“A team of neuroscientists has found that people are biased toward hearing and producing rhythms composed of simple integer ratios — for example, a series of four beats separated by equal time intervals (forming a 1:1:1 ratio).
This holds true for musicians and nonmusicians living in the United States, as well as members of a Bolivian tribe who have little exposure to Western music. However, the researchers found that the Bolivians tended to prefer different ratios than Westerners, and that these ratios corresponded to simple integer ratios found in their music but not in Western music.”
“The drawings, he explains, ‘were experiments with the straight line conducted not in research laboratories but produced spontaneously at various places and random moments since all that was needed to make them was a piece of paper and a pencil.’
“[Szpakowski] insists that ‘a single glance would not be enough,’ and that his were in fact ‘linear ideas,’ with ‘inner content’ accessible only to those who follow the line with their eyes on its journey from left to right: a process not unlike reading.”
“Prompted to write a song in the style of the Beatles, an AI system based at Paris laboratory Flow Machines created the melody and harmony after analyzing a database of over 13,000 tracks in different musical styles, from jazz and pop to Brazilian samba and Broadway musicals. The music that comes from the ‘FlowComposer’ is defined by the limitations set for it – a certain note, chord structure or specific artist to analyze, for example. The result is impressive, though some might say it sounds more like the Super Furry Animals or a polished 13th Floor Elevators than the Fab Four.”
“Up close one may see only dots, but stand back and the undulating image is revealed.”
– Dawn of Midi
Last week I went to (finally) see Dawn of Midi perform at the Park Avenue Armory. The group is nominally a piano-bass-drums jazz trio, but the music they make on their debut album Dysnomia, is less like ding-ding-a-ding jazz and more like a fine-geared hybrid of electronica and West African drumming. It’s riveting and intense. The performance was a playing through of the forty-five minute Dysnomia and there were about fifty people in attendance for the group’s second set of the evening that took place in a darkened front room of the Armory.
As I listened I noticed some qualities I hadn’t noticed on the band’s majesterial recording (which I wrote about extensively in an article here). For instance, I noticed the uneven acoustics of the wooden-walled recital room we were in–acoustics whose inconsistencies were amplified by the amplification of the band through a small PA system. I noticed the drum kit sound, which was–understandably–less crisp, round, and beautiful than it is on the band’s recording. I noticed the intricate piano harmonics that functioned as phantom chord progressions. And I also noticed that some of what I had thought was rhythmic interlocking was somewhat more two-dimensional–two musicians holding steady (often pianist Amino Belyamani and bassist Aakaash Israni) while the third (often the group’s drummer, Qasim Naqvi) played against their parts and the collective 12/8 pulse. The true three-way interlocking sections though–“a test of endurance and trust” as the group’s program note bio puts it–were wonderful to hear executed. During these moments members of the audience around me exchanged knowing (and sometimes confused) glances. Wow.
As I listened I wondered whether I was alone in wondering whether, here and there, there was enough in the music to keep our interest. Sometimes I wanted an unscripted deviation from the group’s recording (which was composed by Belyamani and Israni): maybe a rogue chord or a few extra harmonic notes thrown in, or maybe a pause, or even…silence. More than anything I wanted the group to somehow fundamentally remix their already remarkable recording to create an altogether new sonic object. The group is forward-thinking enough to make something along those lines possible and I look forward to what they compose next. In the meantime, as I overheard one enthused listener say after the show: “It was just amazing. Like in a trance, time just flew by.”
“Made in an era of mind-altering music and electronic effects, Come Out stands as psychedelic in its purest sense, finding something hallucinatory in the most basic of instruments. From these simple means an entire bewildering world of sound emerge, and the connotations of this transformation are vast.”
“After decades of 4/4 dominance (not least in the realms of house and techno) there seems to be an upsurge of new music seeking to break out of the rigid rhythmical structures that much of popular Western music is built on.”
And this video on Euclidean Rhythms. (At 3:25: “Using 7 and 12 along with an offset, results in a popular West African bell pattern used by the Ashanti in Ghana.”)
Missy Elliot’s recent single “I’m Better” is a great example of how to use space in music to dramatic effect. The track opens with a tiny rising synth figure, plink, plink, plink, over which the producer Lamb speak-raps the song’s refrain. When Missy enters a single massive kick drum slams on beat one. Surprisingly though, we don’t hear it again for another four bars! What is left, besides Missy’s rhymes, the rising synth figure, and bits of ambiance, hi hat, and snare (on beat three) here and there, is about as pure and unadulterated a space as you will find in popular music. This space pushes us to compute what is going on with the tempo and the meter. Is the tempo 105 bpm or a 52.5 bpm time feel that “spools along nicely at half pace” (The Guardian) Is this track in a 4/4 or 12/8 meter–because, after all, most of Missy’s rhyming has a rolling, ternary feel with emphases on the downbeats (“Man I’m 3000, I’m Andre / Yo Missy talk big I’m so grande / Bruce lee on the beat I don’t compete with / none of these geeks I just rant like I’m Kanye”). That’s the thing about space in music: it can create a sense of perceptual ambiguity that invites you to hear what you think you hear.
You must be logged in to post a comment.