The Museum of Rhythm: A Constellation of Anomaly

The Museum of Rhythm: A Constellation of Anomaly

The Greek terminology for a water clock, clepsydra literally means: “to steal water” or “water thief.” As the earliest time-keeping devices, water clocks in different parts of the world assumed contrasting forms yet measured time-flow with a perpetually leaking vessel. Be it an earthen bowl or the complicatedly geared elephant clock from al-Jazari’s 12th century manuscript1, the rhythmic intermittence of time was gauged as a sequence of programmatic departures and replenishments. A liquid time that must be released in order to exist cyclically. Are those fugitive rivers of time the pages of history or its unchronicled interstices?

In al-Jazari’s illustration of the Elephant Clock, we see a mahout- ridden elephant whose insides are a water tank containing a perforated bowl and an intricate pulley system. Upon the elephant’s back is the visible timekeeping complex. The change of hour is noted by a zodiac dial presided by a falcon, while a seated scribe records the passage of minutes. In addition, a two-headed serpent operates as a looped delivery mechanism to lend and receive instructions of water- time, finally informing the mahout to beat a cymbal on the elephant’s head, sounding the half hour. The inner chambers of these creatures thus, function as channels for temporal transmission. But, what of their thirst? Trapped within a structural hierarchy the serpent is not permitted to perceive the opposing currents of time, only a measured swallowing. As for the elephant, he must ride in an assigned direction of “progress” to carry time forward.

The defining authority and control of space has generally been attributed to humanity, however, time was thought to belong to the realm of divinity, until it was captured by a universally applicable measure of clocks2. The time of history and the history of time remain deeply entangled terrains. Official accounts, which we accept as situated pasts have been composed at a certain pitch, tempo and frequency. When arranged as a linear progression, history comes to be heard as a brutal drone. Just as the striking of a tuning fork releases a swarm of collisions that are only received as a steady hum by the human ear, the construction of Modernity has involved a systemic muting of imprints that run alongside proclaimed universals. Even the vector of modern monstrosity has been made impen- etrable—a medley of masks that can no longer reveal a face. The effects of this positivist temporality resonate as a false note unto which we are made shadow dancers.

Surrounded by political, cultural and civilizational collapses on a global scale, we are now faced with the sheer facticity that there is no stable ground upon which history can be sighted—only a lingering identification with its memorized tempo endures. Within a seismic contemporaneity, the imaginative potential of telling time may no longer lie in minor dissections of petrified chronicles, but in reconsidering the entirety of its sensual complex—the rhythm of history.

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1 The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, al-Jazari, 1206, interpreted in the following article: The Machines of Al-Jazari and Taqi Al-Din, Prof. Salim T.S. Al-Hassani, http://www.muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=466

2 Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life, Henri Lefebvre, Continuum, 2004, p. 5

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