The Rhythmic Idea and the Musical Representation of Time

Rodrigues, Indioney Carneiro. 2019. The Rhythmic Idea and the Musical Representation of Time. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Taking its starting point from the often repeated idea that music and time are related, and that
understanding time, in its multiple possibilities, depends on perceiving it rhythmically, this thesis
proposes a new compositional concept, the rhythmic idea, which elaborates musically the ways time
becomes rhythm. This concept is developed mainly from H. Bergson’s and G. Deleuze’s philosophies
of time, both of post-Kantian transcendental empiricist extraction, and elaborates the conception of
musical idea informed by A. Schoenberg’s and K. Stockhausen’s theories on the matter. In it, the
qualifier rhythmic does not necessarily denote pulse regularity nor a recursive ordering of different
impulses, but their heterogeneity and complexity. All the same, idea does not denote identity but
dynamism and multiplicity. It is thus understood that the notion of rhythmic idea indicates duration,
in the perspective of Bergson’s durée réelle, a dynamic temporal flux that is manifold in the experience of
a musical piece, so that the piece’s temporal evolution becomes in itself a mode of being. Additionally,
now following Deleuze (and also Bachelard on this specific matter) it is understood that the particular,
unique cognitive experience of a musical piece’s temporal complexity and heterogeneity also becomes
a mode of knowing. Thus musical composition is a twofold process: it is a privileged means for the
expression and interpretation of fluxes of temporal complexity forms, which always operate on the
temporal orientation of both being and knowing simultaneously. This orientation is rhythmic in both
senses, as dynamism, and as complexity, that is, as continuity and articulation. From this, emerges the
notion that composing — which in the perspective here presented includes both the expression and
the interpretation of the very compositional process by means of a musical piece — is accomplished
according to determinate rhythmic ideas that rhythmicalize functionally a given musical idea, as being
and as knowing. On this basis, it is argued that the functional rhythmicalization of the musical idea
comprises at least three qualitatively distinct but mutually influencing compositional domains, of
which this dissertation discusses chiefly the first: (1) the domain of musical times, composed by the
rhythmical interpenetration of absolute fundamental temporal orientations, bound to the past or to
the future; allowing for a future development of further two domains: (2) that of musical temporalities,
composed by the rhythmical interpenetration of fluid, regular and irregular psychological impulses, informed
by distinct types of memory and imagination; and (3) that of musical temporalizations, composed
by the rhythmical interpenetration of systemic (time-qualifying) and metrical (time-ordering) operations.
Rhythmicalization may imply either the creation of original rhythmic ideas or the arrangement of
conventional ones. In this, it reflects the degree of social assimilation and, therefore, the degree of
historical and cultural installation of rhythmic ideas. Furthermore, as the temporal complexity of a
given musical idea cannot be abstracted from the experience of its own flux and because this twofold
experience is at last necessarily related to the quality or ‘reach’ of one’s experience of the dynamism
and complexity of the world — both as perception and intellect —, it is suggested that the rhythmic
constitution of the musical idea stands not only as a fundamental and necessary representational factor
of music as Art but, more to the point, it stands essentially as a means of representing the foundations
of our experience of time itself.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Compositional processes in music, musical composition, rhythm, musical idea, Rhythmic Idea, musical representation, musical time

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 August 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

10 Sep 2019 14:21

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:15


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