John Stephens on rhythm as a fundamental element of music

Drummer John Stephens’ Search and Reflect is a hugely influential collection of exercises for groups of musicians of mixed ability to explore playing and improvising together. Early on in the book Stephens defines his Fundamental Elements of Music, with the aid of this diagram.


The diagram is pretty self explanatory but here are a few short sentences from the accompanying text which seem relevant to my project:

If sound is taken as a starting point, this immediately implies its opposite: the absence of sound, which is silence. … Both of these elements (SOUND and SILENCE) have various properties and usages, one of which is DURATION.

… Likewise, the longest possible sound which could be produced or imagined will be of finite length. If a machine was built to produce an everlasting sustain it is unlikely that it would function eternally, so even that sound would have an end.

…The click and sustain are different durations of sound. In order to differentiate between them we need silence. Silence also has a property of duration. As soon as we choose the length of the silence that separates the click and sustain, we are making a RHYTHMIC choice. Through the combination of sounds of different lengths, RHYTHM becomes manifest as the next fundamental element in music.


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