Music Theory Research

Milton Mermikides Research Seminar – University of Surrey – Guildford

Milton Mermikides Research Seminar

Time-feel: the analysis, modeling and employment of sub-notational rhythmic expression

Tuesday 22 February 2011

16:00 to 18:00

Open to:
Public, Staff, Students

The analysis and pedagogical focus of the jazz idiom has, historically, been largely limited to those musical features most easily described within the standard notational system. These aspects took precedence over the hugely important stylistic mechanisms of rhythmic expression that fall between the cracks of standard notation. However, with 1) the advent of digital audio analysis, 2) an increased willingness and ability of practitioners to articulate this aspect of performance and 3) a conceptual liberation from a quantized grid-view of rhythm, light has been shed on this poorly understood and yet “most basic fundamental element” (Crook 1991) of jazz and popular music virtuosity. Through the consolidation of practitioner-led research and pedagogy (Mingus, Crook, Bergonzi and Moore etc.), current analytical research (Benadon, Naveda et al, Gerischer and Friberg & Sundström etc.) and extensive use of precise digital audio analysis, this paper presents a relatively simple, powerful and usable model of expressive micro-timing in jazz and contemporary popular music, variously referred to as ‘swing’, ‘groove’ or ‘rhythmic feel’ and here collectively termed ‘time-feel’.
Central to the model is the conceptual separation of the mechanisms of swing (offset of the second quaver) from latency (the sub-notational rhythmic placement of an individual performance relative to a negotiated time-line). This separation reveals and makes quantifiable a wealth of expressive rhythmic mechanisms (dynamic swing-levels, time-line hierarchy, time-feel blocks, differential elasticity, hyper-latency, swing friction, ensemble swing, isoplacement, latency contours and temporal plasticity) lost to the discretely delineated rhythmic paradigm. Analytical methods are suggested that create useful comparisons of stylistic and performer-based variations, as well as how time-feel may be controlled dynamically during performance. A formal mathematical model, specifically written real-time software, graphic notation and digital audio techniques are presented which may be employed with great flexibility for analysis or as supporting mechanisms to performance, pedagogical practice and composition. In order to demonstrate the real-world relevance of this model, detailed analysis and commentary of precisely measured rhythmic data is also presented in case studies with a diverse range of artists including Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and a specifically commissioned recording session with Pat Martino.

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