I’ve been inspired down a flight of fancy this week with a drawing from Igor Stravinsky. The story goes that he was asked how he thinks of his music , and his response was drawing this image on a napkin
(Credit to Larry Goves for sharing the story)
What’s interesting about this diagram to me is that my composing, specifically counterpoint, falls into the harmonic polyphony category, and I’m close to embarking on learning about Bach fugues. I also find it no coincidence that the last drawing is used as the Perspectives Of New Music logo, just flipped 180 degrees! It got me to thinking about how I visualise my own music. I’m nowhere near the level of Stravinsky, but it can be done at any level, and better still it can be a great tool for coming up with new sounds.
Seeing this, along with some exercises on graphical scores made me think about how to visualise my own music, in perticular the counterpoint I’ve been jabbering on about for 9 months. It’s in the space between polyphony and harmonic polyphony and I decided to focus on the rhythm of different Species of counterpoint. I took the rhytms of 2 and 3 part counterpoint(according to The study of counterpoint) and just looked at how they divide
you can immediately see that the later species will have a more varied sound because of multiple rhythms going on at once, and this is just using 3 note values, uniform on the beat. Originally when there were only 2 voices, rhythms would’ve been quite limited in a similar way, but over time as things like the fugal form developed and players became daring enough to try new rhythms against the rules of theory at that time ,rhythms and new exotic textures began to emerge. But I digress, Let’s try something practical.
We’re focusing on Rhythm here, so I kept to 3 part counterpoint moving through the species in order of complexity of rhythm. Just by looking through them you can see how they relate to the diagrams above, and listening to them gives an idea of multiple textures happening at one time.
Beat Shifting and Latin Grooves
I remember watching a program about latin grooves and salsa a while ago that said the music drives you forward because each instrument is just a fraction off beat from the last eg the bass will be a 16th ahead of the drums and the piano will be a sixteenth ahead of the bass. If you want an example check out Stevie Wonder or Santana, who are masters of the technique. let’s try a simplified version.
The Middle Voice is the main Line, so let’s move the top voice forward a 16th note.
I didn’t expect that to work so well, now let’s shift the lower voice a 16th note ahead of the top voice
As you can hear, It’s the same notes, but it just pulls your ear along far better. It’s really simple to do, and the sheet music makes you look all professional and stuff.
Note: I had another latin counterpoint example which had an extra drum track, but due to technical difficulties they came out sounding rather messed up.
Horses, Ligatures and Latin Rhythms
The way Ligatures are a delayed note works very similarly to the shift that just happened there. In a classical ligature the shift was by a minim (half note), but in the latin music it was only by a semiquaver (16th note). Regardless they both serve to give the music more of a pull, like climbing a rope with alternating hands instead of one big pull with both then another. now that I think of meaphors imagine how a spider moves, with 8 legs all going one after the other propelling it forward. The same with how horses run. Isn’t it interesting how the rhythm of a horse running is the same as that of a heart beating? ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum,ta-tum…
beyond anything else this idea was an experiment for me, a new way to think about music and see where it leads me. See what you can visualise in your own music and you might just come up with some really interesting ideas!
With plans a 2 parter