Norman McLaren’s Animated Film Rythmetic as Temporal Art


Rythmetic (1956), a paper cut animation film by Norman McLaren (1914-1987), has often been described as merely an educational work because of its visual impression of a chalkboard in an arithmetic class. In this film, numerical characters engage in arithmetical operations and funny dances on screen with six different kinds of scratching sounds that feature in the soundtrack of the film as the main part of the auditory expression. This paper analyzes and threads out from the perspective of music analysis, the seesaw between arithmetical regularity and the aesthetical humor of the numerals and reveals the process of transition from their stark contrast to their integration.
The interstices of the 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, and 60 frames form the basis for the visual rhythm. The visual rhythm is duple time of Pyrrhus (regular blow) or iamb in the arithmetic operation scenes and triple time of Tribrach (ternary rhythm) in the dance scenes. While the latter dance scenes are imitated with onomatopoetic sounds on both faces of sound quality and volume, the former scenes are accompanied with a fine musical rhythm that is rather independent of the visual rhythm.
McLaren believed “How it moved is more important than what moved” in an animated film. He designed the visible contrast between arithmetical operations and the dances of the numerals as well as the invisible contrast between musical rhythm and imitative sounds and the temporal process from contrast to integration.

Keywords: experimental film, animation, rhythm, invisible interstices, soundtrack