What is musical rhythm?

Listen to the three pieces we listened to in class on Thursday, August 28, using the guiding questions on the “What is Musical Rhythm” handout as a means to direct your attention. After each listening, write down your thoughts about this listening experience. When you have finished listening to the three pieces, write a short response on the Virtual Lab’s “Forum” page (one paragraph per piece; make sure to mention which piece you are discussing). To get full credit for this task, post your response here no later than Monday, September 1, 12:00 PM.

4 thoughts on “What is musical rhythm?

  1. Xenakis, Concret PH:
    Concret PH instilled in me a visualization of directionality, with continuity, yet a strong sense of having my attention drawn to a ‘foreground’ of higher-pitched or louder/heavier sounds. My listening behavior was affected because I began to imagine objects of some sort falling, not just thinking about their sounds, as often occurs in nature; when we hear warbling, we may envision a bird. I began to have expectations of when/how the next sounds were to occur, although the experience of rhythm in this piece was unlike my usual concept of what constitutes musical rhythm.

    Mozart, Overture, Le Nozze di Figaro:
    The first rhythmic sensation that manifested itself to me in this piece was phrasing. Subdividing the lengths of time in which phrases took place, developing a larger theme in a way familiar to Western culture, I had many expectations while listening to this piece (And not just because I had heard it before). The grouping of rhythms that followed, dabbling in hyper meter, gave me a solid sense of pulse that manifested itself in my tapping my fingers and foot along with the music.

    Aka Pygmies, Zoboko: This piece did not stretch the concept of rhythm as I understood it, but it played with the differing rhythms in a way that was not yet comfortable to me, and I had to take some time to hear them settle into each other as polyrhythmic pieces of the larger puzzle. The temporality jumped out to me in words like, “quick, hopping, stream” with the bell (metal) first drawing my attention. When the clapping entered, I was drawn to the basic time-keeping of it, then went back to listening to the piece as a whole all working together.

  2. Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro, Overture
    While listening to this piece, a foreground and background rhythm became apparent to me. The pacing also varied throughout. While the tempo remained constant, the rhythmic feel and speed would slow down or speed up several times. I also noticed grouping accents and dynamic changes in this piece. These changes also contributed to the changes in the rhythmic feel and speed.

    Xenakis – Concret PH
    This piece evoked a sense of discomfort and anxiousness in me while I was listening to it. The sounds heard are dissonant and unpleasant, and it was difficult to follow a rhythm throughout the entire piece. This may be the cause of the discomfort I felt upon hearing the piece. Concret PH stretches the concept of what I understand to be rhythm by having different layers of rhythm that appear and disappear and not having a structured form, thereby eliminating the anticipation that usually comes with rhythm.

    Aka Pygmies – Zoboko
    To me, the rhythmic element most prominent in this piece is the syncopation. The many layers of rhythm all occurring simultaneously compliment each other even though they are not the same rhythms. The free rhythms heard throughout add to the layering and accents in the piece. Zoboko uses rhythm, and not melody, as its central mode to tell its story.

  3. Mozart, Overture, Le Nozze di Figaro (1786)
    Of the three, this piece perhaps most classically embodies the notion of musical rhythm (and thus temporality) for me. The first rhythmic sensation that manifests itself comes in with the high-tempo, rising and falling, pulses of string instruments, giving the listener the sensation of rushing about. It is with the addition of the higher strings, underscored by the beats of the horns, where the real action feels as though it takes effect, providing the listener with something to actively react to in short, staccato bursts of movement.

    Xenakis, Concret PH (1958)
    The popping sounds at first seem random, but listening beyond the first ten seconds causes one to perceive a pattern of some kind; enough of one, at least, that the addition of further sounds that disrupt and distort this pattern jars the listener out of complacency and causes us to confront our expectation that the pattern would continued unabated. The fact that the mind perceives a pattern in something as simple as what I can only describe as “glass rain” is fascinating.

    Aka Pygmies, Zoboko (traditional)
    While I would immediately identify this piece as polyrhythmic, it does seem that a overarching pattern appears after listening for a while. Though I am unsure as to whether this pulse exists prominently in the work or whether my brain is just interpreting it as such (because I am so accustomed to monorhythmic music), it strikes me as interesting that I can hear several different pulses that seem to be unified within a single beat pattern.

  4. Listening to Mozart’s piece, the first thing that becomes immediately apparent is the pulse, the kind of driving forward motion that is felt throughout the entire piece. What I think this does is set up expectations, and create space for Mozart to do other things. Even if we don’t know what the next change is going to be, whether it’s a change in melody, instrumentation, dynamics, or whatever, we know when that change will come, and so changes that might be surprising or even jarring, should they come inbetween pulses, are received better by our mind’s ear.

    The Xenakis piece is much more difficult to listen to when thinking about rhythms, at least for me. I found myself confusedly looking for some sort of rhythm to latch onto, to make sense of the piece, but I couldn’t do it. Because of that, when new elements were introduced they came as complete shocks. What I did find, however, was that as each new sound came in, I found myself listening more closely to the new sound for a rhythm, and becoming more habituated to the older sounds. Even as I was searching the new sounds for rhythms, the old sounds seemed to take on a rhythm of their own, but not a conscious one. It seems to me that we search the most salient noises for rhythm, not necessarily the entirety of the piece.

    Because there are so many overlapping rhythms in Zoboko, I found that I couldn’t quite make them mesh together, and instead had to hop from one to the other. This seems to suggest to me that we have a tendency to want to focus on one rhythm at a time, and that we might even find it taxing to try to listen to polyrhythmic music.

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