Sunday, January 14, 2007

In three, more or less

This is a small exercise, for my son, in what might be called written-out rubato. Each of the divisions above is a real example of how an ordinary triple division might get played by real players. Depending on tempo and articulation, the feel of a triple rhythm can be sustained or give way to another prevailing division of the measure. The point when this change of feel occurs (or doesn't) can be rather effective, creating a kind of audible illusion space.

Back in the early days of midi, getting rhythms right meant quanticization by hand, which meant trying to approximate rhythms by spreading them over a group of discrete midi units that didn't neccessarily divide as nicely as one would have liked. Many midi software packages now have quite complicated algorithms to figure out how a real performance, with all of its variations in rhythmic detail, should be clearly notated.

An exercise like the one above is, in a way, doing exactly the opposite of those algorithms, and trying to convey to the player a more, rather than less, subtle sense of the metre. (The point of interest here is clarity and subtlety, not complexity and obfuscation.)

It's fun to try some composition exercises based on this idea: Write a simple accompaniment, in a clear double division of the measure, to the melody above. Just oom-pops, if you like. Try both a plain vanilla quarter-quarter division, and then a less stable rhythm, much like the melody itself, but based upon a double division. Then add phrasing and articulation to either support or obscure one metre or the other.

No comments: