The Percussionist

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The next time you’re at a concert
notice the melodists up front
–those singing, strumming,
bowing or blowing through pipes–
and watch them sway with the tune
as if they invented its themes
as if they’re unlocking its emotions

then notice the rhythmicists at the back
–those drumming hammer blows
or mallet strikes–
and feel how they subdivide music’s time,
decorating it through accents
counting custodians of synchrony
who guide the melodists
on their flights of fancy.

The Sampler

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It begins with a sound I want
but have not earned
the right to use

because the sound isn’t from me
I didn’t make it
it isn’t mine
it had a life before I came along
to yank it forward in time

separate it from its context
ignoring its history
I just need its potential
its color its authenticity
its groove its flavor

so I push a button
to capture the sound I want
like a desire on loop mode
a beat possessed
taken not owned
reproduced not lived.

Dialed In

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The phrase posits people
as a set of knobs for twisting
lining up their numbers
as if concentration
is a radio or combination lock
in search of the right station
reducing the static
click into action

to hack thinking
input the numbers
quantify the self
put it on the line
believing that performing
is running like a machine.

Alien Aurality

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Imagine how an alien
sensibility might hear
your music
as a series of sound-gestures
meaning otherwise
than what practiced moves should mean

so that jazz isn’t swing
rock doesn’t rebel
classical can’t conjure
and dance won’t trance

as the sensibility hears
through and beyond
your musical moves
past even their signals’ social
and resonant rapport

to reach further along
the spectrum of sense
than a musician can know
by playing his axe
in concert with others

because the alien’s sense
is deaf to your sounds
but attuned
to their language
of impossible signs.

The Bucket Drummer

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The bucket drummer
plays the same beat every night
which I notice as I walk by
the corner of 42nd and Broadway
hearing his plastic rim shots
and salad bowl pings
ricochet off the billboards
like rhythm shrapnel

played at the same tempo too
an optimal groove
showing off his handiwork
keeping our attention aloft
out-noising the noise

but the thing about the beat
that cuts through consciousness
is its sameness
which reminds you how here you are too
walking by this corner again
and again and again
listening and expecting
some variation
without thinking anything new.

On 12/8

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Four circles,

stutter steps,

round corners,

left-right-left,

sliding fluid,

advanced groove,

nighttime rhythmics,

swing defiance,

human not machine,

dance essence,

remix resistant,

pure meter,

African timescape,

multiple-clocked,

now count it off:

ah one (two) three (four) five six (seven) eight (nine) ten (eleven) twelve

On 4/4

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Foursquare,

lockstep,

sharp-cornered,

left-right,

marching rigid,

beginner’s groove,

daylight rhythmics,

default-quantized,

machined not human,

pop essence,

remix template,

tempered meter,

western timescape,

Euro-clocked,

now count it off:

ah one two three four