The Inner Rhythm as the Foundation of the Inner Song

SPEP 2021 Conference (September 23rd-26th)



As a painter tries to translate his/her vision into a painting and as a writer tries to verbalize the story s/he imagines, so the musician tries to perform what s/he hears “in his/her mind”: the inner song.[1] In music performance: interpretation means playing the inner song as a specific understanding of a piece of music, improvisation means performing the inner song in the moment of hearing it, and composition means writing down the inner song as it is phantasized.

Philosophically, the inner song is:[2] (1) a phenomenon—it is given in the phenomenological consciousness—(2) of phantasy—it is neither a phenomenon of perception nor an intuitive positing of past or future as true—(3) teleologically oriented toward the performance which realizes it [3]—it is given as a part of the act of performing—(4) constituted through an intention—chance plays very little role in its constitution—and (5) sonorous but not necessarily linguistic—it is composed of sounds but language might or might not be involved.

When the musician practices music, s/he needs to grasp first the inner rhythm,[4] and it is only once situated in the tempo determined by this regular pulse, that the musician starts phantasizing the inner song and/or playing the melody on the instrument. This means that the inner rhythm, understood as a synthetic unity of various rhythms of the Body (most especially heartbeat and respiration) through which I experience my Body as alive, and alive because rhythmically animated, is the foundation of the inner song.

In the present paper, I will describe how the inner song is apprehended in phantasy against the primary experience of the inner rhythm given through auto-affection. I will first analyze the special attitude in which the musician grasps the inner song, then explain how the inner song and its perceived counterpart are given against the grasping of the inner rhythm, and finally, describe how the inner rhythm is the temporal foundation of the two phenomena.[5]


I am sitting on my chair with my cello lying against my chest, held between my knees, and the bow in my right hand. I have disengaged from the world around me in order to grasp my inner song as well as what I am practicing. I have my eyes closed to hear better.

 Today I am rehearsing Jacqueline’s Tears by Offenbach. I already know Offenbach’s melody because I have been learning it over the last few days with my cello. I know how fast it should go and I can phantasize its beginning pretty well. I also remember how I practiced it yesterday, at which cadence, and so on.

Now I start. I grasp the inner rhythm; I choose the tempo of the melody within that pulse; I try to feel the rhythm in my body and situate myself within this rhythm; when I am well situated in that pulse, I breathe, and then I sing my inner song in phantasy as I pose the bow on the string and start playing.


As the musician practices and rehearses with the instrument, s/he is first busy with the world on hand, in the natural attitude.[6] In this attitude, the world is given immediately through perception. So, when I am rehearsing in the music room of my conservatory, for instance, I am busy with the perception of my instrument, the background of the music room in which I practice, and/or the voices of other music students resonating in the hall outside of the room. All these various perceptions absorb my attention and prevent me from hearing the inner song. In order to access the phenomenological sphere and grasp the inner song given in phantasy as well as the actual song, which is its correspondent given in perception, it is necessary to perform a double epoché:[7] a theoretical epoché in which the thesis of the existence of the world on hand is suspended (the world is apprehended as it is given phenomenologically in consciousness, and not as existent), and a practical epoché in which attention disengages from the natural world on hand sufficiently enough to engage with the world of the inner song given phenomenologically.[8]

It is in this musician’s attitude, busied with the inner song and the actual song, that I practice my cello, going back and forth between the inner song and the actual song, comparing them, trying to realize the inner song in my performance and hear a more musical inner song in my phantasy. When necessary, I go back into the natural attitude and work on specific moves, absorbed again by the natural world. As I practice, I try to never start without having first felt the inner rhythm necessary to situate myself in the appropriate tempo.[9] It is from this place that I practice.[10]


Two phenomena are given in the musician’s attitude, acquired through the epoché: the inner song in phantasy on the one hand, and the actual song in perception on the other.[11] The distinction between the two lies in the fact that the inner song is re-presented [Vergegenwärtigung] through phantasms in the phantasy, whereas the actual song is presented [Gegenwärtigung] through sensations in perception. It is only in the second case that the object is given as a transcendent object which is part of objective time. Indeed, only the perceived object flows in consciousness from the now of impression with the continuity of the protentions and retentions. Unlike it, the phantasy object is not given as part of objective time: it flows in consciousness from the now of a primal-phantasy [Ur-Phantasie] with the continuity of protentions and retentions, but within the reproduced [12] temporality of the phantasy which is not given in a unity of continuity with the impression.

These two phenomenological objects given in two different fields have it in common to be apprehended by the same ego. Indeed, it is the same I which perceives the actual song and phantasizes the inner song.[13] In other words, as I practice and rehearse with my cello, I am both the subject perceiving my own performance of Jacqueline’s tears, and the subject phantasizing the inner song of Offenbach’s piece of music. This I which perceives and phantasizes, has, at a deeper level and through auto-affection, the experience of itself living. In other words, even prior to intentionality, the ego has the experience of being alive, and it is from the standpoint of that experience that intentional acts are performed. This experience is given in auto-affection: the subject experiences itself. Among these sensations of auto-affection there is the experience of the inner rhythm at a level of constitution beneath the level of the localized sensations in and on the Body touching and sensing the music instrument.

The inner rhythm is a synthesis of various rhythms of the Body among them the beating of the heart and the cadence of respiration.[14] This specific sensation of inner rhythm belongs to the category of sensations that Husserl calls the animalia. Animalia have the specificity of being given in primal-presence only to the subject to which the Body belongs (they can only be appresented to other subjects).[15] Only I can directly feel my heart beating and lungs breathing in and out: this experience is not offered to others in the same way: I have a direct experience of my inner rhythm, but others only feel it if I clap my hands or move my Body.

This experience is very distinct from other sensations, and even other auto-affections (for example the auto-affection of a pain in my stomach). Indeed, when I experience my inner rhythm, I experience a pre-egoic temporality which points to life itself. This primary temporality is felt in the Body, it is therefore an embodied temporality. It is then from this primary temporality that the temporality of the perception and the temporality of the phantasy are given. In other words, it is from this experience of my Body animated by the regular heartbeat and breathing, that I perceive and phantasize—that the actual song flows in the temporality of perception from the now of the primal-impression,[16] and that the inner song flows in the temporality of the phantasy from the now of the primal-phantasy.


The inner rhythm is the foundation of the actual song in the sense that I start playing my cello from the experience of the grasping the inner rhythm. In other words, I take my inner rhythm, I start playing my cello, and the actual song is given in consciousness as I perceive that performance. In consciousness, the actual song is constituted through a synthesis of two elements: the perception of a sonorous object (the melody) which coincides in the now of the impression with the localized tactual sensation given through the playing of the instrument. In other words, the actual song is given as I hear the melody simultaneously with the tactual sensation related to the playing of the instrument. Thanks to that temporal coincidence of various types of sensations in the now of the impression, the melody is experienced as a sonorous object founded in tactuality.[17] Hence, when I phantasize Jacqueline’s Tears, for instance, I not only perceive the sound of the melody with its pitch, rhythm, intensity, timber, but I also have the experience the tactual sensations of the cold surface of the cello, the thick or thin string of the instrument, the movements that I perform on the neck of the cello, the back and forth of the bow, as well as the kinesthetic sensations of the release of a tension, the pain of a muscle working, etc.

This phenomenological sonorous object of perception, founded in tactuality, is also a temporal object.[18] This means that it is given as a unity in time, but it also has a temporal extension in itself. For instance, the tone of a half-note is experienced with a certain temporality in consciousness, and it is experienced as shorter than the tone of a full-note. As it appears in consciousness, this tone, taken purely as a “hyletic datum,”[19] “begins and ends.”[20] Then, “after it has ended, its whole duration-unity, the unity of the whole process in which it begins and ends, ‘recedes’ into the ever more distant past.”[21] Hence, the actual song flows in the hyletic stream of consciousness, in the continuity of its protentions (just-to-come) and retentions (just-elapsed), thus being retained in the memory of consciousness. This flowing then constitutes consciousness as consciousness of a stream, i.e., as an intentional consciousness. The inner rhythm is a pre-egoic temporality given prior to this temporality of the hyletic flow.

Unlike the actual song, the inner song is not given as part of the objective world. Instead, it is given as part of a phantasy-world within the broader field of the imaginary.[22] Within that world, it appears as a modified reproduction of the possible perception of the performance.[23] This means that phantasy reproduces a possible perception of the performance, or, reproduces how the performance would sound if I played it.[24] For instance, when I phantasize the performance of Jacqueline’s Tears, I phantasize how it would sound if I were to play that melody. This phantasy is made of an inner melody coinciding with the phantasized moves on the cello.[25] Hence, this inner melody coincides to a greater or a lesser degree with tactual sensations in my phantasy: I phantasize the moves on the cello, the sensations of holding the instrument and the bow, the tone itself, its softness, etc. Given this, the inner song appears as a quasi-object, and it is given in a quasi-temporality.[26] It is a perception, but a perception in phantasy.

Reproducing a possible actual song, the inner song is necessarily also a temporal object. This means that it has a duration and thus flows in consciousness from a primary-moment. This primary moment is distinct from the one in perception. Indeed, it is not related to the temporality of a localized impression because the inner song is not a phenomenon given as a part of the objective world. Instead, the now of the inner song corresponds to the moment of re-presentation of a specific tone in synchronization with the inner rhythm. In other words, the now of the inner song is the moment in which the inner song is on the beat of the inner rhythm; it is in this sense that the inner rhythm is the foundation of the inner song. For instance, when I play Jacqueline’s Tears in my inner song, the now is what I am phantasizing in the now of the beat of the inner rhythm. It is from this now of the primary-phantasy [Ur-Phantasie] that the inner song flows, with the continuity of its phantasied protentions and retentions.[27] Here, the deeper layer of temporality, which is the embodied, pre-egoic temporality of the inner rhythm, is the foundation of the inner song, because it is from the coincidence with the inner rhythm that the inner song flows in phantasy.


In conclusion, the inner rhythm is the foundation of both the actual song and the inner song because the ego intentionally seizes upon these two objects from the standpoint of the primary experience of the inner rhythm. This means that, prior to any other experience, the ego experiences itself as alive thanks to the grasping of the inner rhythm animating the Body.

The inner rhythm is foundational in two ways: spatially and temporally. It is foundational spatially in the sense that it is the non-localized, pre-spatial ground of spatiality: all sensations given through impression and localized in and on the Body are given from it. It is foundational temporally in the sense that it is the pre-temporal ground of temporality; the perceived and the phantasized unfold within that regular embodied rhythm.

Concerning the inner song, it appears as having an even more important relation with the inner rhythm than the actual song. Indeed, as it is not given in the objective world, and therefore has a spatiality and a temporality that are constituted merely subjectively, it seems to be more purely linked with the inner rhythm. The inner song is embodied through this primary auto-affection from which the phantasy unfolds and flows in consciousness from this coincidence between a phantasy temporality and the beat of the inner rhythm.

[1] I took this expression from the book of a French cellist and pedagogue from the Paris Conservatory: GAGNEPAIN, Xavier, Du musicien en général…au violoncelliste en particulier, Paris, Cité de la musique, 2003. I had the chance to discuss my thesis on the inner song with him after my first master’s degree. That became my first interview, and the beginning of a series:

[2] This definition raises the problem of the creation of concepts: what are the boundaries of the concept of inner song, why are they not arbitrary?

This is a problem that Husserl raises in §66 of Ideas 1: “The words used may derive from the common language; they may be ambiguous and their changing senses may be vague. As soon as they ‘coincide’ with the intuitively given in the manner characteristic of an actual expression, they take on a definite sense as their actually present and clear sense, hic et nunc; and starting from there we can fix them scientifically.” HUSSERL, Edmund: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book: General introduction to a pure phenomenology, translated by F. Kersten. The Hage, Martinus Nijhoff Publisher, 1982, pp. 151-2.

The present definition of the inner song corresponds to the current stage of my phenomenological investigation. It is the result of a work at three levels: (1) individual through a self-reflection about my own experience; (2) intersubjective through a consistent dialogue with practicing musicians (interviews are available online here:—indeed, the only defined question that I keep from one interview to the next is the following: “how would you define the inner song”, and from that the discussion goes on—and (3) theoretical, through a close reading of the Husserlian corpus, and more specifically his account of imagination and phantasy.

[3] I am using here a Husserlian term. In speaking about reality, Husserl distinguishes “das Reales” from “das Reell.” These terms refer to Husserl’s account of immanence and transcendence in the understanding of reality. Real refers to objects of nature, whereas reel refers to non-intentional objects: “By the real phenomenological content of an act we mean the sum total of its concrete or abstract parts, in other words, the sum total of the partial experiences that really constitute it. To point out and describe such parts is the task of a pure descriptive psychological analysis operating from an empirical, natural-scientific point of view. Such analysis is in all cases concerned to dismember what we inwardly experience as it in itself is, and as it is really (reell) given in experience, without regard either to genetic connections, or to extrinsic meaning and valid application. Purely descriptive psychological analysis of an articulated sound-pattern finds only sounds and abstract parts of unifying forms of sounds, it finds no sound-vibrations or organs of hearing etc.; it also never finds anything that resembles the ideal sense that makes the sound-pattern to be a name, nor the person to whom the name may apply. Our example suffices to make our intention clear. The real (reell) contents of acts are of course only known through descriptive analysis of this kind. That obscurities of intuition or inadequacies of descriptive conception – faults, in short, of method – may lead to much ‘manufacture’ of sensations (to use Volkelt’s phrase) cannot be denied. This, however, only concerns the legitimacy of particular cases of descriptive analysis. It is clear, if anything is clear, that intentional experiences contain distinguishable parts and aspects, and this alone is of importance here.” HUSSERL, Edmund, Logical Investigations, Volume II, Translated by J. N. Findlay from the Second German edition of Logische Untersuchungen, Routledge, London, New York, 1970, V, §16, p. 112

[4] I started to elaborate on that notion after the dialogue with Rémi Métral, a French Drummer (

[5] When I refer to Husserl in footnotes, it does not mean that Husserl writes on the issue I am addressing, but that I work this specific issue relying on Husserl’s description. In other words, I refer to Husserl as a framework, knowing that the object I am currently describing requires a certain freedom with Husserl’s own descriptions.

[6] Husserl describes this natural attitude in the §§27-31 of Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book: General introduction to a pure phenomenology, translated by F. Kersten. The Hage, Martinus Nijhoff Publisher, 1982

[7] Husserl describes the movement of the epoché in the §32 of Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book: General introduction to a pure phenomenology, translated by F. Kersten. The Hage, Martinus Nijhoff Publisher, 1982.

[8] Cf. Paper for the ICNAP 2021 Conference:

[9] The bassoonist Philip Pandolfi even defines the inner song as this moment in which I situate myself in the tempo through breathing (

[10] Of course, I can also play the cello or phantasy the inner song without grasping the inner rhythm first, i.e., without purposely trying to be aware of the inner rhythm. However, the inner rhythm is still given in auto-affection, I am just not aware of it. In addition, it is not recommended to start playing in medias res because it results most of the time in a chaotic interpretation.

[11] Husserl works out the distinction between perception and phantasy more specifically in Phantasy, Image consciousness, and Memory (1898-1925) translated by J. B. Brough. Dordrecht/Boston/London. Springer, 2005, Text no. 1, but also in his temporal analysis in On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1883-1917) translated by J. B. Brough, Boston, Kluwer Academic Publisher, 1991.

[12] I will explain the notion of reproduction more in depth a little further.

[13] Husserl address the question of the unity of the ego in Experience and Judgement, §41.

[14] Other biological rhythms can be included but to a lesser degree. For instance, it is true that my age matters, also if I have been calm or have just run a marathon. However, these are not as directly involved in the experience of the inner rhythm.

[15] Husserl describes them within his description of the Body in Ideas 2, §45.

[16]  “…the absolute beginning of this production, the primal source, that from which everything else is continuously produced. But it itself is not produced; it does not arise as something produced but through genesis spontanea; it is primal generation. It does not spring from anything (it has no seed); it is primal creation.” Lectures on Inner Time Consciousness, Appendix I, p. 104.

[17] Husserl describes the constitution of the Body through perception and more specifically trough tactuality in Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Second Book: Studies in the phenomenology of constitution, translated by R. Rojcewicz and A. Schuwer, Boston, Kluwer Academic Publisher, [1931] 1989, §§35-42.

[18]“objects that are only unities in time but that also contain temporal extension in themselves”.  Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, §7, p. 24.

[19] Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, §8, p. 25.

[20] Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, §8, p. 25.

[21] Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, §8, p. 25.

[22] Husserl explains the specificity of these multiple phantasy-world as opposed to the unity of the perceptive world in Experience and Judgement, §40.

[23] The notion of phantasy as the modified reproduction of a possible perception comes from Husserl’s later phenomenology. He develops that theory more specifically in On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1883-1917) translated by J. B. Brough, Boston, Kluwer Academic Publisher, 1991; but also in d: Phantasy, Image consciousness, and Memory (1898-1925) translated by J. B. Brough. Dordrecht/Boston/London. Springer, 2005, Text no.2; or later in Experience and Judgement, Investigation of a Genealogy of Logic, Translated by J. S. Churchill, K. Ameriks, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, ltd, 1973, especially §§39-42.

[24] If I phantasize as I am practicing, I will actually realize my inner song with my instrument; the inner song is the perception in phantasy of a real possibility in the sense that it is a motivated possibility, cf. Hua XX, §48 on “Ideale und reale Möglichkeit. Das originär konstituierende Bewusstsein im einen und anderen Fall”.

[25] The inner song is a phantasy-object appearing in the trained consciousness of the musician. This means that the musician experiencing it is a practicing musician who has the experience of perceiving a music performance as his or her performance, and is capable of technically playing the music instrument and of disclosing emotions through his or her playing. This means that there are various layers of constitution related to music practice: the constitution of the melody as a temporal sonorous object, the co-constitution of the instrument, and the constitution of the living Body sensing and manipulating the music instrument.

[26] Husserl elaborates more on this quasi-modality in Experiences and Judgement, within the paragraphs already mentioned footnote 23

[27] I don’t want to describe this further because the temporality of the inner song is not the object of the present paper, but the temporality of the phantasy is distinct from the temporality of perception. Indeed, as there is no impression, the objects are not properly recalled. Instead, they are re-constituted. It is only through an act of identification that an inner song can be identified as the same as the previous one. For instance, if I phantasize the whole of Offenbach’s piece today, and I practice it again tomorrow, I will not be recalling the inner song of Jacqueline’s Tears, but reconstituting it.