|PART II - RHYTHM|
Rhythm speaks to rhythm in the land of open eyes
MY FIRST LESSONS With light were followed a few months later by an opening to the experience of motion. As I was taking a bus ride from Portland to Eugene, Oregon I began to notice the twirling of the small symmetrical trees that lined the road. I became progressively more fascinated with this spectacle and then realized I was visually dancing with trees. How many times in the past had I taken this bus trip and had been oblivious to this wondrous phenomenon! I vowed to make up for lost time by dancing with virtually every tree I could get my eyes on. Several months later I was walking near my home when I passed through a grove of tall straight trees which suddenly struck me as resembling giant metronomes. I started swaying my body accordingly, sensing that in some way "I had seen rhythm". This was my first conscious attempt to link rhythm with vision and walking. As a teenager I had lost interest in white rock'n'roll and began listening to rhythm and blues stations. At the time of my encounter with the arboreal metronomes, I had not listened to African-American music for many years, but my experience with rhythmic vision rekindled my interest. I started watching a local black television dance show with the hope that I, a middle-aged white man who had never danced as a youth, could pick up some pointers that would loosen up my body and improve my walking. Can an inexperienced, middle-aged white man develop "soul"?-a conundrum seemingly as absurd as the "sound of one hand clapping".
My devotion to this show eventually paid off. One evening as a group of dancers were executing a dance line. The singer on the record intoned a few repetitious nonsense syllables. I picked them up and found that I was repeating them more and more as I walked along. I had not been searching for any kind of "mantra" but one had appeared. As it became an habitual part of my walking style, I began to notice many of the visual effects discussed in the next two sections. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that poetry is metrical because it is derived from rhythmic incantations that the ancients believed could coerce the gods into doing man's bidding. In my case the use of rhythm has had a "magical" effect in coaxing out of their haunts certain visual spirits that had shunned my presence for many years. Rhythm apparently has this effect because it overrides the chattering mind rather than forcefully subduing it. Attention is directed outward, leaving the chattering mind to babble harmlessly in the background. Various types of syncopated beats seem to do this better than regular rhythms because by placing the accent on weak beats they help move the body more effortlessly along its way. They also make the body sway and undulate more gracefully in a way that separates black from white popular dancing styles. As one fashions one's own bouncing. bopping. dancing, and orbiting universe, one's spirit begins to live more and more outside one's self.
THINGS TO TRY
Rhythm Vision - The general principle behind viewing objects while walking to an internal beat. The possibilities are much improved by listening to African and African-American music. Based on my experience, trees and plants prefer funk and jazz.
Basso Ostinato - A musical mantra (preferably with some syncopation) set to the walking rhythm, verbalized, subverbalized, or heard in the mind's ear depending on mood and circumstance. For purely idiosyncratic reasons. I prefer "doolebop". Perhaps you care to set a more traditional mantra to a funky beat.
Tree Dancing - A desideratum of Dada and Rhythm Vision. Keep your eyes on trees and, as you pass by, allow them to rotate in your visual field. It is very simple but it opens the door to the mythopoeic imagination. Some trees are so provocative under these conditions that one must forcefully dismiss them with a "you brazen hussy" or some such verbal discharge lest they overpower one with their beauty. (Pages 43, 44) This principle can be extended to almost anything. I like dancing with the freight elevators in my office. They were painted Matisse blue and red. Now they are brown and grey, so I have to use more imagination.
Arboreal Sublimates - A tantric way of looking at trees. As you dance with them, notice how rotating branches enclose the space between them and imagine that they are enfolding your visual phallus. Women will have to think up their own version of this game.
Arboreal Nimbi - Many trees resemble the aureoles and headdresses of Bodhisattvas and oriental deities. This is another type of mythopoeic thinking that can enhance the pleasure of dancing with or looking at trees.
The Crystal of Light - A term mentioned by artist Oskar Kokoschka to describe a painting technique used by Titian and Poussin. I have adapted it to apply to the rhythmic viewing of trees. In the early morning or evening or when the light is subdued, walking by a grove of trees (especially those with many small symmetrical branches) will produce a stroboscopic motion which seems to suffuse the trees with a sheer crystal of light. The same principle produces movies. Once this is firmly developed, one can see (or imagine) the crystal even when the strobe motion is not rapid or even when one is stationary.
Arboreal Jive - Trees seen under the influence of a funky beat. No artificial means, please.
Wonderizing - The tendency of the committed visual rhythmanic to set a scene in motion by bobbing one's head side to side, especially likely to be provoked by light effects and distorted window reflections. To be avoided in the presence of the uninitiated. But beware of the-
Thales Effect - The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who supposedly died when he fell in a hole while observing the heavens. This admonition applies to many of the effects mentioned here.
D.I.D. - Or driving under the influence of Dada. Visual awareness markedly heightens overall alertness but detracts from straight ahead concentration, so be careful of this one.
Edge Effects - In the science of ecology an interface zone usually rich in biota. Visually, an interface zone richly productive of the joys of line. Begin with trees and while under the influence of Rhythm Vision observe the graceful lines created by the moving intersection between the outlines of trees. Then incorporate other objects. Trees against poles, trees against buildings, poles against buildings, etc. (Page 45) Anyone visiting Washington, D.C. should walk down the middle of the Smithsonian Mall and see the Edge Effects of winter trees against the angles of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Notice how a tree with outstretched branches moving against a straight edge seems to dance like a ballerina on her toes. Actually Rhythm Vision will show you many instances of this kind of graceful movement. Trees against fluted columns are fun and may elicit a trilling sound from the observer. I am somewhat reluctant to say this but one can even enjoy television Edge Effects since the screen is an edge. Visually attuned football fans should note the effect produced when the camera pans the yard lines or the stadium.
Zipper Effect - A sub-species of the Edge Effect: a rapid opening and/or closing of a V-shaped space accompanied by appropriate onomatopoeic sub-verbalizations. (Page 46)
Micro-Edge Effects - Another sub-species, perhaps the most exquisite. See various kinds of grasses and stalks interface and hear the strains of lyres from Nietzsche's Hyperboreans. Dark against light is very nice. Because they are thin, line and form tend to merge. If you are lucky enough, you might see an area of golden grasses bifurcated by the shadow of a fence, giving the illusion that the upper part is suspended in space. When you appreciate this or the Micro-Edge effect, you will know why the artist Arshille Gorky once exclaimed "they're cutting down the Raphaels" when he saw a field of grasses being mowed. Arboreal tracery moving against an illuminated child's slide will sometimes produce sparks and flashes that are a visual analogue of a jazz drum riff. As part of this activity, also admire the crossing of power lines while walking or driving but watch out for D.I.D. Speaking of power lines, power towers, as many artists recognize, can be impressive natural sculptures. As you drive by some of them. watch how one band of metal pops against another as it rotates in your visual field.
Shiva and Shakti Mating - An edge effect seen under the influence of mythopoeic imagination. Observe a straight object such as a sign pole moving against a curvilinear object such as a tree.
The Orgy of Maya - What the intoxicated adept feels when he or she glimpses the inexhaustible supply of Edge Effects. The lotus of line has opened.
Seeing Sound - Becoming aware of Edge Effects and the movements of objects against each other will introduce you to this most enjoyable phenomenon. Auditory (noncomputerized) music is produced when a finger, stick, or mouth contacts an instrument. Imagined or onomatopoeic music, which can often be the most beautiful of all, is produced in a similar way. Hear the music as trees and their branches pass over clusters of street lights at night or as they pop out from behind underpasses, bridges. and other road structures. While approaching by car a grove of winter trees, you will sometimes see them twirling and fluttering but then suddenly one will pop out with a BrrrrrrrFWOP-like sound.
Rhythmic Light and Chord Effect - There are some street lights in front of you. Many people already know they have entrancing "auras". Notice the rays that extend from them (they appear to be long, sheer insect wings when the eyes are moistened by the cold) and then begin a rhythmic moving of your head and body. You are now conducting the rays and if you want some harmonic accompaniment, squint and produce chords. This can be done while walking or standing but be aware of the tendency to lapse into Wonderizing.
Mimetic Bonds - If you try your own improvised ballet, you will become aware that the position of your body sometimes mimics the structures of trees and other natural objects, which can be imagined as frozen dance steps. This realization will draw you closer to them. Using the eyes' hands also cements these relationships. As you admire a tree or other object, visually trace its form and caress it. !t is also instructive to relate arboreal tracery to calligraphy.
The Extended Body - A metaphorical feeling of identification with the objects one is intensely and passionately viewing, related to the idea of Mimetic Bonds. Seeing the constant interfacing of objects in the Orgy of Maya enhances this feeling. The constant visual rubbing begins to rub off on the observer.
Verbal Ejaculations - Especially pleasing and surprising visions should be appropriately acknowledged. This is helpful in discharging aesthetic energy which can become dammed up. My idiosyncratic expression is whamo-bamo doolebop. Make up your own.
The Cusp of Straightness - Over there is a fence, sign. railing or other aligned structure which is now at an oblique angle to your field of vision. But under the influence of Rhythm Vision and rapt attention it will rotate in your visual field until it is at a right angle to the direction of your walk. Then for a micro-second you have achieved the Cusp of Straightness. Avoid the temptation to stop for that is a trap of Maya and will break the spell. (Page 47)
Alpha live - Lettering on various types of signs seen under the influence of Rhythm Vision. Watch as the letters pop or squeeze out from behind an intervening structure such as a pole-an effect undoubtedly noticed by "Pop" artists but while "Pop" Art might have seen its day, Alpha Jive can continue to live on. (Page 48) Because of the surprise element involved here, it is related to-
Epiphanies of Unveiling - The pleasure of line, volume, form, and light are combined in this activity. As you walk in a tunnel, through an archway, or approach an overhead window, empty your mind of everything save the Basso Ostinato and raptly attend to the interface between structural line and light. (Page 49) Expect a revelation and you will receive it. You can also have epiphanies in a building without overhead windows. Just attend to the interfacing of structural features as you walk along. Watch how lights pop and squeeze out from behind beams, walls, and arches.
The George Jefferson Effect - Another way to set a scene in motion by imitating the exaggerated side to side walk of the black television character. White people should practice this effect discreetly lest they become slightly ludicrous figures suffering from "compulsive soul brotheritis".
The Eyes' Fulcrum - As you walk by a winding tree-lined road, keep your eyes on the elbow of the bend (of course it will move as you walk) and imagine that it is you who are turning the street. If you keep your eyes riveted on the moving fulcrum and don't look up, down, or around, it will seem so but watch out for the Thales Effect. (Pages 50-51)
Curbaceousness-A combination of the Edge Effect and Epiphanies of Unveiling. As you drive along sinuous slightly hilly roads watch the interface between the edge of the road and the curb and see how it unfurls like a ribbon before you. (Page 52) Once you get involved in this activity, it may be difficult to . . . . your appetite for it. Even though it involves D.I.D.. it is reasonably safe since your eyes are directed only slightly to the side. As you drive or walk on hilly roads also attend to the interface between the top of the road and the horizon just coming into view. See how the visual planes emerge until the entire scene forms before you.
More Auto-Eroticism - In addition to the light effects previously mentioned, the curvilinear hood of a parked car is a good place on which to bounce your eyes. Notice its interaction with the center line or bricks on a building.
Tribhanga Manifestations - Another example of mythopoeic vision. Tnbhanga, the Sanskrit word for three-bends-body pose, is the classical position for the voluptuous goddesses in Indian sculpture. The tribhanga can be seen throughout the environment-in the shapes of trees, plants. and the curves of center lines in streets. (Page 103) Yellow center lines, whether of the Tribhanga variety or not, can be very interesting, especially if the road is a bit hilly. As you cross a street, look both ways and then entrance yourself on the center line. (Of course, keep moving!) (Page 53) The combination of the color and the movement of line produces an interesting effect. One could even imagine that one were "crossing over". Another interesting exercise is to attend to a tribhanga center line as you walk down a sidewalk and observe how you seem to be drawing the line into yourself. You are moving and forming the line and have become your own Brancusi. You may even achieve a Cusp of Curvaceousness.
The Decal Effect - Look for a place where shadows of trees appear on passing vehicles or better yet just wait until you are in such an area. Look for a large truck and keep your eyes in place. The normal reaction is to follow the vehicle with your eyes but resist this impulse. Notice how the shadow seems to appear but then is peeled off like the back of a decal. Your first experience with this effect is worth a Verbal Ejaculation. Also use the same principle to view early morning light on the top of a moving bus. By the way, the windows of the buses in Washington. D.C. produce riveting rotary reflections as they pass by. Perhaps yours do too.
Interstitial Vistas - Notice the cracks between doors, chair backs, and other kinds of apertures and then engage discreetly in the Jefferson Effect or Wonderizing. You will get an interesting sense of real and imagined movement in the world beyond the interstices.
Clattering Fences - "Op" artists have exploited numerous stroboscopic effects in the environment. Notice poles moving against fences and corrugated roofs, also twigs bouncing against brickwork, or branches and poles against bark. Onomatopoeia is called for. It's a noisy world out there. Usually we appreciate textures visually and by touch. Becoming aware of movement and sound allows one to experience them aurally and kinesthetically as well.
Aerobic Zen - Physical exercise done in such a way so as to develop simultaneously one's spiritual and aesthetic capacities. Jogging and running have been popular for many years, but they can be rough on the joints and back. But even more importantly, you are missing much of the visible world when you run by it with a Walkman on your head or do a mechanical aerobic walk. (I have seen Walkmanized people affront nature by walking on sylvan paths in the early morning when the birds were singing their hearts out.) Thus, I prefer to do my aerobic exercising indoors by improvising a dance to classical or African-American music while simultaneously attending to the movement of shadows and reflected light bouncing on walls and books, etc. The possibilities are limited only by one's imagination. Stationary body vibrations (somewhat like Polynesian dancing), beginning in the lower legs and then moving up to the hips and back, have been a good way for me to unlimber my body from its Caucasian rigidities. The artist Joan Miro claimed that "the power of the earth comes through the feet." Perhaps doing this in place is one way of transmitting that power to oneself, so experiment with moving up the jive chakras. As your muscles begin to limber up, you can then begin to vibradance (to music or a cappella] automatically and without effort. You are doing very well when your legs can register every note of a Beethoven piano trill. You have then achieved an enjoyable state of stillness in movement and can close your eyes or meditate on something while at the same time receiving the benefits of rhythmic motion. When you make some progress, you will notice how light and easy your gait has become, thus increasing the gracefulness with which you view the world. As you attend to Edge Effects, you might experience the feeling of choreographing your walk. You will then glimpse what the Zen masters mean when they talk about "dropping the mind and body" or what psychologists describe as a strong sense of "flow". In any case, I believe a half-hour of attentive walking is worth much more to your heart than an hour of inattentive jogging.
Nouveau Dervishing - Includes Aerobic Zen. as well as the whole panoply of musical and rhythmic approaches to visual awareness.
The Age of Plastic - When he was a young sculptor, Auguste Rodin was taught to model outwards so he could endow his figures with volume and inner life. You can also develop your "plastic" powers with a similar method. As you walk by trees, watch projecting branches and twigs and sense their inner force thrusting out at you, or as you execute dance, tai chi. or martial arts movements become aware of the muscular tension in your arms and its release as you reach out. This helps strengthen Mimetic Bonds.
Paralledging - Students of human perception have long known that human vision involves a parallax because although we see with both eyes, each eye sees from a slightly different perspective. The parallax is more pronounced the closer objects are to us and if they are very close or if we de-focus, we see double. This adds extra motion to edge-affecting because one can see double or spectral edges depending on the circumstances.
The Dance of Ptolemy - Greek astronomer who explained the apparent motion of the heavens around the earth as the result of a complicated system of circles revolving around circles called epicycles. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo overthrew this theory but you can revive it imaginatively as you become the center of your walking universe and notice how objects at different depths change their relationships to each other as you pass by. Those closest to you will seem to move faster than those farther away. giving you a simulacrum of epicyclical motion. I have found a children's playground to be a good place to observe this effect. As you drive notice how certain parts of the landscape can be broken into units and then observe their parallax. In the West one will occasionally see sagebrush on one side of the road and wheat or other crops on the other. Notice the different movements as you turn your head side to side. D.I.D. is not a problem in much of the West. In fact, it is very helpful in keeping one alert on long stretches of lonely road.
The Hands' Observatory - A way of creating epiphanies while immobile. It should also be practiced discreetly because it resembles the childhood game of peek-a-boo. Cup your hands in front of your eyes, leaving only a small slit to see through. This can be adjusted to compress and distort the image in various ways. The image is now isolated and seen as if through the wrong end of a very small power telescope. Then very gradually draw your hands apart like Mt. Palomar Observatory opening on a starry night. The image will pass through various phases-from isolated and telescoped, to double and blurred, to partial with blinders, and finally to full and unobstructed. In the process you may have put yourself in alight trance as the image and its environment unveil themselves before you. Perhaps seeing them slowly undergo these transformations increases attention and the sense of wonderment. It may help you see more vividly. While admiring nature another technique is to use your hands to trace rhythmically and expressionistically various things you see. Notice that the hand appears double because you are focusing beyond it, thus giving it a spectral appearance which seems to pass through trees. Also become conscious of the light on your hands. I was once caught in flagrante doing this. It was embarrassing to both of us, so be careful. Be aware also that if you practice the Hands' Observatory on a slight incline you might begin to bob back and forth like a creaky Tin Woodsman in the Land of Oz.
Copyright 1990 & 2000 by Dennis Roth - Please do not distribute without the author's permission.