Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Commentary

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Commentary

Article excerpt

[1] The five essays in this issue are noteworthy not only for their focus on Non-Western music, but also for the fact that they involve detailed accounts and analysis of performances and performance technique, both qualitative (Locke, Burns, Scherzinger) as well as quantitative (Polak, Butterfield). This focus on performances, and in many cases the particulars of drumming technique, foregrounds the problems of trying to forge a one-to-one mapping between a series of actions, the sound(s) those actions create, and analytic representations of those sounds. For example, Polak makes useful observations on the timing distinctions between two separate rhythmic events articulated by two hands on a drum, versus a flam that essentially is one "musical object"-and notes that there is a gray area when the flam vs. two-note articulation is not at all clear. Polak, Burns, and Locke also pay close attention to the ways in which timbre plays a crucial role in the definition of particular rhythmic patterns. Thus these five essays cut along many edges.

[2] While I would have enjoyed commenting on all five papers, I will limit my remarks to just two, those by Butterfield and Polak, as they most directly engage my own work and make substantial use of empirical methods of analysis with which I am familiar.

[3] In "Variant Timekeeping Patterns and Their Effects in Jazz Drumming" Matt Butterfield gives a detailed analysis of Steve Davis's performance of "Tune Up," taken from a Jamey Abersold recording. Butterfield's analysis exhaustively catalogs all of the ride cymbal figures Davis uses in this recording and notes their relative distribution against a family of variants of the basic "ding-CHICK-a-ding" pattern. Butterfield's taxonomy of basic patterns is itself of interest, for he both lays out the range of rhythmic possibilities for the ride pattern and analyzes the different motional qualities of each variant. In so doing he is able to do more than just note the relative distribution of each pattern (and pattern families, as per his Table 1); he is also able to discuss how Davis uses different patterns, with their different propulsive qualities, at different points of the composition.

[4] This approach is a good marriage of traditional musical analysis (i.e., our intuitive assessment of the phenomenal qualities of a pattern explained in terms of its material basis) with empirical methodologies that track the distribution and deployment of each pattern. Butterfield's larger point is that previous characterizations of the drummer's role in the ensemble-either as the timekeeper, or as a comping soloist-are guilty of the fallacy of the excluded middle. Jazz drummers can do a bit of both at the same time. As Butterfield shows, by strategically altering the ride patterns themselves, drummers can and do modulate the motional energy of the timekeeping elements themselves.

[5] Butterfield makes an important observation about the sound of the hi-hat that is worth highlighting. As he remarks about his Example 1b, the hi-hat can transform a rhythm from thetic to anacrustic: "the accented quality of the hi-hat, as well as the brevity of its actual sounding duration relative to the longer ride cymbal strike that precedes it, generates anacrusis [/] on the backbeats and thereby directs motional energy to the ensuing downbeat." This is true, but not due to the hi-hat's accent or brevity. Butterfield treats the hi-hat, as music theorists usually do, as an instrument that generates a sound S of some duration D whose onset occurs at some time T. And many sounds are like that. But a hi-hat sound isn't so much an "attack" as it is a modulated envelope of sound-we hear the dynamic shape of its opening and closing, and that is what creates the sense of anacrusis when the hi-hat is present. A hit on the snare, which would also be accented and short, would not have the same effect. To put it another way, the hi-hat sound is not a simple event, but a kind of event-complex. …

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