Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Unequal Rhythm

Interesting conversation with Hari last night: creativity, performance, inspiration, and rhythm. In particular, we discussed the differences between Greek/Bulgarian/Slavic rhythms, melodies & polyphony, and those of Western Art music. I pointed out how the VAST majority of "classical music" is in 2, 3, or 4 time: even for music in 6/8 or 9/8, the essential beats (stresses) are completely regular and fall metronomically in line with - say - a dripping tap.

The difference between 2-, 3-, and 4-based rhythms and those based around 5, 7, 11, etc. - prime numbers - is very striking (no pun). Time signatures based on prime numbers obviously cannot be evenly subdivided, and so produce a much more complex and dynamic pattern, one that is not monotonous (in a technical sense). A couple of days ago I walked past the "The Glittery Fish Woman" for the zillionth time in the last 18 months, but this time listened to the rhythm she was playing: it was in 5/4, with stresses on 1, 3, 4, like this:

T:Glittery Fish Woman Rhythm
|G z G G z |
[Created at the ABC Convert-a-matic page.]

Okay, big deal? Well, a 3/4 or a 4/4 rhythm just wouldn't cut it. She was playing the 5/4 using her customary "peas-in-a-Pringles-tin" shaker. 5/4 holds its own, whereas anthing regular (i.e. simple rhythm, not compund) would just be annoying and dull.

Having said that, I am listening to some Rachid Taha, which is in 4, but with the stressed beats being 1 and 4 - this produces a mucre interesting rhythm than the usual 1, 3.

In general, however, western music is the poorer for its paucity of rhythm. I am looking fed to Hari's Greek mp3s ;-)


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