This activity introduces participants to creating music by paying close attention to the quality of another person’s movement.
The activity develops the ability to listen and notice one’s responses to the surrounding world. In fact, one’s mind, one’s imagination, one’s senses, always respond to external stimuli. Silent Rhythms is an example of a viable way of giving voice to such personal and unique responses.
Silent Rhythms is an extremely versatile activity. I shared it with very young children (5–6 years old) and elders; with teenagers and adults; with people in situations of mental vulnerability and former prison inmates.
The clips forming the video tutorial are taken from a workshop for dancers. That workshop aimed specifically to provide that community with tools to bridge dance and music creation. Although every dancer had an intimate connection to music through movement, often they were oblivious as to how to translate the movements of their body into an embodied kind of sound production. The following process helped them do just that:
“Listening with the eyes”
Participants organised in a circle, each person standing a couple of metres from the people next to them. Participants are invited to “listen with their eyes” to what is about to happen. The whole activity takes place in silence. Each individual, in turn, steps a little forward closer to the centre and performs a repetitive movement with their body. The person performs the movement a few times and then stops and walks back to her or his place. At that point, the next person steps in and performs a new movement, and so on until everybody performs a silent body pattern.
At the end of the circle, the facilitator would ask the participants if, by “listening with their eyes” (meaning: by paying close attention to the quality of the mover’ movements) they heard anything in their imagination. Usually people express that indeed they heard something.
At that point the facilitator performs a repetitive movement and invites a volunteer to give voice to what she or he “hears” with their eyes. In turn, the facilitator asks different people to give voice to the same movement.
After this demonstration, the group goes back in a circle and repeats the exercise from the beginning. Yet, this time, the person opposite in the circle to the person moving, voices what she or he hears by “listening with their eyes”. The sequence usually proceeds following this order: a person steps in the circle, starts performing a repetitive movement (the mover). After a little, the person in the circle opposite to the mover will start singing what she or he hears (the singer). When the mover stops, also the singer stops, and the activity moves on to the next couple mover/singer.
The experience is followed by a debriefing to allow participants to express the emotions, thoughts and considerations produced by the experience.
These are some of the observations offered by participants in the past:
Each person “hears” the movement differently
Interpretations can differ greatly and yet it is evident a clear relationship between the movement and the sound was created
Each interpretation feels unique and legitimate
The singing appears to be the product of a partnership between mover and singer
People at times point out the effortlessness of the process. Others observed that a person’s voice can emphasise and make apparent details of a movement that would have passed otherwise unnoticed to them.
I personally observed also that more expressive movements usually offered more inspiration for the singers, as if a movement full of intention communicates more information.
Silent Rhythms offers different lines of development. While I encourage each facilitator to follow their intuition and further develop this activity in their own ways, here are two possibilities that I often use.
Multiple people voice one person’s movement. The activity proceeds exactly as described above in the “Voicing” section. Yet, after the first person begins to voice the moment, the person in the circle standing next to him or her will add her or his voice too. I invite the second singer either to express parts of the movement that the first singer left out, or maybe by capturing with the voice a different quality or aspect of the movement. There is also the option of adding a second voice that does not refer anymore to the movement but that simply responds to the first voice. Up to four voices can be added per mover.
Movement-to-Voice-to-Movement. In this variation, the sound produced by the singer is the inspiration for a new movement performed by a second mover. In this variation the participants are displaced in a line: the first mover faces the singer, while the second mover is shoulder to shoulder with the singer (in order to not see the movement of the first mover). The sequence can be video recorded and the three participants can watch it afterward and compare the continuity and divergences in the interpretations of movement and voice.
In people’s appreciation of this activity I discovered something beyond its intended purpose. Most times a sense of relief and a soft sense of excitation pervade the space.The common sentiment is well expressed by participant Nadia Stevens: “It is nice to see and recognize my movement in a person’s voice.”
A similar feeling was expressed by former inmates at a workshop for the association Communitas, which supports former prisoners’ reintegration in society. The organiser of the gathering Jeri expressed that Silent Rhythms produced a soothing effect of mutual recognition between participants, which was precious for this specific community of people at risk of social isolation.
Hannah Arendt says that we cannot know who a person is by gauging what a person does. Who a person is can instead be discovered only by attending the person’s specific way of moving or acting, speaking or interacting. Yet human beings are also confronted by the conundrum that no one can see himself or herself from the outside. We can only see ourselves reflected in the behaviour of the people who interact with us. I believe that this activity makes evident the webs of reciprocity that entangles the people in a group. Silent Rhythms invites people to intentionally and playfully look at others’ ways of moving, paying attention to details, and therefore opens the possibility for a sense of recognition and encounter.Read More +