« Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile | Main | I am not what you see and hear »

16 September 2008

Comments

Chris Becker
1.

Very exciting coverage. And as usual, you have to go to the blogs to read about this stuff.

"...unlike the overwhelming majority of the classical music that came before it is that the overall aesthetic effect depends almost entirely on the musicians' understanding of and command over the emotional consequences of nuanced rhythmic placement."

But I don't agree with that statement. Beethoven's 7th symphony came immediately to mind. Don't you think classical musicians are concerned with rhythmic placement (and have developed this technique) as much or as little as any other musician in any other genre? I spent this morning reading through notes in an addition of Louis Moreau Gottschalk's piano music by its editor (who is also a well known interpreter of Gottschalk's work) and over and over again there is an emphasis on attention to rhythm and accents as well as this music's unusual colors and (for its time - early to mid 1800s) points of inspiration (ie African, Caribbean, and South American music). Anyone who is a fan of Osvaldo Golijov's compositions (to name one contemporary composer) would love Gottschalk.

For those who don't play or maybe don't personally know musicians across the board (ie Classical, jazz, rock), I think its important or at least relevant to point out that time, rhythmic placement, and/or "groove" is a vital component to playing and interpreting much concert hall music composed before 1900.

But you are making some great points here. Taking a look at what contemporary "conservatory" training is these days is important. The evolution of instrumental technique is always happening and something that should be acknowledged.

That's all. Enjoying the blog as usual...

DJA
2.

Don't you think classical musicians are concerned with rhythmic placement (and have developed this technique) as much or as little as any other musician in any other genre?

If you are talking about the nuances of a fluid, expressive, constantly expanding-and-contracting rubato, then yes, of course, classical musicians have a very refined and sophisticated sense of rhythmic placement. If you are talking about playing complex rhythms with a high degree of accuracy, then the subset of classical musicians who specialize in new music will generally try to make that a priority. But if you are talking about having the kind of full-body emotional connection to rhythm that allows you to manipulate your relationship to a regular pulse -- playing on top without rushing, playing down the middle, playing behind without slowing down -- and feeling how all of those various nuances of placement affect the groove... then no, that is not something classical musicians generally devote a lot of their time to working on. This is because the vast majority of the standard repertoire -- from the end of the Baroque era up until you get to Bartók and Stravinsky -- does not prioritize a steady pulse.

Chris Becker
3.

"This is because the vast majority of the standard repertoire -- from the end of the Baroque era up until you get to Bartók and Stravinsky -- does not prioritize a steady pulse."

But do you get all of the above from first knowing first how to prioritize a steady pulse? That is, how can you play rubato if you can't play on top of the beat?

And isn't Les Noces based on a steady pulse?

But I absolutely agree that Reich's music and many other composers have demanded an evolution of technique from the people who play it.

DJA
4.

how can you play rubato if you can't play on top of the beat?

That's an excellent question, and one I wish more mainstream classical musicians would ask themselves.

And isn't Les Noces based on a steady pulse?

DIdn't I just say "up until you get to Bartók and Stravinsky"?

Chris Becker
5.

"DIdn't I just say "up until you get to Bartók and Stravinsky"?

Oh, right...you did.

Well, what about Beethoven's 7th? Or Mozart? Or Louis Moreau Gottschalk?

Perhaps I'm making a leap by saying that in order to play this Classical stuff "correctly" you have to have the very technique that you (if I'm following this) find missing in classical players who don't play any music past Bartok and Stravinsky. Based on my own experiences as a composers, I just don't think there's as big a leap happening with the performance technique as you do. But big deal. It's certainly doesn't hurt to discuss and debate this subject.

Here's something interesting from the Gottschalk collection I spoke of:

"In order to achieve accomplished performances of Gottschalk's compositions, it is absolutely essential to follow closely all the dynamics, all the accents, staccatos and stactissimos; the rhythmical patterns as well must be performed with utmost accuracy and clarify, as Gottschalk himself emphasized to performers of his music..."

And I wonder - him being a composer who grew up hearing music from Congo Square in New Orleans and as someone who traveled to and performed in Cuba, other parts of South America and the Caribbean - if Gottschalk's approach to rhythm had the "nuance" you speak of in your initial post about 18 Musicians. Actually, I am sure he had a very sophisticated relationship with time, rhythm and "feel." "Feel" is something he certainly heard and was able to transcribe and bring into his own compositions.

So what did he tell people performing his music? That's something I want to research. Did he feel notation suffice?

Take care,

CB

DJA
6.

Well, what about Beethoven's 7th? Or Mozart?

In most circles, it would generally be considered vulgar and perverse to perform Beethoven or Mozart with an unyieldingly steady pulse. Some degree of expressive rubato is part of the performance practice of that music.

I'm not saying that performances of Beethoven and Mozart don't benefit from a little injection of rhythmic authority from time to time. They just don't depend on it. There are lots of perfectly lovely interpretations of Beethoven and Mozart by musicians who couldn't keep a steady beat if you held a gun to their head.

Michael
7.

Excellent post, sir. If you're curious, my own layman's take on the evening is linked from my name.

DJA
8.

Great writeup, Michael. The "Pulses" section that opens and closes the piece is also the most difficult bit to play. You and I saw different performances -- on the night I went, the opening was solid but there was some audible uncertainty near the end. But that's the danger of really nailing this stuff, it makes the slightest scuffle over the time instantly audible. I agree with Melissa that the group needs to tour -- they are already so killing, it's scary to think where they'd be at after a little road-seasoning.


Chris Becker
9.

"In most circles, it would generally be considered vulgar and perverse to perform Beethoven or Mozart with an unyieldingly steady pulse. Some degree of expressive rubato is part of the performance practice of that music."

Right - but what I'm saying is that you don't get to expressive rubato without first being able to play a steady beat. And in my experience this is not an alien concept to classical musicians.

And the majority of the musicians who performed this concert coming from classical conservatory (which often means "classical") backgrounds, right? I'm confused...


DJA
10.

you don't get to expressive rubato without first being able to play a steady beat

Hi Chris,

That is a statement that a lot of classical musicians (especially older ones) embrace in theory, but in practice it's often just lip service. And it's very difficult to internalize the fundamentals of groove when none of the music you play on a regular basis requires it.

Michael
11.

I would love to read your thoughts on the nature of "groove." What constitutes it? It's not just everybody hitting at the same time, is it? How do you make groove happen? Are there great musicians who do not groove? If so, how can they be great? Etc.

DJA
12.

What constitutes [groove]?

Well, obviously it's all kind of mysterious and ineffable in a "you'll know it when you hear it" kind of way, but basically I think it boils down to the creative friction between pulse and placement. If you listen closely to a lot of the really badass, hard-swinging jazz rhythm sections, you'll hear that the drummer and the bass player have different ideas about placement -- they are putting their quarter notes on different parts of the beat. But it's clear they agree where the beat actually is, even if neither of them are playing exactly in the middle of it. If they get too far apart, it's a mess, but if they get too close together it becomes stiff and unswinging. There is a certain sweet spot where the rhythms are rubbing up against each other in just the right way.

Are there great musicians who do not groove?

Sure: Alfred Brendel. Lennie Tristano. Bob Dylan. (Dylan's time feel is fascinating, but it has nothing to do with groove as we usually understand it. His backing bands usually groove, of course.) Leonard Cohen. I love the Velvet Underground, but I don't think anyone would argue that they were an especially hard-grooving band.

Bob
13.

If the Velvets' "What Goes On" doesn't groove, I myself would have no idea what the word "groove" means.

DJA
14.

Hi Bob,

De gustibus etc. "What Goes On" is a great cut, with many awesome qualities to recommend it, but IMO a tight groove is not really among them.

Michael
15.

Not to continue this tangent too far, but I'd nominate "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Venus in Furs" for great grooves. They don't groove in the lithe way that, say Booker T and the MG's grooved, but they surely subdivide the time and propel the rest of the music in unique, ineffable ways.
The other question is, define swing. That one seems to flabbergast everybody.

DJA
16.

I think we might be quibbling over semantics. As I said, I am a Velvets fan and I definitely endorse what Michael writes below:

they surely subdivide the time and propel the rest of the music in unique, ineffable ways.

Whether you call the Velvets' particular rhythmic idiosyncrasies "groove" or something else is up to you. I don't mean to imply that they were rhythmically unsophisticated -- quite the opposite. But their idea of playing a "Booker T." jam is almost absurdly removed from what an an actual Booker T. jam sounds like. Which is part of what I like about them.

Chris Becker
17.

Sister Ray is a monster groove...

So is Handel.

Chris Becker
18.

Handel's Messiah that is...

And of course, Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIHrdLwa_y8

Michael
19.

Yeah, we're definitely running into a semantic issue over what groove is, which is what I originally wanted to nail down. So your sense of groove is a specific form of "rhythmic idiosyncracy"?

Ryshpan
20.

Interesting that Chris brings up Gottschalk. While I love his music, Philip Martin seems to lack the sense of groove Gottschalk needs (at least in the record I have). "Souvenir de Porto Rico" is drowned in rubato instead of percolating along with the clave it deserves. I don't have the chops to play much of Gottschalk's music but just reading through the scores I'm surprised at how much opportunity for groove is lying within that music.

Chris Becker
21.

Ryshpan - Amiram Rigai is the editor I quoted regarding Gottschalk. I haven't heard Rigai's recordings of Gottschalk's music, but I really want to...I'm guessing his playing is interpretation of the piano music is very different than Philip Martin's.

The piano recording I have is on Naxos with Cecile Licad playing. Bamboula in on there and I think she does a great job with it.

And I completely agree - the opportunity for groove is in Gottschalk's music - and this is a mid to late nineteenth century composer. A contemporary of Chopin, right?

The comments to this entry are closed.