In many pieces of music we are presented to a rhythm that is creating some kind of friction against the main pulse. But stil there are not very many examples, in music where pulse is a dominant element, to push the friction far enough to actually change the perception of the main pulse. In this post I will present two different pulse-based pieces of music, which both uses common rhythmical patterns to introduce alternative pulses.
Rather than applying one of the tools on FAA, I will write this post more freely with comments and explanations in connection to each of the audio examples.
EXAMPLE 1: BRITNEY SPEARS – TILL THE WORLD ENDS
It is common, also in this music genre where it is important that the music is dance friendly, to use different combinations of the durations eight note (two sixteen notes) and dotted eight note (three sixteen notes), to create rhythmical patterns in a metrum that is strictly quarter note based.
What is happening in this Britney Spears song is that a duration of dotted eight note, in the sung melody, is repeated, and makes an alternative pulse occur; four beats over three ordinary pulse beats. The seven repetitions of dotted eight notes in each phrase, makes the alternative pulse stretch over one bar plus one beat. This means that alternative pulse does not add up at the start of the second bar which, I claim, is one of the key points to why you can start to hear it as an alternative pulse more than a rhythm.
In the start of the refrain the main pulse is not present, clearly emphasizing the alternative pulse as it enters. In the second part of the refrain, the wordless part, the main pulse enters like a steady beat against the alternative pulse melody.
If listening to the intro and the verse of the song you can hear that the bass is continuously playing the alternative pulse, adjusted to add upp on the start of each second bar, with the obvious function of planting it in the listener, without him/her being aware of it, so when you get to the refrain and Britney starts singing the alternative pulse up front, it will make sense musically.
Notice that Britney is clearly marking the main pulse in the verse, where the bass is playing the alternative pulse. The roles are then reversed in the refrain.
Still, even though the idea of the alternative pulse is well planted in the verse and accentuated in the refrain, there is never any ambiguity about which pulse is the main one; when the main pulse disappears in the beginning of the refrain, you never lose track of it. The second example goes one step further in that sense.
EXAMPLE 2: DORIAN CONCEPT – CLAP BEEP BOOM
In this example, just as in the previous one, there is a play between two pulses with the tempo relation 4:3. But here the music is ambiguous about which one is the main pulse.
The means that is used to reach this ambiguity is quite elegant. While the Britney Spears song presents an alternative pulse by simply playing/singing it, this piece is starting out with a melody playing sixteen notes and a drum beat; the melody and the drum beat are together making it possible to hear the main pulse in two different ways.
0’09 – 0’44
The drum beat is created by using a slightly adjusted polyrhythm (the two pulses present in the same rhythm), where you can hear the main pulse as dotted eight notes (three sixteen notes) if assuming that the snare drum is playing on each beat, or as quarter notes (four sixteen notes), if instead assuming that the bass drum is.
The melody consist of plain sixteen notes and could therefore fit inside both a pulse consisting of quarter notes or dotted eight notes. The shaping of the melody could make it obvious which pulse is the main one (in acoustic music also phrasing could reveal the same). Here the melody is constructed, just as the drum beat, to fit both if hearing the main pulse as quarter notes or dotted eight notes. But the pitches are grouped in a way (groups of four or two-two sixteen notes) that gives a hint the main pulse consists of quarter notes.
Since quarter notes is the far most common pulse beat in this music genre and the grouping of the melody pitches is pointing in this direction, I think most listeners will hear the opening of this piece with quarter notes as the main pulse. The drum beat will then be limping slightly, since the bass drum is adjusted around what is actually the main pulse: dotted eight notes. This can give an interesting, and slightly disturbing, experience; you feel what you think is the main pulse but it does not really add up.
At 0’44 some small adjustments in the drum beat are made which makes clear that the main pulse is dotted eight notes. If the music was earlier heard with quarter note as the main pulse, the perceptual shift of the music might be big, even if the technical adjustments are small. With these small rhythmical adjustments, it actually turns out that what was heard as sixteen notes in the melody was all the time eight note triplets, while the drum beat was subdivided in sixteen and thirty-second notes. This is why it earlier felt like the drum beat was limping.
I find it very interesting how this small change in the music can make a big perceptual change in the listener.