Notes on Syncopation

– Augustin Maurs for MMU session 17.12.2020

Syncopation is what came to my mind during our discussions about how to deal with “contentious objects”:
the wrapped figurine that “should not be touched”, brought by Krista Belle to one of our meetings at KW,
the Puppenhaus with the partly missing NSDAP initials unveiled by Henrikein her zoom introduction,
the horrifying objects of the Museum der Dinge,
the Unspeakable as an artifact.
the “Entweseung”.

The primary meaning of syncope is medical: collapse, loss of consciousness
from Latin – syncopare “to shorten”, “to faint away”, but also “to swoon”
and from Greek synkoptein “to cut up,” “to contract”, “to omit”.

And another meaning in western musical terminology is the removal of a down beat.
As if you would chant: 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2… and then take away the “1” :
(…),2, (…),2,(…),2,(…),2,(…),2,(…),2 …

A rhythm characterised by absence, the Interruption of a time flow,
that came to Europe with the transatlantic slave trade,
and soon reached the rest of European music from Bach to Stravinsky and after.
And Beethoven, the great Syncopath who often used the missing down beat to create a shock or a crisis.

A crisis that can lead to another flow, a bouncing upbeat,
the syncope; the exhalation of Jazz.

A contre-temps (a French word for syncopation) or “counter-time”
that recalls the “consubstantial link between power and rhythm” (Roland Barthes),

and Aimée Césaire’s boomerang effect – the civilised becoming the uncivilised, colonialism coming back as fascism.

And back to us, to the objects we want or don’t want to touch and the sounds we want or don’t want to make.

Syncope – a word invented by Europeans to define a non-European rhythm.
That in the end incarnates its own collapse.

No ground. No down beat. A crack in history like in Rimbaud’s simultaneously immediate and anticipatory vision of democracy (and to me one of the most virulent syncopes):

Democracy (from Illuminations,1886)

“The flag goes with the foul landscape, and our jargon muffles the drum.”
In the great centers we’ll nurture the most cynical prostitution.
We’ll massacre logical revolts.
In spicy and drenched lands!— at the service of the most monstrous
exploitations, industrial or military.
“Farewell here, no matter where.
Conscripts of good will,
ours will be a ferocious philosophy;
ignorant as to science,
rabid for comfort;
and let the rest of the world croak.
This is the real advance. Marching orders, let’s go!”