Thursday, 15 March 2012

Taliesin's Drum

07:30:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , , , , , , 3 comments
Before we created written language to signify words, we used tally marks to signify numbers.  You might say, therefore that numbers are more essential than words.  Not so.  Rather, we were good enough at using oral language that creating a permanent symbol of that language was not deemed necessary for a long time. 

Oral storytelling, like traditional poetry, is rhythmical in nature and hence incorporates numbers.  Traditional Homeric verse was composed in numerical form, specifically hexameter, consisting of 6 feet, usually dactyls which are made of 3 syllables.  These numbers, the rhythm, were essential to the mnemonic feat of recounting a story which consisted of several hours' material.  But more than that, research has shown that this rhythm is capable of regulating heart rate and respiration.  In other words, it has a relaxing effect on the person who reads it. 

The rhythm of dactylic hexameter can be found in music.  As Steve pointed out yesterday, there is a strong link between verse and music.  The waltz is perhaps the most obvious example of music in triple time which uses a dactyl-like rhythm: Tum ti ti, tum ti ti, tum ti ti, tum ti ti.  This rhythm can also be found in Handel's Sarabande, Amazing Grace, and Toad the Wet Sprocket's Walk on the Ocean.

While maths and difficult logical thought required writing to develop, however, storytelling and verse were created without the need for marks.  This is because the rhythm of the stories that we tell, the ballads, the sonnets, the songs, come from inside us.  We feel our way into a poem.  Certain sounds and rhythms fit around a description in a way which says more than the words alone manage.  We arrange the sounds in such a way that their effect, when heard, forms a pattern.  Because we do love patterns don't we?  And recognising the patterns is one of the pleasures that we find hard to resist. 

Patterns, rhythms, connect us to our bodies.  They remind us of our heartbeat, of our respiration.  They mimic the motion of the waves, the call of birds, the gentle (or not) back and forth of fucking.  Patterns suggest nature and there's nothing more intricate or beautiful than nature.  So when we create patterns, rhythms, we are mimicking Gaia herself.  When we recognise a pattern in art, we pay attention because here is something a human has created which is potentially an echo of the heart of existence. 

Numbers are not a separate entity to art.  They exist at its centre.  But unlike those traders who carved notches into bark, poets don't need to keep track of their numbers in the visual realm.  Our numbers are the invisible patterns around which we tie our ribbons of thought in the hope that someone will unwrap the colourful bows, discover an echo and pass the revelation on in a Chinese whisper so that eventually we all grow a little closer to the truth.



Ste said...

One word: beautiful.

Ashley R Lister said...

Eloquent as always.

And illustrative of one of the many reasons why I'm looking forward to seeing you at the theatre this evening.


Lindsay said...

I really wish I had the memory to recite stories and poetry without text in front of me. I take my hat off to yourself and Ste, you remove that prompt which becomes a wall between the audience and narrator. I must admit I do find rhythm very soothing and relaxing.