Graeser presented the modern impulse to expose the unconscious rhythm of life as an entirely aesthetic phenomenon in tension with the rationalized regulation of everyday life in the socioeconomic realm. But the notion of "life-rhythm" did not originate with him, and perhaps the recovery of the life-rhythm could have greater consequences on the workaday world than Graeser's approach indicated. Such was the message of Karl Bücher's Arbeit und Rhythmus , the first edition of which appeared in 1896. Although this encyclopedic book, supplemented with photos, tables, and musical examples, came equipped with a rigorous scholarly apparatus, it went through many revised editions until 1930 and apparently enjoyed an unusually large audience for a work that initially appeared as Volume 17 of the Proceedings of the Royal Saxon Society of Sciences.
Bücher, an anthropologist, sought to uncover an archaic relation between labor and rhythm by analyzing a vast number of work songs and chants as well as performance conditions of premodern societies throughout the world. He also examined work songs of ancient societies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Bücher analyzed songs in relation to the work performed (milling, spinning, plucking, dredging, hammering, digging, lifting, circumcising, infibulating, carrying, piloting, scrubbing, dealing with animals, and so forth); in relation to whether work was performed alone or in a group; in relation to sexual identity of the workers; and in relation to the cultural identity of the workers. He also analyzed the relations between words and work, between rhythms and work, between bodily movement and musical rhythm, and between motives for singing (magic, inspiration, communication of instructions, group dialogue, stimulation of "compatible feelings," and so forth). He then theorized on the origins of song and dance in labor and their separation from labor in most of the contemporary world. Although no single musical rhythm seemed to dominate relations between song and work, one could nevertheless observe an "original unity" in which "labor, play, and art blended into each other" to establish "rhythm as an economic principle of development" (413). This unity was possible to the extent that the worker-singer did not perceive the thing produced by labor as alien to his or her expectations of life: "Labor is for [the worker] no longer music and poetry as well; production for the marketplace no longer brings him personal glory or honor as does production for his own consumption" (441). Machines have their own complex rhythms, Bücher observed, but in machine-driven labor, "the tempo and duration of the labor is detached from the worker's will; he is chained to the
dead and yet quite living mechanism" (439). Superficially, Bücher's impressive treatise seemed to carry a message somewhat similar to Graeser's, notwithstanding Graeser's assertion that the war was responsible for the new consciousness of the body. Bücher, however, stressed rhythm as an external (though "organic") unifying economic principle that controlled the relation between body and production, whereas Graeser stressed the body as the source of an internal rhythm that was an end in itself, a purely aesthetic experience, not a mechanism of production, and therefore a much more chaotic phenomenon.