Thursday, October 02, 2008

Temporary Notes (8)

What are the advantages for composition of understanding traditional systematic relationships between poetic metre and music (in terms of classical Greek science, between metrics and rhythmics) as well as between dance and music, even though those connections connections broke down long ago? Charles Seeger's still-astonishing essay on Dissonant Counterpoint (1930) can serve as a model. Seeger maintained the structure of species counterpoint, but treated the intervals as variables, in his case inverting the consonant/dissonant spectrum, but also — if implicitly — suggesting, that other selections of intervals could be possible. An extrapolation of this model into alternative intonational regimes, for example, is an obvious consequence. Likewise, if we maintain structural aspects of traditional metrics/rhythmics , but substitute other values, there is considerable new territory to explore.

For one example, the metrics of dance are largely predicated on the arsis/thesis model, in which what goes up must come down, and a right step must follow a left, thus leaving the dancer (and the accompanying music) in a constant process of recovering equilibrium. Music, without dance (and dance without gravity, for that matter*) is under no obligation to such balance. For another example, most dance and poetic metre is based on a proportion of long to short steps of two to one. (Think of the foxtrot's slow-slow-quick-quick.) What if, instead of two to one, the proportions were more subtly uneven, two to three or three to four, or, alternatively, more dramatically uneven, three, four, or five to one, or a relatively prime combination like seven to three or five to two. Perhaps useful in this regard is one well-known example, at the subdivision of a beat level, in American "swing" style, in which the proportion of the beat division varies with tempo, so that at more leisurely tempi, the proportion is close to two to one, but as the tempo increases it gets ever-closer to an even or "straight" one-to-one.

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*One of my favorite dancers, Susan Matheke, used to encourage her students by shouting "Levitate! Levitate!" In this spirit, my first piece for dance was called School of Levitation.

4 comments:

Dave Seidel said...

Daniel, thanks for a[nother] stimulating post. Do you know of any online source for the Seeger article?

Daniel Wolf said...

Dave:

I don't know of an online source, but here's the reference:

Charles Seeger, "On Dissonant Counterpoint," Modern Music 7, no. 4 (June-July 1930): 25-26

And here's a useful summary:

http://www.o-art.org/history/early/Seeger.html

Daniel Wolf said...

Dave:

I don't know of an online source, but here's the reference:

Charles Seeger, "On Dissonant Counterpoint," Modern Music 7, no. 4 (June-July 1930): 25-26

And here's a useful summary:

http://www.o-art.org/history/early/Seeger.html

Dave Seidel said...

Thank you.