The first thing I ever tried to compose music on was Fruity Loops. Fruity Loops was a computer program with a simple interface that combined step-based sequencing with pattern-based arrangements – the perfect fit for any teenage tenderfoot trying to get their beat game in order. In a nutshell, you would choose sounds you like from a library, insert them into the dashboard and turn them on or off along a segmented timeline. This timeline would be set to a tempo which would continuously loop, thus allowing your beat to bump. You could easily adjust the BPM (beats-per-minute) to create something akin to an R&B beat (Aaliah’s One in a Million clocks in at 61 bpm) or speed it way up to 160 bpm if Jungle or Drum & Bass was your vibe. My novice hip-hop tracks usually clocked in at somewhere in the 90-100 bpm range.

At rest, the human heart beats at an average rate of 60-90 beats per minute. In a similar state, dogs’ hearts beat between 60-160, depending on size, and cats between 130-220 (perfect for Gabber). A hummingbird heart rate can reach 1,260 bpm. (How do you dance to that?) Expectant parents have been known to say the fetal heart rate sounds like the galloping of a horse.

Tempo is more basic than rhythm; it’s maybe closer to the pace of how one experiences life than the flavor in which one experiences it. But tempo can also change. While chilling on the sofa eating pringles, you might be at 73 bpm (synchronous to Justin Timberlake’s Cry me a river), but while riding an oma fiets through the Maas Tunnel, your bpm might jump up to 132 (69 Boyz Tootsie Roll).

Audiobooks are usually between 150-160 words per minute, which is the rate at which humans ‘comfortably’ hear and vocalize words.  Steve Woodmore, who is currently listed in the Guinness World Records as the fastest speaker in the world, clocked in at 637 words per minute. In fact, Woodmore has recently said he’s been purposefully trying to slow down the speed of his speech so he can have normal conversations with others.  Woodmore’s speech trespasses the comprehensible abilities of humans, but would a hummingbird still get bored in a conversation at 600 wpm?

This brings up something else about tempo: it’s hidden. And when Woodmore speaks at four times the normal speed, this internal mechanism is uncloaked.

Gregg Bordowitz once said a beautiful thing, he said that all artworks have a kind of hidden pulse, like a beating drum, and that accessing the work has to do with tuning ourselves to that tempo. I love this idea because it shifts relation from a cognitive level to an embodied one. It’s a bodily understanding, pulsing together.

The para-sympathetic nervous system controls some of our body’s unconscious actions when at rest, such as digestion, salivation, lacrimation (tears). Deep primal response mechanisms. Interestingly, para-sympathetic sensitivity can vary. In about four percent of the population the parasympathetic nervous system has been shown to overreact, causing individuals to faint. This reaction is most commonly caused by the sight of blood, but it can also be triggered by the sound of another’s heartbeat. The audible pulsations produce an empathic response so intense you can confuse your heart with someone elses.

He felt like
his heart was trying
to match
her beat
he couldn’t catch his breath.