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Experiments in Rhythm during the 20th Century

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Whitney George

on 6 September 2016

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Transcript of Experiments in Rhythm during the 20th Century

Experiments in Rhythm
during the 20th Century

- some important definitions -
Phasing
Minimalism & Rhythm

Steve Reich (1936-)
Rhythmic Unpredictability
in Concert Music
Olivier Messiaen
(1908-1992)
Rhythmic Unpredictability
in Concert Music
Igor Stravinsky
(1882-1971)
John Cage
& Rhythm
John Cage
(1912-1992)
when two (or more) lines of music, progressing at the same tempo, fall out of sync with one another
phasing can happen gradually (like ‘Piano Phase’) or in steady units (‘Clapping Music’)
Transcribing Rhythms

Taking a pre-existing source (such as a recording of a person talking) and writing out rhythmic information of that source (by putting it to a meter and assigning it rate (BPMs))
Additive/Subtractive Rhythms

Taking a rhythmic figure and continuing to repeat it, but upon each repetition, the phrase extends/decreases by a predictable (or unpredictable) amount.
for example, a repeating measure of 7/8, if an additive system of +1 is applied, the following bar will be 8/8, followed by 9/8, and so on
Rhythmic unpredictability

All popular music has a relatively high level of rhythmic predictability, such as songs that remain in the same TEMPO and METER from the beginning to the end.
Works with LOW rhythmic predictability either change tempi or meters often, or do not use repeating patterns
Pre-compositional Design


Any constraint or system (whether it be applied to the pitch, rhythmic, dynamic, etc...) created by the composer BEFORE he/she begins a work. Once the system is created, a composer creates musical material to “test” the system.
‘Clapping Music’ (1972)
MINIMALISM: Prominent features of the style include constant harmony, steady pulse, stasis or gradual transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases.
uses a technique called PHASING, when one player falls out of sync with the other. the phasing for this piece occurs in EVEN UNITS, where the pattern shifts
begins with a rapid twelve note figure, with both pianists playing at the same tempo
one slowly becomes out of phase with the other when one of them slightly speeds up
this is also an example of PROCESS music, when the music is nothing more than the result of applying the phasing process to the initial twelve note figure

‘Piano Phase’ (1967)

excerpt from ‘Quartet for the End of Time’: Danse de la fureur, por les sept trompettes (1941)
uses an ADDITIVE rhythmic constraint to systematically extend each phrase

excerpt from ‘The Rite of Spring’:
The Adoration of the Earth: Dances of the Young Girls (1913)
while the underlying PULSE remains the same, the RHYTHMIC UNPREDICTABILITY of each of the loud orchestra hits adds to the suspension and energetic feel of the music
excerpt from ‘Sonatas and Interludes’:
Sonata V (1946-48)

The ‘grand plan’ for the ‘Sonatas and Interludes’ have a very mathematical, pre-compositional design, where there are symmetry within and between sets
‘Third Construction’ (1941)
Construction is the title of several pieces by American composer John Cage, all scored for unorthodox percussion instruments.
The pieces were composed in 1939--42 while Cage was working at the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle, Washington and touring the West Coast with a percussion ensemble he and Lou Harrison had founded. The series comprises three Constructions.
Third Construction:
Composed in 1941 and dedicated to Xenia Kashevaroff-Cage, to whom Cage was then married and who played in his percussion orchestra. Third Construction is scored for four percussionists. There are 24 sections of 24 bars each, and the rhythmic structure is rotated between the players: 8, 2, 4, 5, 3, 2 for the fourth, 2, 8, 2, 4, 5, 3 for the first, etc.
Philip Glass (1937- )
‘Knee Play 2 & 3' from 'Einstein on the Beach' (1975)
The work changes from performance to performance because the percussionist gets to pick his resonating metal instruments
The form is similar to an ostinato form, but differs because the ostinato is constantly shifting by one beat (either adding one beat or subtracting a beat)
By keeping the pulse the same from section to section, and repeating the pitches in the same order, we can perceive the shifts in meter.
Iannis Xenakis
(1922-2001)
excerpt from ‘Psappha' (1975)
note that the score does not use a traditional notation, but instead a graphic notation
one immediately noticeable detail is that the pulse remains the same, but the stresses of the pulses (and therefore, the implied meter) constantly shift
the percussionist is able to pick out instruments that fall into construction categories (wood, metal, drums, etc...) so the sound from performance to performance varies radically
'Inlets' (1977)
The score says "Each player uses 4 shells, producing gurgles contingent upon a shell tipped this way or that". It doesn't say that the shells must be shaken. The purpose of the piece is silence "interrupted" by non-intentional gurgles. The musicians have to accept that their gestures won't produce anything. There is a disconnection between gestures and results giving even more indetermination.
SO Percussion uses shells that belonged to the composer for this piece
Rhythmic Layering in Music
Music for 18 Musicians (1978)
Uses rhythmic layering for each voice
the Dynamics (volume) help greatly to create the feeling of an evolving texture
Full transcript