A Welter of Polyrhythms
On the train this morning, deep into Aaron Copland’s classic, What to Listen for in Music, which Art Dudley discusses in our November issue, I read a bit about rhythms and polyrhythms. Copland is giving a brief history on the use and evolution of rhythm in modern Western composition, explaining how we got from basic two-four time marches to much more complex combinations of two or more independent rhythms in varying times. This is what I read:
Don’t imagine for an instant that such rhythmic complexities were unknown until our time. [Copland is writing in the 1930s.] On the contrary, by comparison with the intricate rhythms used by African drummers or Chinese or Hindu percussionists, we are mere neophytes. A real Cuban rhumba band, to come nearer home, can also show us a thing or two when it comes to the hectic use of polyrhythms. Our own “swing” bands, inspired by darker days of “hot jazz,” also occasionally let loose a welter of polyrhythms which defy analysis.
My mind turned to my friend, Todd Steponick, and then it turned again to Tony Williams, and then it turned again to Uncle Omar taking conga lessons in the hot burgundy night with Gene Golden of Grupo Folklorico and Orquestra la Conspiracion.
When I arrived at the office, I turned on my computer and saw this:
It’s amazing, the stuff that humans can do. This is a video for the song “Ah!” off of Oval’s new album O. Oval is electronic composer, Marcus Popp. The album is available in two versions: A two-disc CD version packaged in an LP-style gatefold jacket, with 20 tracks on Disc 1 and 50 tracks on Disc 2; and a two-disc LP version in a real gatefold jacket available in four different colors and with the 20 tracks from Disc 1 cut across three sides, six exclusive vinyl-only tracks on the fourth side, and a nifty download coupon for accessing all the vinyl tracks in addition to the 50 tracks from CD2. You can get all of that for just $17 if you order directly from the excellent label, Thrill Jockey.
While the ten longer pieces of Disc 1 play like pure and curious explorations of rhythm, sound, and space, Popp says the 50 concise tracks of Disc 2, which he refers to as “ringtones,” represent “a conscious nod to the culture of instant gratification. Attentions spans are noticeably changed and the culture of organic discovery is gone from the mainstream and replaced by a hunger for the new. Consumption and criticism at warp speed. Portability dominates the art form to an extent never before seen.”
I bet it sounds wonderful on the hi-fi. For more info on this fascinating album and to listen to samples of 70 tracks, visit Thrill Jockey.