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The Rhythmic Divide

I grew up loving the complex, jagged, unpulsed rhythms of the post-Webernian Euros: Stockhausen, Xenakis, Boulez, etc. They were, and continue to be, as — or often more — satisfying to me on a purely rhythmic level than pulsed/metered beats. Naively, I assumed that most progressive music fans also loved aperiodic rhythmic flows. Now, after ten years of making aperiodic electronica “free grooves” and running into an overwhelming LACK of interest/understanding among the people who’ve listened to them, I’m finally starting to believe in a kind of rhythmic divide:

You either get/like/love aperiodic rhythms, or you don’t.

Those who do can feel fully musically/rhythmically satisfied with a well-crafted aperiodic flow. Those who don’t probably wouldn’t even call such a flow “rhythmic,” rather: chaotic or random-sounding.

Which side of the rhythmic divide are you on? Does this speak to you? Or this periodicized variant? Or are you in the rarefied minority that can enjoy both (depending, of course, on context)?

Posted on January 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm by rachmiel · Permalink

3 Responses

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  1. Written by Jazzyspoon
    on January 7, 2012 at 6:40 pm
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    I enjoy both for different reasons and for different moods. But, as I have often found, people in general need rhythms in their music because they use music for only a few purposes in their lives. The noisy random churning of a dishwasher or car engine is an unpulsed rhythm with complex layers, but people have to either be trained to listen for them or their brain simply identifies it as noise. Surprisingly, our lives are broken into imperfect rhythms, day and night, sun and moon rise, heartbeats, etc, so you think it would be easier for the everyday listener to appreciate. However, a standard rhythm has it’s place in my own range of moods, especially when it comes to physical momentum (dancing, exercise, some other forms of physical excitement where a metronome can aid in focus and/or distraction).

  2. Written by thormusique
    on January 9, 2012 at 11:39 pm
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    I completely agree. After studying the stuff at university and performing such music in concerts, I really believed humanity was on the cusp of some sort of musical paradigm shift. Not that I necessarily thought that, say, atonalism would completely supplant tonalism or that arrhythmia (pun intended) would eradicate all rhythmia. After all, especially in the latter case, let’s face it: for most of us, a human heart beats with some regularity, and I do believe that that fact in and of itself determines that we tend toward some sort of rhythmic periodicity. Of course, “periodicity” could mean many things, some obvious, some not so.
    For me, an obvious example of the latter is Glenn Gould’s amazing radio piece, The Idea of North, which to my mind is incredibly and captivatingly musical, yet uses no pitched notes at all. My feeling about art has always been that art, at its best, should take the listener/viewer/whatever on some kind of journey and finally deposity him/her either in a new place of some wonder, and with a recognition of the logic of the journey, or at the point of origin and, in the words of Eliot, “know the place for the first time.”
    Of course, that’s at one end of the spectrum. There’s a decent amount of great new electronica material being created out there, my personal faves being in the area of dubstep. More than anywhere (other than in new-age ambient music, which in my book rarely produces anything of considerable value), dubsteppers (I’m trying not to picture them in tap shoes) work with feet firmly planted in the heavily percussive forms of dance music that were con-/diverging before the turn of the last century, yet often brilliantly thwart those very same rhythms. As if that weren’t enough, they usually also thwart the “get up, get down, and stay happy” mentality of the music typically plied in dance clubs. Thus, melancholia pretty much rains supreme. I should wrap this up—I’m starting to drool.
    In short, although I don’t subscribe to the idea that the development of music (or of any art form, for that matter) is evolutionary (the literal sense of that word being that later forms are somehow better or more efficient than earlier ones), I do feel as though humanity blew an excellent opportunity to take music to some really interesting places, particularly since around 1970. Sure, there’s been a lot of great music created since then. On the other hand, considering that so many more people are making music these days, I would’ve expected much more variety. I’m just sayin’.

  3. Written by martin rach
    on January 31, 2012 at 5:50 pm
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    let’s say that rhythmic and arhythmic are only put in opposition by origin of the name.

    in concept, thus, they might be something entirely different: even reverse in origin, if you want, – to make a rhythm one need to measure, fold and quantisize the indefinite flow of sound, mass, colour.

    so, certain take on arhythmia as dissolution of rhythm would really be more sofisticated rhythmification.

    i don’t know if the latter would be satisfactory way of thinking music for me.

    i say rhythm can be a form of musical density under operations of measure.

    if ‘arhythmia’ is to be thought as something else than dissolution of rhythm, then it has to be a form of musical density under different operations, for example, extension, cutting and quantification without measure.

    so, technically, i do not see this rhythm/arhythmia opposition as logically true.

    in xenakis, there are wonderfull measured passagges amidst more stochastic flow, as in A l’ile de goree. which don’t feel, at least to me, as brought into through operational opposition. only through difference.

    another nice example could be morton feldman’s various patterns, where you also feel the rhythm through repetition in sort of folds that are changed by different folds thus making the rhythm only a part of long free flowing patterns, that might be called rhytmic in themselves, but the piece as a whole is not rhythm based, for irrepetition of this flow (of different folds).

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