CITY BREATHS

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Rhythmanalysis in Interbellum Berlin

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The concept of rhythmanalysis, as coined by Henri Lefebvre in a book that was published after his death in 1992, is intriguing to me and pops up in my head every now and then. Lefebvre writes: 

In order to understand the city, and its ceaseless contrapuntal rhythms, one must situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside of it.

In practice, this is what rhythmanalysis is according to Lefebvre (analyzing urban space from his Parisian balcony):

Towards the right, below, a traffic light. On red, cars at a standstill, the pedestrians cross, feeble murmurings, footsteps, confused voices. One does not chatter while crossing a dangerous junction under the threat of wild cats and elephants ready to charge forward, taxis, buses, lorries, various cars. Hence the relative silence in this crowd. A kind of soft murmuring, sometimes a cry, a call.
Therefore people produce completely different noises when the cars stop: feet and words. From right to left and back again. And on the pavement along the perpendicular street. At the green lights, steps and words stop. A second of silence and then it’s the rush, the starting up of tens of cars, the rhythms of the old bangers speeding up as quickly as possible. At some risk: passersby to the left, buses cutting across, other vehiccles. Whereby a slowing down and restart (state one: starting up - stage two: slowing down for the turn - stage three: brutal restart, foot down, top speed, excluding traffic jams…). The harmony between what one sees and what one hears (from the window) is remarkable.

The rhythmanalysis is what came to mind when I watched “Berlin. Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt" again. This classic film, that came out in 1927, is a case of rhythmanalysis avant la lettre in my opinion. As a viewer, you are both part of the city but also a passive observer of it, absorbing the urban dynamics that essentially make up the city. Take a look at the clip below to understand what I mean.

On February 21, the film will be screened at TrouwAmsterdam. It will be accompanied by live music and street sounds from 1920s Berlin.
 

The long Lefebvre quote is from the great book Restless Cities (2010) edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart.

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