Tapping to Carter

Listen to Elliott Carter’s 90+ for Piano (1994), as performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard:

90+ for Piano

Listen to the piece again, this time tapping along with the “underlying pulse” (or beat).

Is the piece unified by a single beat or does it have several different beats? Are there sections where there is no beat at all? Locate these beats (one or two is enough for this exercise) in the recordings with the chronometric time and use the online metronome to identify its speed (in beats per minute or bpm). What is the interonset interval (IOI) corresponding to each of your perceived beats (in milliseconds or ms)?

You may listen to the piece again, this time with the score (but not before you have completed the above task!). Can you follow along? What are some of the musical parameters that might have contributed to your hearing of these beats?

Post a short response (1-2 paragraphs) to these questions here by Thursday, September 18, 9:00 AM.

5 thoughts on “Tapping to Carter

  1. Upon first listening to Elliot Carter’s “90+,” I found it very difficult to latch on to a unified beat throughout the piece. The music seemed to be grouped into sections of varying beats, usually only lasting for a few seconds. Once I thought I had found a suitable underlying rhythm, my tapping would soon sound un-rhythmical as time went on and I would quickly try to adapt to the new rhythm I was hearing. Some sections sounded as if no rhythm was binding them together and the notes were randomly scattered in time without any pattern or reason. I found a steady beat of 104 bpm from 5:04-5:17 (577 IOI). These perceived beats quickly dissipated into a seemingly different rhythm and were hard to recognize on the first listening of the piece.
    I found following along with the score pretty easy at first but about halfway through I lost my place and was not able to regain myself until almost the end of the piece. The score somewhat makes sense of the peculiar timing of notes throughout the piece, but I would still find this piece very rhythmically challenging if I had to play it on the piano. Some of the musical parameters that may have attributed to the strange-sounding rhythms are the combination of triplets, quintuplets, and other note divisions played at once and the changes in time signature. The combination of different note divisions is hard to follow when not looking at a score and contributes to the complexity at finding an underlying beat in this piece. Also, the sudden change in time signatures gives the feeling of unbalance and abrupt variation that gives rise to the unexpectedness in this piece.

  2. I think I was able to find something of a beat around the second 30 seconds of the song or so, a beat around 76 bpm (~789 ms IOI). I ran into the same problem as Angie, in that the second I thought I had found some kind of steady beat, it would change, and almost before I could begin tapping along, my beat already sounded arhythmic and strange. I noticed that my method of searching for a rhythm seemed to be to seek out any two notes that sounded more saliant, and then hope that a third note would come at the time I perceived when the third beat should come, but that rarely if ever really happened. Perhaps my method just wasn’t effective for this piece however.
    I found that following along with the piece was relatively easy for awhile, but one lapse in attention and I was immediately lost, and unable to regain my place. The rhythm of a piece generally allows you to plan and expect the future notes not only in the near future, but in essence allows you to return to the music at any point, as long as you have kept the rhythm steady, and/or recognize the changes in rhythm. Because the rhythm of this piece was so hard to identify, and seemed to change so frequently, it made returning to the piece, or expecting future notes almost impossible.

  3. Like Angie and Jordan before me, I found this task to be EXTREMELY difficult. Most of the piece sounded like a random collection of notes, and even when I thought I may have found a beat I struggled to tap along in any way that didn’t immediately sound wrong.

    The best I was able to accomplish insofar as tapping a beat was from 2:56-3:03, when a series of lower notes seem to occur at a pace of about 126bpm. However, even this is an approximation as I am still not 100% satisfied that this beat is actually present, even for such a short period of time.

    Following the music with the score in front of me made me feel more at ease, but my relative lack of musical training meant that I was still unable to follow much of the piece. As Angie pointed out, I think the unusual note combinations and quick succession of time signatures contributed to the disorienting effect that the piece had on me.

  4. Around 108 bpm for the first fifteen seconds or so (or ~555 IOI), I found myself convinced I had a rhythm locked in for the moment, but then found that to be very wrong.

    It is very disconcerting to be supposedly tapping along to music and then find yourself considerably thrown off whatever rhythm may be playing, and I guess from this one can then convince themselves that they are, indeed, in time, and that these strange upbeats that notes are falling upon somehow do lock in with whatever rhythm you have chosen.

    I found the piece to be at approximately 202 bpm around one minute in for a succession of faster notes- I noticed it is easier to convince oneself that you are actually in time with the piece when your subdivisions are smaller, thus creating more opportunities for notes to fall upon when you are tapping.

    Though I was not feeling a steady pulse, around 2:33 in I began to hear certain ‘phrases’ of sound that were distinct to my ear in having shapes to them, almost like runs of scales.

    At the end, again I began to hear more pattern-like shapes to the music (when notes are quicker this too, becomes easier).

  5. 90+ seems to experiment with a variety of musical and rhythmic parameters, resulting in a sound that is very rarely predictable and quite complex to follow. Based on the texture, there are often long, sustained chords blocks held underneath, while short attacks are heard overtop, leaning almost towards a pointillism in sound.

    In my opinion, the piece is indeed unified by a single beat–this is the only way that a piece of such rhythmic complexity could be given a backbone. However, actually grasping a steady, consistent beat is next to impossible, as Carter plays with the perception of the listener by rarely emphasizing strong beats.

    At the very beginning, and judging by the score, it appears that Carter is emphasizing points very soon before or very soon after the downbeat of measures. Going from the very beginning of the piece, I felt a pulse of approximately 95 bpm, for a few measures, emphasizing the syncopation. The IOI was approximately 110ms in this short passage.

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