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.

GEORGE's picture

You horrendous taste in music continues. Ever think about listening to something that might wake ya up, or energize the soul? Man, you are such a downer.

DLKG's picture

It sounds a lot like Autechere or Tagaki Masakatsu. Recently Autechere have come out with a couple really great glitchy Lp's. One is a 2 Lp set called Oversteps beautifully packaged in a slip case and they also just put out 2 EP's. Don't let George get you down. I think he may have stopped exploring.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks for the recommendations, DLKG. I've been interested in both Autechre and Takagi Masakatsu.And don't worry: George/DUP/Carl Engebretsen's opinion means nothing to me.

mark lindemann's picture

If you listen to the music without watching the video, you understand the post. It would sound better on a high end system. Probably still not my cup of tea

GEORGE's picture

The video is very disturbing, watching men dance in underwear, and a girl with dirty feet, is not appealing. Backed by some pretty horrendous sounds. Creepy stuff. When do you rejoin things with MUSIC?

buddha's picture

"This stuff is noise blips with creepy people in underwear."

George is talking about his contribution to your blog, right?

unrecognized's picture

what's in rotation today george? pink floyd? diana krall? i'd like to thank stephen for breaking the audiosphile stereotype. it's nice to see oval, leila, mogwai, etc. mentioned in these pages. on another note, i've always wanted to hear a panasonic or raster-noton record break a 100k soundsystem...

greg's picture

re: OvalThe LP-only tracks on the US vinyl are included as bonus tracks on the Japanese CD. Highly recommended.

Brother Todd's picture

Stephen, This makes me realize how long it's been since I explored any new music. I've been listening to audiobooks. Great post. Funny music arguments, too. Strange video. Makes quite an impression with the uncomfortable pink wall against dirt floor. The choreography to the sounds were really well done. I like that it's reaching over our heads. Thanks for this.

DLKG's picture

I just picked up the Oval album at the Princeton Record Exchange on Saturday. Good stuff but I do prefer Autechre a bit more. The Free Download that came with the double Lp has a ton of great music too.