, he does offer
an interesting view of performers and performance: The music is not totally present,
the idea of the composer is not fully expressed, in any single performance, actual or
even conceivable, but rather in the sum of all possible performances (Sessions 1950,
85). Through his ontological division of musical practice and experience, and the inspirational notion that musical conception comes to life in a socially shared act of
performance, Sessions offers a beautifully atemporal, but Lefebvresquely lived vision of musical expression and experience.
The concept of a lived and evolving musical experience and expression has not
been uniformly accepted in musical scholarship. For instance, Joseph Kermans evaluation of Sessionss stance fails to understand the composers point. Kerman states:
I would say that the musical expression is fixed totally by the composer, that the listeners experience is passive rather than creative, and frankly incomplete, and that
whatever is added [by the performer] is in a sense lifeless, since there is no spontaneity in its reproduction of musical gestures. (Kerman 1951, 128)
30
Lefebvre states: The spatial practice of a society produces, masters and eventually appropriates space.
Conceptualized space includes the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social
engineers, as of a certain type of artist with a scientific bentall of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived (Production of Space, 38). The lived or the representational space is directly lived
through its associated images and symbols (Production of Space, 39).
31

The precise word Lefebvre uses (habiter, to inhabit, dwell) can be seen as a direct translation of Heideggers (1971, 20927) verb wohnen of where Man poetically dwells (orig., dichterisch wohnet der Mensch).

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Kermans view that music, as envisioned by the composer, lives in the notated score
whether or not they are renewed or communicated imbues the score with an importance and a superficial resemblance to Lefebvres warning that architectural abstract
spaces (embodied by a blueprint) do not innocently rest on paper, as they translate into
a bulldozer on the ground realizing those plans. The difference, however, is that Kerman criticizes Sessions for his evaluation of experience (by a composer, a performer,
or a listener) whereas Lefebvre emphasizes everyday living experience as integral to
any concept of conception or perception.
A more recent view by Marianne Kielian-Gilbert recognizes what Joseph Kerman
did not appear to, a general move (within the community of musicians) away from
music as a textas a passive bearer of qualitiesto re-activating and engaging music
in differentiating temporal processes and affiliations (Kielian-Gilbert 2010, 200).
Lefebvre engages with the notion of notated music in latter portions of Elements of
Rhythmanalysis. Music is a living, sounding phenomenon that cannot be reduced to a
score, as it is, above all else, an entity that gives itself in return for a time: in return for
a rhythm (60).32 When Lefebvre does address the role of the score in notated music,
it has a limited rolemusical score has a place and a meaning, but music itself cannot
be reduced to these determinations. 33
Part II
Defining rhythm has represented no small challenge to musical scholarship. Lefebvre believes that everyone possesses a general notion of the concept of rhythm, but
that the meaning remains obscure as these notions tend to refer to a variety of phenomena such as movements, speeds, or sequences of movements or objects.34 He sees
movements as sequences of programmed acts that, in contrast to organic gestures,
belong to the domain of machines. Only a non-mechanical movement can have

32

One question begs further exploration: If, according to Lefebvre, a score yearns for a time or musical
rhythm, doesnt it in fact become a subject rather than an object in further discussion?
33

This sentiment is also echoed by Lester 1993, who defines the musical score as a set of instructions for
performers, not listeners.
34

Christopher Hasty expresses a similar view: I think people with more or less functional nervous systems
know a huge amount about music. We just dont know how to talk about it (interview with Beth Potier, 2013).

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rhythm, as it exists in reference to both linear and circular time.35 As a result of the
prevalence of linear time in contemporary life, Lefebvre claims:
We tend to attribute to rhythms a mechanical overtone, brushing aside the organic
aspect of rhythmed movements. Musicians, who deal directly with rhythms, because
they produce them, often reduce them to the counting of beats [des mesures]: Onetwo-three-one-two-three. (6)

Apart from those musicians that mechanically count linear time, there are others who
acknowledge the complexity of the temporal domain, but still not agree on how to
define it. For example, in Grove Music Online, Justin London offers a brief initial definition of rhythm as a movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and
weak elements, followed by qualifiers such as: (a) rhythm is one of the primary parameters of musical structure (after Meyer 1973); (b) rhythm represents a pattern of
duration within the span of the perceptual present; or (c) rhythm corresponds to a
series of events where some or all of these events recur at regular time intervals.36
Other sources offer even more possible definitions and interpretations. Paul Creston
(1961) summarizes no fewer than seventeen different definitions of rhythm before
offering his own: Rhythm, in music, is the organization of duration in ordered movement (Creston 1961, 1).37 The question of ordered movement (and of a series of events)
is relevant in Lefebvres work insofar as movement is not equated with rhythm and
ordering can be, as we shall see below, construed as either linear or circular.
The question of duration is one that Lefebvre also engages at some length, following Bachelards critique of Bergsons concept of duration and continuity, and is here
35

Lefebvre considers circular time to be one of (large-scale) natural origin, spanning cosmic periodicities
such as the rotation of the Earth around its axis and circadian and other human rhythms. On the other hand,
linear time represents repetitive acts, societal structures (such as the working day), and chronometric time.
36
The matter of precise definition is much simplified if one consults the California Public School system: Rhythm is the beat that can be uneven, steady, or unsteady. Meter is the way we group beats, we group [sic]
eggs by the dozen and days by the week. We also group beats into twos and threes. Thats meter. This webpage is
no longer accessible, but the thought appears to have found fertile ground elsewhere on the internet, such as the
website on music games that appears to be often quoted by other online venues. In this connection, see http://
ababasoft.com/music/teory_rhythm01.html.
37
Of course, Crestons discussion is extended beyond this initial definition and he proposes four determining elements of temporal organization: meter, pace, accent, and pattern. The organization of duration includes
meter and pace, whereas ordered movement derives from foreground rhythmic patterns. The purpose of introducing Crestons definition at this point in time is not to evaluate his stance and methodology, but for the purpose of
drawing attention to similar terminology used by Lefebvre, although not for the same purpose.

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addressed before movement.38 Bachelard challenges Bergsons notion of a unitary and


cohesive (and continuous) duration and believes it to be more fragmentary and comprising disparate elements.39 Lefebvres position on the concept of duration is less
explicit and derives from a more precisely formulated view on moments.40 In general terms, moments are those times with potential for radical change, for overturning
of existing orthodoxies, or simply correlate with turning points. In this context, Lefebvre privileges Nietzsches concept of an instant to that of Bergsons duration.41
Lefebvres moment is not epistemological or ontological (nor even a critique of the
latter). Rather, a moment correlates to an attempt of achieving a total realization of a
possibility, itself accomplished through the study of everyday reality. Moment both
defines a form, and is defined by a form it refers to a certain constancy over time,
an element common to a number of instants, events, situations and dialectical movementsIt thus tends to refer to a structural element that thought must not separate
from the conjectural without precaution (Key Writings, 171).42 Lefebvres usage and the
definition of the term form in the context of defining moments invites further
analogies: Every civilization is a creator of formswhose historical developments
would be worth following (Key Writings, 171).43 Lefebvre further describes the formality of his forms: The form, independent of the materiality of content, does not impose itself on it, or distort it; it allows it a degree of freedom, while at the same time

38
In Time and Free Will, Bergson is concerned with trying to separate time from spatial consciousness. An
additional point of disagreement between Lefebvre and Bergson arises due to Bergsons emphasis on duration
rather then presence and moment, the stance that Lefebvre adopts from Nietzsche concept of Augenblick.
39

Bachelards image of duration is based on rhythm, not melody. In addition, he qualifies music as fundamentally discontinuous. The continuity in music (incomplete and deferred temporal synthesis) arises only through
the act of perception (as quoted by Goodman 2010, 86).
40
Moments are mostly elucidated in his autobiography La somme et le reste (1958), which is still unavailable
in English translation.
41
Nietzsches Augenblick, or the blink of an eye, represents a moment where past and future meet, and a
moment of eternal recurrence.
42
This description of moments is from Le Somme et la reste and the selected passages are translated in Key
Writings. See also Critique of Everyday Life Vol II 36970, note 9.
43
Civilization (and its creation of forms) is distinct from his definitions of society and culture. While the
former is primarily defined by economic structures and modes of production, the latter comprises forms of knowledge that are learned, retained, and accepted (often as works of art or artistic practices).

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assigning it a role and a place within a whole (171).44 Examples of such forms might
include formalities in speech and rituals in gestures, such as handshakes. To Lefebvre,
the path from archaic to civilized societies is one of stylizing and organizing natural
gestures into significant gestures.
The path of organizing and stylizing gestures is parallel to a more general process
of ordering chaos:
Human lifeincludes no basic elements or attributes other than those which emerge
from the origins of life and physical natureNeither for man in general, nor for the
specific individual is there a fixed nature, a strictly determined essence, a kind of biological preformation of what he may and must become. He has only to recognize
possibilities and apply them to himself. (Key Writings, 166)

For any specific human being, some of these possibilities may be more within reach
than for others. Lefebvre views inclinations and gifts as only paths to a more complete
existence accessible via one of the many possible routes. He thus eliminates the idea
of innate endowment as well as pure plasticity. The difference between human beings and animals, as well as between humans, their civilizations, and groups is the way
order is imposed on innate chaos.
The concept of moments returns as an imagined instrument of order: It is the
way of dividing up moments, perceiving them and distinguishing between them, placing them in a hierarchy, moving from one to another, uniting them (Key Writings, 166).
In this, somewhat different, context Lefebvre sees moments through social relationships as well as forms of individual consciousness. Moments thus become forms of
communication, so that a moment is no longer equivalent to a situation, rather it creates a situation:
The moment thus conceived of has its memory and specific time. Repetition is an
important aspect of this temporality. The repetition of moments forces us to refine
the concept of repetition... It is no longer repetition of an ontic or ontological nature; nor it is any more a repetition copied to the letter from the phenomena of
memory, pushed as far as they will go. The re-presentation of a form, rediscovered
and reinvented on each occasion, exceeds previous conceptions of repetitionthe
concept of repetition has to be re-examined and refined in confrontation with the
theory of forms Repetition of a form differs from material repetition; whats more
44

This type of concurrent discussion of moments and form echoes the description of moment form by
Kramer 1988.

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material stability, equilibrium and constancy (when observed) should not be confused
with formal repetition. (The Production of Space, 12122)

The concept of repetition is not only integral to Lefebvres concept of forms, but also
to his vision of rhythm: there is no rhythm without repetition in time and in space,
without reprises, without returns, in short without measure. But there is no identical
absolute repetition, indefinitely (6). The concept of rhythm is thus addressed through
various descriptions of repetition and difference.45
In Elements of Rhythmanalysis Lefebvre defines absolute or literal repetition as only
a fiction of logical and mathematical symbol of identity: A=A. In this equation, Lefebvre makes a distinction between identical and equal, as the second A already differs
from the first in that it comes second. The statement that follows, however, appears
problematic. Lefebvre states: the repetition of unity, one (1), gives birth to the sequence of numbers (7). The problem with this statement is amplified when considering the longer passage on the repetition of unity (i.e., the number 1):
Not only does it [repetition of unity] generate the infinity of whole numbers, but also
the infinity of prime numbers (without divisors) which, we have known since the
Greeks, have specific properties. It is necessary to discover the (without doubt diverse) bases of the repetitive and the differential; and to realize that these relations,
being contained within the concept, have then to be found and recognized in real
rhythms. (6)

Any number, regardless of whether it possesses widely recognized special properties,


does not have to be generated by any other numberas a concept, it exists in and of
itself. An equation, such as A=A (or any other function), is an expression of a relationship: number two is not necessarily generated by number one, as number one can also
be generated in any number of ways, including by dividing two into two.
Lefebvres point on difference in repetition thus begs to be taken in spirit rather
than fact. As Vladimir Nabokov points out: While the scientist sees everything that
45

Gilles Deleuze also dismisses the notion of repetition and difference as antagonistic phenomena, though
he reorders the two elements, starting his discussion with difference rather than repetition: Creative repetition can
only be thought as the repetition of difference (Hallward 2006, 71). Difference is incalculable in terms of identity,
degrees, or amountsReal opposition is not a maximum of difference, but a minimum of repetitiona repetition reduced to two, echoing and returning on itself, a repetition which has found the means to define itself
(Deleuze 1968, 13). Kielian-Gilbert succinctly summarizes the various attempts of defining the relationship between repetition and difference: The musical practice is thus one of discerning difference as repetition and repetition as difference, rather than opposing or excluding each other (Kielian-Gilbert 2010, 202).

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happens in one point of space, the poet feels everything that happens in one point of
time (Speak, Memory, 218). The paradox Lefebvre generates stems from his attempt to
reconcile those aspects of art and science that may not be compatible, i.e., the poetic
license taken with respect to mathematical functions (e.g., the equation). Even if one
were inclined to generate a sequence of numbers that Lefebvre obtains through the
repetition of unity (e.g., 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.), the result would yield a repetition functionally expressed as 1+1+1, rather than the implied 1=1=1.
Lefebvres attempt to simultaneously epitomize a scientist and a poet in terms that
are not compatible with one another undermines his larger point. The general notion
that remains attractive is his insistence that temporal (rather than abstracted, atemporal) repetition produces difference(s) rather then exclude them, considering how re
petition entails an eventual encounter with an event that arrives or rather arises in
relation to the sequence or series produced repetitively (7). Unlike generalities,
which are cyclical, law-abiding phenomena (such as science may seek to uncover in the
physical universe), Lefebvres repetitions are unique series of events that often arise in
art where elements fail to assume true equality in recurrence. In this respect, his notion
of repetition approaches Deleuzes concept of creative repetition. Deleuzes definition
of repetition is arguably less entangled and more poetic:
Repetition is everywhere, as much in what is actualized as in its actualization. It is in
the Idea to begin with, and runs through the varieties of relations and the distribution
of singular points. It also determines the reproductions of space and time, as it does
the reprises of consciousness. In every case, repetition is the power of difference and
differenciation: because it condenses the singularities, or because it accelerates or decelerates time, or because it alters spaces. (Deleuze, 220)46

Ultimately, Lefebvre defines repetition as a difference without a concept (13), another concept reminiscent of Deleuzes work.47

46
Deleuze differentiates between differenciation (with C) and differentiation (with T); see the summary in
Hulses Crystals of Time.
47
Deleuze and Guattari also distinguish between ideas and concepts, where former have internal differentiation and multiplicity, while the latter have a single identity determined by four aspects of representation: Difference is mediated to the extent that it is subjected to the fourfold root of identity, opposition, analogy, and resemblance. (Difference and Repetition, 29). Brian Hulse extends this point: Duration is the repetition of tone
unfolding its difference in time. Rather than thinking tones as different from other tones in space. Under this
view tones are different from themselves in time. It is no coincidence that the theoretic systems which cancel out
repetition also reduce away duration (Hulse, Repetition and Minimalism, 8).

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Writing about phenomenal transformation of repetition Dora Hanninen notes:


Equivalence and similarity relations, transformational networks, theories of form,
motivic analysis, hidden repetitions in Schenkerian analysisall rest on a concept of
repetition that is at some level literal (Hanninen 2003, 59). Listening to music, however, entails hearing in context, and context changes our perception of things
(Hanninen, 59). She describes repetition as either conceptual or estranged, the latter
entails conceptual transformation of repetition that does not sound like a (literal) re
petition (Hanninen, 61). Hanninens approach to the phenomenology of rhythm
echoes Lefebvres larger theoretical view: rhythm, as lived, entails repetition in movement, though not through a monotonous return of identical repetition.
Processing rhythm is not a topic Lefebvre addresses at length, but he does admit
that our brains tend to rhythmicize repetitions and, while it is unlikely that he was familiar with specific studies on the subjectivization of rhythm, Lefebvre was, in essence,
describing a process summarized by Justin London as a propensity to impose a sense
of accent or grouping on a series of identical tones or clicks (London, 2004, 14).48
Qualitative distinctions in the temporal domain, such as familiar dichotomies (strong/
weak, long/short, rests and resumptions), need movement, which Lefebvre identifies
as a differentiated time, a qualified duration (78). He believes there is no unitary
concept offered in contemporary rhythmic theory that would allow for a clear understanding of diversities (differences).
An alternative to seeking unity and similarity in that which is different would be to
seek difference in that which appears to be the same (repeated). Lefebvres discussion
of repetition and difference also derives from the two-fold understanding of time in
general as either linear or circular. While linear includes the routine, successive, and
journeyed (to and from), cyclical movements are fundamentally movements in long
intervals. Linear time is represented by any series of identical events or facts separated
in time such as the water dripping from a faucet, or a series of hammer blows (30).
Linear repetition is thus monotonous, tiring, or even intolerable to Lefebvre. Cyclical
time includes processes, movements, vibrations, returns, and rotations (76).
Cyclical time has no beginning or end, since cycles are born from previous ones
and repetition is not superimposed.49 In social work and life there exist not only mo48
49

Similarly, John Rahn simply posits: Human perception always structures (Rahn 2001, 7).

He asks: Why are there micro and macro restarts, returns to the past, in works and in time?... Is the following true: Differences induced or produced by repetition constitute the thread of time (7).

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notony, but also various types of impositions. In his typically non-linear fashion Lefebvre discusses the interaction between the two different types of temporality and
eventually reaches the concept of rhythm:
Cyclical repetition and the linear repetitive separate out under analysis, but in reality
interfere with one another constantlyGreat cyclical rhythms last for a period and
restartThe antagonistic unity of relations between the cyclical and the linear sometimes gives rise to compromises, sometimes to disturbancesTime and space, the
cyclical and the linear, exert a reciprocal action: they measure themselves against one
another; each one makes itself and is made a measuring-measure A dialectical relation (unity in opposition) thus acquires meaning. (8)

The concept of cyclical repetition through linear repetition (they measure themselves against one another) gives rise to the concept of measure, which Lefebvre sees
as crucial in defining and understanding rhythm. He certainly recognizes the paradox
he creates and subsequently attempts to unravel:
Rhythm seems natural, spontaneous, with no law other than its unfurling [dployment]. Yet rhythm, always particular, (music, poetry, dance, gymnastics, work, etc.)
always implies a measure. Everywhere where there is rhythm, there is measure, which
is to say law, calculated and expected obligation. (8)

The paradox is not resolved in favor of meter (measure) or in favor of freedom from
mechanical clock time. Rather, Lefebvre appears to seek a balance similar to that of
being grasped by a rhythm, yet sufficiently outside it to maintain objective facility for
analysis. It is also noteworthy that Lefebvre specifically links the metric concept of
measure with expectation. Whatever its precise meaning, the general notion of measure appears more linear in its focus on a calculated progression of events.
Not unlike Heideggers concept of being (Sein), Lefebvres usage of the word measure (la mesure) is multifarious and exhaustive. In the first instance, he uses the word
measure as a general noun with two specific meanings. One meaning correlates to the
beat, although not specified by Lefebvre as the counting beat. The other meaning is an
English cognate, the measure (or bar), which stands for a group of beats organized
according to a definitive metrical schema. Considering how much Lefebvre bemoans
the lack of attention given to rhythm by music theorists and philosophers, this elusive
use of a term does not appear at all helpful.

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As a second category of meaning, la mesure is used as a verb for general measurement of durations and periodicities, even the unexpected ones: Far from resisting
quantity, time (duration) is quantified by measure, by melody in music (8). Melody, as a
succession of notes in time, is viewed quantitatively by Lefebvre, though only in monophony: Harmony, which results from a spontaneous ensemble, or from a work of
art, is simultaneously quantitative and qualitative (8). The question of spontaneity
aside (and how spontaneous such harmonic confluence would be in a work of art in
contrast to one originating in a street market), Lefebvres concept of quantitative and
qualitative remains unclear until he specifically addresses rhythm-rhythm (rather than
melody-rhythm or harmony-rhythm). He states: Rhythm reunites quantitative aspects and elements, which mark time and distinguish moments in itand qualitative
aspects and elements, which link them together(89).
This statement by Lefebvre is highly suggestive and reminiscent of temporal paradigms described by Christopher Hasty. Hasty 1981 distinguishes between quantitative
models of meter that emphasize durational quantity as the agent of periodicity, and
qualitative models where metrical accent arises from the sense of motion and internal
relations between beats and pulses. Broadening Hastys definition towards the more
general one offered by Lefebvre, the statement that rhythm reunites the quantitative
and qualitative aspects appears to envelop both the accent theories of meter and
Hastys own theory of durational projections into interacting and inseparable components of a larger definition of rhythm.
As noted above, Lefebvre believes that rhythm has not received due attention in
music theory scholarship, continually overshadowed by numerous studies of melody
and harmony. Yet, all three elements depend on our understanding of time: (a) melody,
as a succession of notes in time; (b) harmony, as actually or conceptually concurrent
(in time) sounding of notes; and (c) rhythm, as placement of notes in relation to one
another and their relative duration.50 Lefebvre also defines rhythm as either natural
(corporeal) or mechanistic, evoking his earlier definitions of time as circular or linear.
In line with his previous requirement for a body to represent the fulcrum of interaction between personal and social rhythms, Lefebvre continues: The relationship
between musical time and the rhythms of the body is required. Musical time resembles
50

Any study of rhythm raises issues of familiar dichotomies: change/repetition, identity/difference, contrast/continuity. Following dichotomies represent all the concepts and categories Lefebvre applies to rhythm: (1)
repetition and difference; (2) mechanical and organic; (3) discovery and creation; (4) cyclical and linear; (5) continuous and discontinuous; and (6) quantitative and qualitative.

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them but reassembles them. It makes a bouquet, a garland from a jumbleWhen energy is employed, as it must be, it unfolds in a time and a space (a space-time) (64
65).51 However, since Man is a bundle of rhythms, it is difficult for him to distance
himself or step outside the rhythmic bouquet garni. Lefebvre evokes the concept of
geste (as movement, gesture, or act) and dance as primary methods through which musical time interacts with bodily rhythms. The times measuring via a beat (measuring
the measure) remains a means and not the end. While rhythm provides an overarching
framework for cyclical as well as linear time, Lefebvre privileges cyclical time as it is of
cosmic origin and indicative of various natural cycles, whereas the linear time originates in human activity.52
As introduced earlier, Lefebvre underlines a distinction between secret and public
rhythms, as well as two additional categories he newly proposesfictional and dominating-dominated rhythms. The topic of secret or introvert temporality has already
been summarized, but it is worth noting Lefebvres usage of a metaphor. In trying to
make vivid the process that distinguishes the presence or fundamental existence from
a mere appearance, he states: The visible moving parts hide the machinery (15). In
musical terms, such secret rhythms might represent deeply a background rhythmic
scaffolding (such as structural markers in long-range polyrhythms) that is structurally
important but perhaps hidden from view (certainly inaudible to many). Public rhythms,
on the other hand, would be those extrovert and self-publicizing structures that are
easily shared among the various protagonists of a musical experience.
Fictional rhythms lie in the domain of imaginary and are the property of certain
verbal actions, eloquence, gestures, and learning processes. We may infer that this ca
tegory includes rhythms of oration and poetic meters, although none are specified by
Lefebvre. The final category of dominating-dominated rhythms is even more elusive,
as it is defined by Lefebvre as completely made up, whether in music or in speech,
and the aim of such rhythms is an effect that is beyond themselves (18). Perhaps the
most helpful path to clarifying these categories is Lefebvres clear indication that the
study of rhythms spans the most natural and the most sophisticated (presuming that
sophistication includes some form of artifice). The completely made up, sophisti51
Evoking Schopenhauer (see note 39) is not accidental as his work continues to be relevant for Lefebvre.
While not offering a new coinage (space-time or time-space) Schopenhauer did define representation of coexistence dependent upon time (where things follow one another) and space (where things are side by side) in combination (On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, 1813).
52

He adds: Rhythms are simultaneously natural and artificial, not one or the other.

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cated rhythms in music or speech might thus include complex interactions in poly
phony, proportion, arithmetic or exponential patterns, and other more secretive
rhythmic structures.
The process of uncovering something hidden from view is implied by Lefebvres
definition of a rhythmanalyst as having some points in common with the psychoanalyst (19), although the rhythmanalyst will think with their body, not in the abstract,
but in lived temporality (21). Another comparison Lefebvre draws is between a rhythmanalyst and a poet: Like the poet, the rhythmanalyst performs a verbal action, which
has an aesthetic import. The poet concerns himself above all with words, the verbal.
Whereas the rhythmanalyst concerns himself with temporalities and their relations
within wholes (sic) (24). One of Lefebvres most notable aims is to reconcile the need
for a rhythmanalyst to retain a measure of objectivity (observation) while immersed in
a rhythmic activity (participation).
While this may appear paradoxical to non-musicians, most performers understand
the need for a perfect balance between these two categories. Lefebvres experience as
a pianist may have been responsible for this insight, although he does not demonstrate
it in the book. Instead, he evokes the metaphor of a balcony, as a place outside the
bustling rhythm of a street, yet in perfect position to hear, participate, and analyze its
rhythms. To achieve the perfect balance is to remain both inside and outside:
In order to grasp and analyse rhythms, it is necessary to get outside them, but not
completely A certain exteriority enables the analytic intellect to function. However,
to grasp a rhythm it is necessary to have been grasped by it; one must let oneself go,
give oneself over, abandon oneself to its duration. (27)

In short, a peak experience performance may be analogized as being perfectly situated on Lefebvres proverbial balcony.53 The process of rhythmanalysis is not a simple
endeavor.
Part III: On Rhythm in Music
In extension of Lefebvres temporal spatialisation of music, the framework for any
analysis of a particular time-space environment is based on repetition, interference of
53

While Gardner 1993 popularized the terms flow and peak experience, they were initially associated
with other psychologists (Mihly Cskszentmihlyi and Abraham Maslow, respectively). While neither term is purely temporal, both authors acknowledge the presence of temporal distortion, or the subjective experience of times
passage as one of the main attributes of this state.

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linear and cyclical processes, and an overall living arch that Lefebvre describes as birthgrowth-peak-decline-end.
In terms of simultaneities and entwinement of (musical) rhythms, Lefebvre identifies four categories: (1) polyrhythmia; (2) eurythmia; (3) arrythmia; and (4) isorhythmia. These categories are musical as much as they are general (e.g., applicable to urban
theory). Polyrhythmia comprises diverse rhythms, but is common in everyday simultaneities and overlaps. However, that which is commonly found in nature is not synonymous with the word natural as the term is used by the society at large.54 Lefebvres
attitude towards natural is similar to that of training (dressage), which he vehemently
critiques: The representation of the natural falsifies situations. Something passes as
natural precisely when it conforms perfectly and without apparent effort to accepted
models, to the habits valorized by tradition (3839). Since polyrhythm is a common
term in musical discourse, it is important to note here that there is nothing in Lefebvres definitions that would contradict conventional music usage of the term. What is
noteworthy is Lefebvres consideration of polyrhythmia as fundamentally ordinary or
non-exceptional.
In contrast to the everyday (almost le quotidien) nature of polyrhythmia, eurhythmia
represents an association of different rhythms that unite in a healthy state. Eurhythmia entails a specific identity and is abundant in nature. The constituent rhythms are
not the same or equivalent, but they do coexist harmoniously. In essence, eurhythmia
includes various rhythmic simultaneities, which can include hierarchical organization
of beats in metric music and cyclical temporalities that are of a different cardinality.
Musical poly-cycles (comprising pitch, rhythm, and/or other cycles) whose temporalities are not purely rhythmical (e.g., including melody-rhythm and harmony-rhythms, or
musical contour) would also be representative of eurhythmia. Possibly due to its abundance, not only in nature, but also in music, Lefebvre appears partial to eurhythmia:
Between need and desire there is a well-known difference, but there is no discontinu-

54
In Production of Space, Lefebvre addresses the concept of natural space as one that is socially construed
and often accepted by individuals living in a society as natural. With respect to the social space thus defined, we
think we are free beings because we do not consider invisible constraints that orient us towards distinguishing
personal choices and directions as either right or wrong. Therefore, natural does not simply reflect the underlying
socio-historical context, but needs to be further assessed as a condition of social space. In music, this process of
re-examination might include assertions that one musical system or another is more natural, without acknowledging the cultural (socio-historical) space and time associated with our notion of natural.

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ity. The intervention of speech and memory does not open up an abyss. Need and
desire, sleep and wake, work and repose are rhythms in interaction (26).
Arrythmia, on the other hand, represents discord between rhythms, which arises
when confluences and eurhythmias break apart, are altered, and bypass synchronization. Arrythmia is fundamentally the dissolution of eurhythmia. Lefebvre explains:
There is a long way to go from an observation to a definition, and even further from
the grasping of some rhythmto the conception that grasps the simultaneity and
intertwinement of several rhythms, their unity in diversity. We are only conscious of
most of our rhythms when we begin to suffer from some irregularity. (77)55

The concept of irregularity is one that Lefebvre explores in connection with bodily malaise, but also in relation to our perception of rhythms or the lack thereof. For
example, his discussion of space emphasizes the artifice of geometry: we think of
space geometrically only when we pause to think about it, when we conceptualize it.
Likewise, he states, we rarely pay attention to our own circadian rhythms unless they
become deviant, e.g., we develop a heart arrhythmia or palpitations. Lefebvres prescription for correcting arrythmia and the sense of imbalance is through interventions
that are made, or should be made, through rhythms, without brutality (67). The
concept of brutality is not explained, but the intriguing thought of correcting arrhythmias by instilling a sense of temporal (rhythmic) balance begs musical exploration.
The last type of rhythm Lefebvre describes is Isorhythmiathe true equality of
rhythms. Isorhythmia and eurythmia are thus mutually exclusive. There are very few
isorhythmiae in nature, as there are few rhythmic equalities and equivalences of a
higher order: Were there isorhythmia between two temporalities, they would coincide (67). Unlike the usage of the term isorhythm in music, which indicates a cyclical
recurrence of rhythmic and/or pitch patterns, Lefebvre views isorhythmia as a type of
simultaneity, not a type of concatenation. The example of isorhythmia Lefebvre offers
is one that naturally occurs in an orchestral performance, where multiple instruments
and lines coexist without natural primacy of one over the others.56
As an interesting side note to his discussion of rhythmic types, Lefebvre offers a
brief critical summary of the history of music, which he views as the explicit rise of
55

As noted above, the issues of irregularity and eventually arrhythmia, hark back to the notion of awareness, which is a prerequisite for any analytical endeavor.
56

Lack of a priori primacy of one temporal entity over another does not mean a lack of differentiation
between the participants.

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the rhythmic dominion, particularly since the 19th century: The visualisation and spatialisation of musical time resulted, up to a certain point, from the writing defined in
the new genres (such as symphony)Measure (tactus) and writing correspond to
practical needs of music although, Lefebvre claims, not without impoverishment
of inspiration (63). In essence, Lefebvre is reflecting on the very early advances in
music that include notation and meter (time fixed in advance) and have progressively incorporated and transcended verbal rhythms (64). The poetic meter is thus
classified as one type of bodily rhythm, but further detachment of music from the
verbal rhythms allows it to reach other physical rhythms.57
The rise of notation is not without peril, according to Lefebvrewriting music
down and fixing its temporal schemas is a mark of progress that brings with it a loss
of spontaneity. Another historical improvement Lefebvre appears somewhat ambivalent about is the concept of musical forms. He identifies musical forms as primarily
binary and ternary, and this rationality or simplicity of categorization gives rise to
musical models that often lack spontaneity.58
He bemoans the lack of study devoted to rhythm pointing out that the melody has
been continuously studied since Antiquity, harmony has been catching up for the past
250300 years, but it is only with the so-called modern music that the musical discourse became characterized by the irruption of exotic rhythms (58).59 Despite this
eruption of rhythm in the 20th century, there is not yet a general theory of rhythms.
Entrenched ways of thinkingseparate time from space, despite the contemporary
57
He evokes Hegel by stating that the melody detaches itself in itself and for itself from the song and
from the word (61).
58
Lefebvre also distinguishes the types of music as logogenic and pathogenic. Music in the grip of the
Word is logogenicthe order and the meaning implied by the term is best represented by the music of J. S. Bach,
although Lefebvre speaks of music informed by poetic meter at some length. It is noteworthy that Lefebvre makes
the point of distinguishing the rhythm of poetic meter from metric music in general, for the metrical beat or, as he
puts it the musical measure, does not exist in poetic meter (61). Since he identifies spondee and dactyl by name,
it is fair to assume that the particular measure he is referring to here is one of isochronous tactus beats in an unchanging metrical schema (the musical bars in symmetrical meter or possibly asymmetrical duple and triple that
derive from aksak meters). On the other hand, pathogenic music is fundamentally instrumental music that began
with the Dionysian flute (61). This type of music draws on emotional, psychic, and mental effects he detects in the
music of Beethoven, Schumann, and Ravel. Remarkably, Lefebvre hails Mozart as the one composer that transcends these categories all together.
59

Lefebvre reminds us: Much has been spoken and written about musical time, especially after Schopenhauer and Bergsons narrow relation between musical time and lived time. Music offers much more to life than a
mere image Lefebvre contends. It is therefore a regal gift, obscure life transformed into a work of art (64).

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95

theories in physics that posit a relationship with them (79).60 With respect to philosophical treatment of rhythm, Lefebvre insists: everything was said and nothing was
said because rhythm wasnt taken into account or was taken into account badly
(64).61
Significant to the developing theories of rhythm and embodiment is Lefebvres
inference that the challenge to a comprehensive theory of rhythm appears to lie in
explaining that which is easily embodied: Rhythm is easily grasped whenever the body
makes a sign: but it is conceived with difficulty (64). This point resonates with the
pedagogical efforts in instrumental and general musical training by Dalcroze, Orff, and
Suzuki, all of whom embrace movement and physical awareness as a path to a deeper
understanding of music.
In summary, Lefebvres concept of rhythm entails repetition in movement, though
not through monotonous return of identical events. Rhythm presupposes marked
temporal elements and overall movement that carries these elements with it. By including measure, in a traditional metric interpretation, into the definition of rhythm, the
importance of memory becomes implicit. Even though Lefebvre advocates rhythm
analysis as an analytical method, he also acknowledges an integrative process of analysis (observing the triad of melody-harmony-rhythm). Integrative analysis is not one
of binary opposition, which enables us to determine the object but not penetrate into
it (60). The emphasis on one of the three musical domains (at the expense of the
other two) permeates the history of music, the surrounding social circles, and the
inception of each musical work (61). It is by relating the three elements of the triad
and shedding light on their association that the analyst comes to understand which one
may be dominant (e.g., a composer may emphasize the rhythmic domain, in contrast
to harmonic marches or melodic chant, 61).62
Finally, there is one other type of time Lefebvre ponders, the concept perhaps best
introduced by Nabokov:
60
Contemporary theories in physics are simply the four-dimension (space-time) models that Lefebvre
clearly prefers over Euclidean models that he so harshly and frequently criticizes.
61
Just like the elusive unified theory still lacking in the field of theoretical physics, there is no unitary concept that would allow for an understanding of diversities (differences) in the study of rhythms.
62
Historic-musical periods include the ones where melody floats alongside but distinct from measures,
chords and rhythms as well as those where the intensification of harmony crushes melody and rhythm under its
weight (62).

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Time is rhythmMaybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not
the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the grey gap
between black beats: the Tender Interval. The regular throb itself merely brings back
the miserable idea of measurement, but in between, something like true Time lurks.
(Ada, or Ardor 1969, 572)

Namely, the tender interval of Nabokov poetically parallels Lefebvres appropriated


time, the time that forgets time, during which time no longer counts (and is no longer
counted) (76). This type of time, no longer counted, Gardener engages when he describes moments of flow, or peak experience. It is the time Deleuze calls empty
time, a time that is unhinged, without a sense of linearity, sequence, or progression.63
Time conceived like this represents Lefebvres non-calculable time; it must be lived
and remain resistant to abstraction and generalization.

63

This third type of time is briefly summarized here only for the sake of completeness and respect to the
complexity of Lefebvres thought.

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97

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