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David P. Nelson






Solkaṭṭu translates from Tamil as “syllables bound together.” In this dissertation I investigate the nuances with which the consonants and vowels, syllables, units, and phrases comprising South Indian solkaṭṭu are bound. In the process, I uncover and explore a more expansive binding; one in which solkaṭṭu forms a nexus connecting artists, scholars, and audiences through a shared system of rhythm and timing. Long-term continuities in solkaṭṭu form and functioning reflect its primacy in transmitting this system over vast stretches of historical time. Nevertheless, the devaluation of rhythm in colonial, postcolonial, and nationalist revisions of the southern arts fostered narrow yet tenacious portrayals limiting solkaṭṭu to “drum syllables.” My contrasting theorization replaces this narrative with a broad model drawn from local forms and based in the cognitive sciences. In dialogue with musicians, dancers, and choreographers, I map this theoretical model of solkaṭṭu onto performance practice. My detailed analysis of stroke–movement–syllable relationships advances an understanding of solkaṭṭu as embodied, interactive rhythmic production realized in a multimodal system of temporal modeling. The complexity of rhythmic design and execution in South India’s performing arts relies on the efficacy of the solkaṭṭu system as comprehensive musical communication. As solkaṭṭu expands to new musical, conceptual, and geographic spaces, its utterances continue binding people through this system of speaking, embodying, and thereby becoming, musical time.



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