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Re: music by numbers

Andy originally wrote:
> but when I hear recordings of "primitive" cultures
> making music there is not really fixed intervals.
> ...and in some very old cultures the music
> theory is lost, and a glorious out of tuneness
> between the instruments develops.
> Sometimes there's no rhythm, just a pulse.
> The single repeated drum beat.
> Often a second drummer is totally out of time.
> ...and then it sounds real good:-)

Sarth replied:
> > I'd really like to hear recordings of some of the drumming you're
> >  to. I find it very hard to conceptualize drumming where one drummer is
> >  completely out of time with another.

Andy responded (with a sound clip):
> well the CD I have is:-
> Prophet 03 Papua New Guinea Philips 538714-2
> If that excerpt goes from the start of the track
> (I haven't been able to check) then you'll clearly
> hear drummer 2 coming in with a similar, but not
> related tempo.
> Throughout the piece drummer 2 drifts about behind
> the beat, but at the start there's a brief period where
> the 2 tempi rub up against each other.

Thanks for the great example, Andy.  I was also trying to think up a
concrete example for this sort of "rhythmic drift" but didn't have the time
to go through piles of old ethnographic LPs (to which no one else would 
been able to listen anyway).

Even though the audio clip is only 30 seconds, you can distinctly hear the
two drummers fall out of phase with each other.  And you're right -- it 
sound great.  I agree with Sarth that it would be almost impossible for us
(with our preconceived set of musical esthetics, conventions and
expectations) to try to execute this type of playing.  I'm sure most of us
would think of it as being "just plain wrong" and that the second drummer
had no sense of time, or had otherwise stumbled.

A few other corollaries I can think of:

Some of the early 70's Miles Davis funk/fusion recordings like "On The
Corner," "Big Fun," "Live Evil," etc. feature multiple percussionists who
are sometimes playing against the main beat of the trap drummer.  Often
they're playing out of time to provide more of a texture or "color" than a
solid beat.  This gives the overall effect of the same feeling of "rhythmic
drift" (as opposed to a more tightly structured polyrhythm).  Teo Macero,
the producer of these recordings, actually did a lot of splicing, looping
and weaving together of different tracks, which probably accounts for some
of the different concurrent tempi.

Andy also mentions "a glorious out of tuneness."  Great term!  I too love
that fuzzy intonation sometimes heard in various folk and traditional
performers from around the world, especially the musically "uneducated" or
"primitive" (in the sense of "self-taught" rather than the derogatory sense
of "backward" or "uncivilized").  Another jazz example of this "glorious 
of tuneness" that I really enjoyed was Sun Ra.  The first time I saw him,
his Arkestra consisted of 35 musicians.  (It was in a small club and the
musicians took up more floor space than the audience!)  I don't think any 
the musicians had bothered to tune their instruments to a common standard.
At first I found this very jarring and thought it most unprofessional.
During the "noise" or "free" segments of the show the lack of common
intonation didn't really matter.  But when they played Ra's arrangements of
jazz and big-band standards it was quite noticeable.  It was only after I
had seen them four or five times that I was able to move beyond the "Oh 
they are SO out of tune!" way of thinking and begin to appreciate the
greater sonic warmth that this fuzzy intonation offered.  It really seemed
to expand the sound and make a section of 5 saxophones appear more like 20
players.  I later learned that this same sort of out-of-tuneness is
deliberately cultivated in some musical traditions, for example, Indonesian
gamelan orchestras, where a pair of gongs will be tuned several cents apart
so that when they're played together they will produce acoustical beating,
which greatly widens the sound.

I guess this all comes back to the idea that there are multiple ways of
hearing, and that we often need to go beyond the musical prejudices of our
own traditions in order to appreciate other musical cultures.