27 November 2007

Rock Syncopation: Stress Shifts or Polyrhythms?

Citizen Arnold pointed me to this gem of a post at Mark Liberman’s awesome Language Log: an analysis and discussion of whether or not syncopation as observed in rock and jazz is a matter of shifting stress or an expression of polyrhythm. It hits all the right notes: Latin jazz, linguistics nerdery, and Little Richard (who TF else!):

1  2  3  4  5 6  7 8  1  2  3  4   5 6  7  8  
o o
o o o o o o
I been told baby you been bold I won't

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
o o
o o o o
be your fool no more

You could analyze this as a “rock syncopation” in Temperley’s terms — the strongly-accented words “told”, “bold” and “fool” have all shifted from the fifth eighth-note of their bars to the fourth. In the standard, square (4+4) organization of those notes, this is a shift from one of the strongest positions in the meter to one of the weakest. But in the (3+3+2) habanera pattern, the fourth eighth-note is exactly where the ictus belongs.

So was it the “square” setting of the previous line that was actually “syncopated”? Not really — the (4+4) pattern is also simultaneously available. Neither setting really represents a shift away from the strong positions in the musical rhythm. Instead, the setting is shifting between one polyrhythmic definition of metrical strength and another.

Currently listening to: Monolake’s Polygon Cities (Monolake also offers free tracks)

1 comment:

  1. Sacha09:26

    Liberman also has a background post on African metrical traditions.