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Merciful Bending of Time
June 6, 2009 — 2:51 am

Trey Gunn, one of my favorite musicians, explains the trouble he’s having learning a new piece of repertoire for an upcoming series of performances:

This “three-piece suit and a poison pen” of a tune has some of the most challenging rhythms I have ever attempted. The musical worlds that I move comfortably in, all have four, or occasionally three, subdivisions to the beat. The bars could be composed of any numbers of beats – 5, 8, 9, 13, etc… – but each of those beats are broken up in to four small pulses. This is extremely common in even the most complicated of rock and world music rhythms. All of the King Crimson material (except for the short bass break in Lark’s Tongue II – which is five to the pulse) is based on four, or the odd three, pulses to the beat. All of my solo material is based on four small pulses. All of the music that I listen to from Iran, Egypt, Eastern Europe and Africa is based on either four or three to the beat.

However this track, “Austin Powers” leaves this concept behind and the small subdivisions of the beat are mutated beyond this “norm”. One beat is divided in four, the next one in six, the next in 7, then one in five, then the next into 7. Sometimes these subdivisions even include rests on the first note — leaving you hanging off a cliff for a short split in time.

After a couple of illustrative audio samples:

Each bar has it’s own sense of time. In fact each bar has it’s own sense of objective time and it’s own sense of subjective time.

In terms of objective time (which humans, other than Marco, have no organ of perception for), each bar is identical. The bass part hits the one of each bar and each bar is measured by the clock to be the same length. If The Great Being of Saturn were to measure these bars against his cycle around the Sun he would hear them all as equal. Of course they would be zooming by extremely fast, but they would be of identical time length. Old Heavenly Saturn would not be swayed by any subjective sense of time. (Perhaps Marco has some Saturnalian blood? We know the fuel of Uncle Priapus flows in his viens.)

However, that is all in the objective world. Subjectively, the experience of each bar is totally different. The first bar moves along at the known rate which is set up by the previous section. But the second bar moves along much, much slower. The third bar seems almost as expanded as the second bar but not quite as long. And the fourth bar moves along similarly but then picks up its pace and contracts near the end.

Here’s the entire piece:

— Eric D. DixonComments (0)

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Eric D. Dixon

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