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#655111 - 05/22/02 07:27 PM Rhythmic ambiguity  
Joined: Apr 2002
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Ted Offline
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Ted  Offline
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Auckland, New Zealand
I was going to post this listening topic in the algorithimic thread but maybe it deserves an area to itself.

Does anybody else find themselves listening to a piece of music and mentally shifting the metre, or even listening in a metre different from the composer's ? I remember once hearing a piece by Schumann and thinking, "Gosh, that's unusually syncopated for him." But then I realised that I was listening with a displaced metre. I concentrated for a few seconds and it flicked back into conventionality. I've never forgotten that peculiar sensation.

The feeling's rather like looking at those optical illusions of isometric cubes or drawings by Escher. Once you latch on to one point of view it takes an effort to see the other.

Nowadays if I'm listening to a piece which is rhythmically uninteresting to me, I sometimes fiddle with my mental time signature and start hearing a lot of syncopation and rhythms which aren't there - or at least were unintended.

When we were young and learning we were taught by implication that one and only one way of hearing a given rhythm was correct. Since doing a lot of improvisation, wherein constant changes of mental metre and rhythm are of the essence, I'm starting to realise that much musical meaning lies in the brain rather than in the music.

Rhythmic bifurcation - a neglected vital force or simply a mistake ? What do you think ?


"It is inadvisable to decline a dinner invitation from a plump woman." - Fred Hollows
#655112 - 05/23/02 08:41 AM Re: Rhythmic ambiguity  
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okat47 Offline
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I think I understand what your talking about, but my question is: What's the point? You're talking about hearing things that aren't there. If the composer had wanted those rhythmic deviations, he would have put them there. Sure it's neat to mess with things in your head, but what purpose does it serve? I don't see how it can give one a deeper understanding of the music, because it imposes something on the music which the composer had not even concieved of.

Also, what do you mean by:
Quote
When we were young and learning we were taught by implication that one and only one way of hearing a given rhythm was correct.
?
Are you feeling rhythmically oppressed? wink

#655113 - 05/23/02 05:44 PM Re: Rhythmic ambiguity  
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Ted Offline
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Okat:

Excellent questions; I'll try to answer them.

You're talking about hearing things that aren't there

You're absolutely right, but does not most of perception and understanding in general concern things which aren't there ? Where does the scarifying power of Chopin's "Winter Wind" lie ? Can we point to a blob of matter within the piece and say, "There it is !" ? Can we even isolate a measurable property of the work which gives rise to it ? No, of course not, because these things reside in the brain of the listener, and are an extremely complex conglomeration of archetypes, experience, emotion and memory. We look at a landscape and we see a beautiful but ordinary scene. Turner or Cezanne might have looked in the same direction and seen a beatific vision or the last judgement.

When we were young and learning we were taught by implication that one and only one way of hearing a given rhythm was correct.

By analogy, when I was young and was taught differential equations it was thought that being given initial data and a simple rule was sufficient to calculate all future states precisely - nobody questioned this. Then thirty years ago a few people with the help of simple hand calculators chose what they perceived over that which had been taught for centuries. They had discovered chaos.

If we do not continually question that which we are taught, in arts and in science, we shall slowly lose the precious gift of new ideas and the doors of our perception will close.


What's the point?

Perhaps I'm a bit different in this respect. I'm an obsessive experimenter. I play two piano pieces through two speaker systems at once and absorb the effect; I key the 48 into computer files and write programmes to see what they sound like upside down and backwards. When playing the piano I try putting accents in "wrong" places and using "wrong" chords. For me, "the point" is nothing less than everything - the core understanding of how my musical perception and creative thought operates.

Are you feeling rhythmically oppressed?

Quite the opposite. For me, rhythm is almost musical freedom itself. Rhythm is much deeper and more fascinating than melody or harmony. Surprisingly, even staid old Percy Scholes (Oxford companion to music) endorses this idea.

I hope this explanation sheds some light on my position. I was lucky enough to have wonderfully unorthodox music teachers in my youth - that might have had something to do with it.


"It is inadvisable to decline a dinner invitation from a plump woman." - Fred Hollows
#655114 - 05/24/02 04:13 AM Re: Rhythmic ambiguity  
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The Hands of Rabalthazar Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by okat47:
Sure it's neat to mess with things in your head, but what purpose does it serve? I don't see how it can give one a deeper understanding of the music, because it imposes something on the music which the composer had not even concieved of.
What I'm about to say is a little bit airy, but...I am of the opinion that a lot of music does not get written - it is simply transcribed by the composer. A 10 minute piece was almost certainly not transcribed by the composer in 10 minutes. It would have taken days, weeks, months. A 10 minute piece that you hear or play is probably made up of excerpts of what the composer was hearing over the months that he (or she) transcribed the piece. There are many hours of music that were heard by the composer but missed making it down onto paper.

There may have been parts of the music heard by the composer that simply could not be transcribed. There may have been parts (as heard today by Ted) that were created only by implication but of which the composer was aware.

Then again, the composer may not have heard some of the deviations that we hear when we listen. I'm sure, though, that the composer would not be offended by you perceiving more than what he (she) had to offer you.

I beleive that there is a lot more to music than the blood and bones that are directly presented to us. When you can see past the blood and bones and see the soul of the music the listening pleasure is infinitely greater.

Okat47...listen out for what the composers were hearing. It sounds utterly divine.

btw.
Ted, I'm with you on the upside down thing. I've never thought of plugging it into a computer. I just turn the book upside down.


Some of you might not remember us, but we sure do!- Joel Grind (of Joel Grind and the Broken Teeth)
#655115 - 05/24/02 08:27 AM Re: Rhythmic ambiguity  
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okat47 Offline
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okat47  Offline
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Canada
Quote
I'm sure, though, that the composer would not be offended by you perceiving more than what he (she) had to offer you.
I would be offended! As a composer, I feel that my composition is a vehicle for what I want to express. People should hear what I want them to hear. The audience is, of course, free to find other things in the music, but in the end, the composer's conception of his work is what matters.
Quote
Okat47...listen out for what the composers were hearing. It sounds utterly divine.
What the composers heard is in the score. If they heard anything else, it's not important because they didn't write it down.
You can't assume that just because a perspective is new to you, it's new to everyone else. Perhaps you're hearing the piece in a "new" way because the composer intended you to.

#655116 - 05/27/02 10:13 AM Re: Rhythmic ambiguity  
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SR Offline
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>>>>I would be offended! As a composer, I feel that my composition is a vehicle for what I want to express. People should hear what I want them to hear. The audience is, of course, free to find other things in the music, but in the end, the composer's conception of his work is what matters.<<<<

And if people don't hear or respond the way you intended what will you do to them ? A composer writes his music for himself, what other people hear or think is of no regard. People often do not respond in the manner that the message giver intends. For example....

You see a friend in a new dress. You say "Wow, you look great in that dress" When your friend put the dress on she found it slightly small and is thinking she shouldn't have worn it as she must look fat. She may very well take your comment as sarcastic.

ALL AUDIENCES FILTER THROUGH THEIR EXPERIENCE AND MOOD, NOT THROUGH THE COMPOSERS INTENT.

Someone who listens to "The Firebird" under the influence of marijuana will hear things a straight listener won't. Is that wrong ? Perhaps only under the influence of drugs can some people actually hear what Stravinsky intended and once having heard that can appreciate the work from then on. Perhaps a note should come in each CD. "Never listen to this stoned because you won't hear what I intended" or maybe the reverse would be better ?

If you indeed are a composer you should learn that audience behavior and experience is not something you can control.

Steve


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