In music, dance and language, a phrase is the smallest unit which is complete in itself and has its own sense. Phrases build a step-by-step progression which makes the development of an idea or a sequence of events more accessble to the receiver. There is also music, dance and poetry without phrases. This is actually more similar to the way things actually are, because reality doesn’t use phrases in expressing itself. We are the ones who divide experience into separate units in our minds so that we can deal with the infinitude and uninterrupted continuity in which we exist. When this is challenging we can consciously try to find the commas and the full stops that make sense for us. Or we can try to yield to the constant stream of consciousness that we ourselves are also part of.
Our mind is wired to respond to change and difference with attention. This enables us to adapt to new conditions and helps us survive. Because of the time element involved in live arts, this is an important consideration when composing a piece. Contrast tends to keep the audience attentive. However, if everything is different and changing all the time, this would become the constant and the mind would register sameness as the contrasting element. Routine can turn my attention off. What do I need to break the routine and wake up? Is it a routine of sameness or a routine of irregularity? Do I need something extraordinary or, rather, some continuity?
Rhythm can be described as a regularly repeated sound, movement or action. In most music the rhythm stays the same throughout the piece, but there are also music styles and compositions in which there are several simultaneous rhythms, or the rhythm changes throughout the piece or there is no rhythm at all. For us to be able to perceive rhythm we need to be able to perceive the continuity in the sequence, that is, we need to perceive the pauses as a transition towards the next sound, movement or action. How long can a pause be before we lose the thread? Sometimes in life it seems like things have come to a standstill and what was progressing has stopped. How long can the pause between events be before we perceive it as a stop and an end?