Introducing a new feature here on the Secret Society inter-web pamphlet: the Composition Vivisection.
From time to time, I will take a piece from the Secret Society repertoire and slice it open to show you what's inside. The analysis will take place in multiple installments, over multiple posts.
Our first victim is "Zeno," from Infernal Machines.
[What follows here and in subsequent installments is a somewhat more succinct version of the talk I gave at New England Conservatory last week.]
WARNING: these vivisections are, necessarily, unapologetically technical. As I mentioned in the comments to the previous post, I don't think listeners ought to feel they need to be concerned about process. The important thing is the art, not the steps along the way. That said, should you, for reasons of your own, actually want to see how the sausage is made, click below to continue reading.
"Zeno" is named after Zeno of Elea, creator of Zeno's Paradoxes. The piece isn't directly based on any of the specific motion paradoxes, but more generally on the idea that forward motion -- and, by extension, rhythm -- is deceptive and illusory.
Have a listen to the first few seconds of "Zeno":
So... what time signature are we in?
Assuming your name is not Austin McBride, you probably answered "5/4, of course." Indeed, this is one of the most iconic 5/4 rhythms of all time:
The truth is that every rhythm section entrance implies a different time signature.
As we heard, the guitar figure implies 5/4.
The piano implies 12/8:
And the bass implies a lightly syncopated 3/4:
However, for notational (and conducting!) purposes, all of these rhythms are governed by a single, master time signature. That time signature is 3/2 -- kind of like cut time with an extra half-bar grafted on.
Here, why don't you look at the condensed score? That way, you can check out how those four parts line up on the 3/2 grid.
Or, if you prefer, here is the full score:
I'm going to refer to the score often from here on in, so you might want to print it out.
You can also follow along as you listen to the entire piece:
In addition to being a notational convenience, the master time signature -- 3/2 -- also governs the rate of harmonic change. For instance, while the rhythm of the guitar figure implies 5/4, the chords still move at a rate of one chord per measure of 3/2.
In other words, there is a tension in the guitar part -- the rhythmic figures might imply 5/4 but the harmonic progression is in 3/2 (give or take the odd anticipation):
This 5/4 rhythmic pattern repeats itself every 5 bars -- the rhythm in measure 6 is the same as the rhythm in measure 1. However, our harmonic cycle is two measures long -- we have one chord in measure 1, and a second chord in measure 2 (then back to the first chord in m.3, and so on). So, in measure 6, while the rhythm may be the same as in measure 1, we find ourselves on a different chord. It takes 10 measures for the 5-bar rhythmic cycle and the 2-bar harmonic cycle to come back into alignment. Measure 11 (i.e., rehearsal letter A in your score) is identical in both rhythm and harmony to measure 1 for the guitar.
Speaking of harmony: as you can see above, the first chord in our two-chord progression is (bottom-to-top) A-D-G -- stacked fourths, a classic modal jazz voicing. The second chord is Ab-Db-G -- a fourth plus a tritone. By themselves, these chords are a bit ambiguous -- they could each imply a variety of different harmonies.
It's not until the bass enters in measure 7 that we get a clearer picture of what's going on, harmonically. The bass plays a B under the first voicing, giving it a B-7(b6) [aeolian] sound. And it plays a C# under the second voicing, creating a kind of C# power chord -- Ab(=G#) and Db(=C#), with an added G -- i.e., the #11.
So, we are alternating a modal jazz kind of chord -- B-7(b6) -- with a crunchier, less jazzy kind of chord, with no third and no seventh -- C#5 (add #11). Remember this contrast, because it will become important later -- as will the B to C# root motion.
Wow, that was quite a bit of verbiage about 10 measures of relatively sparse music! Stay tuned for the next installment, when we delve into the exciting world of melody...