Fascinating rhythm

The night before last I had the pleasure of catching part of the final leg of Kyle Gann‘s European Grand Tour, as he gave a lecture on ‘Phase-Shifting as an American Compositional Paradigm’. One of the most exciting things about hearing Kyle speak on such an occasion is the quantity and range of new music he brings with him as support: if you think that downtown/postclassic/post-minimal music is underperformed in the US, that’s nothing to the tiny profile it generally has over here. And any introduction to new music is always good by me, even if, thanks largely to Kyle’s own efforts, some of that music wasn’t as unfamiliar as it might have been two or three years ago.

Kyle talked a little about the complexities that postclassical rhythmic techniques generate, and although they’re of a completely different type to the complexities of, say, Ferneyhough’s rhythm, they share similar roots in the presentation of simultaneous tempo (a common influence back to Nancarrow, maybe?). In one of those coincidences on which musical investigations are often based, some points Kyle was making about the performability of certain rhythms – 8 against 9 in the time of 6 is the classic – rub up against a Frank Cox essay I’m reading at the moment – ‘Notes Toward a Performance Practice for Complex Music’*. The rhythms that Cox talks about are of an apparently different order of complexity (although I accept that that’s a fraught distinction), but in both realms composers are confronting the matter of performative accuracy and asking whether it matters, and what effect might it have on the way we compose. There may be some interesting comparisons in here which have yet to be made.

Bryn Harrison: ĂȘtre-temps

Michael Gordon: Four Kings Knight Five

We also took the opportunity to wish Kyle a happy astrological birthday (and happy calendar one to you too!). And Kyle – did you-know-who really turn up drunk and start dancing on the tables, or did I imagine that? ;)

*In: Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Frank Cox and Wolfram Schurig, eds.: Polyphony and Complexity, New Music and Aesthetics in the 21st Century, i (Wolke Verlag, 2002), 70-132

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One comment

  1. Does it really matter: excellent question. Jeez, that stuff looks impossible.

    Years ago, my then-girlfriend was transcribing someone else’s music from a recording into notation. You can, I’m sure, imagine the pleasure of dealing with musical notation programs c. 1990. This was filk music, a genre you may or may not be familiar with; suffice it to say that the music was folky and not particularly complicated. However, I heard a particular song as being in a clear 6/8, while my girlfriend thought the whole thing was syncopated, and she transcribed it accordingly. I cannot for the life of me remember if I ever asked the obvious question, which was “And where does the songwriter say the beats fall?”


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