Page 1 of 1

The Tyranny of the Four-Four Beat

PostPosted: Mon Jun 19, 2006 1:41 pm
by howard male
I thought it might be fun to start a strand about world beats infiltrating popular western music. For example, Gerry Lyseight on this Saturday's show pointed out the bossa nova-ish beat behind the Doors' 'Break On Through To the Other Side' which I'd never really noticed before.

I personally delight in these far too rare digressions from the tyranny of the basic four-four beat which essentially dominates all forms of - and there's no avoiding the reality - white popular music. The only time white popular musicians seem to get seriously polyrhythmic is in jazz, and then it's in a clever-clever way which is often impossible to dance to - rather than simply finding new exciting ways to punctuating, stretch, or redefine a basic groove with the help of additional percussive elements to add depth and width to the canvas.

The first ones I can think are pretty obvious: Bow Wow Wow and then Adam Ant's use of the Burundi rhythm.

Re: The Tyranny of the Four-Four Beat

PostPosted: Mon Jun 19, 2006 5:05 pm
by NormanD
howard male wrote:The only time white popular musicians seem to get seriously polyrhythmic is in jazz, and then it's in a clever-clever way which is often impossible to dance to - rather than simply finding new exciting ways to punctuating, stretch, or redefine a basic groove with the help of additional percussive elements to add depth and width to the canvas.
Howard, you've reminded me of a simple little jazz tune that is in a very irregular time signature - 7/4 - that I think is very danceable. I won't say what it is as I might play it at the school disco this Thursday and see if it gets anyone a-grooving. No clever-clever stuff here, it lasts just over two minutes.

Norman

PostPosted: Mon Jun 19, 2006 6:05 pm
by howard male
7/4 time, you say? Yeah, I could probably shuffle around the dance floor to that, but it ain't going to make me wanna really get down and boogie.

All rhythms can be kind of danced to simply because they mark out time at regular intervals, it's just that some rhythms are funkier than others!

PostPosted: Tue Jun 20, 2006 2:50 pm
by Adam Blake
Sorry to be the pedantic music teacher (actually, no, I rather enjoy it) but Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow are still in four-four time. Most music is in four-four time because people tend to walk in four-four time (unless, of course, they have some affliction). Waltzes are an obvious exception, as are "Living In The Past" by Jethro Tull, "House Of The King" by Focus and "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet - all hits in five-four time. "Light Flight" by Pentangle was also a hit, and that's all over the place - although mostly in five-four (I think Jansch and Renbourn were on an Indian tip at the time.)

I had a great revelation last year when we did a gig with some French- North African musicians. After their set I asked one of them why so much of their music is in six-eight time. "Because that is how the camel walks", came the immediate reply. Of course! Humans walk in four-four, camels walk in six-eight. Duh...!

PostPosted: Tue Jun 20, 2006 3:13 pm
by Con Murphy
Adam Blake wrote:I had a great revelation last year when we did a gig with some French- North African musicians. After their set I asked one of them why so much of their music is in six-eight time. "Because that is how the camel walks",


That's why Tinariwen's music is known as the camel-gait drive.


(Well, it is in my house, anyway....)

PostPosted: Tue Jun 20, 2006 3:46 pm
by Adam Blake
I thought it was only a matter of time before we got to Suzi Quatro and her laudable efforts. "Devil Gate Drive" is, indeed, a fine specimen of a twelve-eight rhythm masquerading as a four-four beat - although "Can The Can" is, perhaps, an even more invigorating example. If you count each beat as a triplet it makes more sense. Chuck Berry was the great master of this and all the people who copied him are, to a greater or lesser extent, copying this trick. He could be playing in triplets across a straight four beat, or playing straight fours across a triplet beat (shuffle) - either way, the result was.. a GROOVE! But of course, he didn't invent it - he just adapted it from piano boogie-woogie patterns of the 30s and 40s: "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar" springs to mind, and not for the first time. This describes the further intricacy of splitting the beat into two: thus we have duplets over triplets - eights over twelves - even as we count 1-2-3-4. This also explains why Status Quo don't swing.

Then if we go to New Orleans it starts to get complicated...

PostPosted: Tue Jun 20, 2006 4:00 pm
by howard male
Adam wrote -

Sorry to be the pedantic music teacher (actually, no, I rather enjoy it) but Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow are still in four-four time.


No, bring it on, Adam - I thoroughly enjoy your little music lessons! love all the stuff about Suzi Quatro.

But what I was actually talking about was how that four-four time thing gets dressed up and made to party. Rock musicians simply don't seem that interesting in bothering to do anything other than pound out that bass drum/snare drum, obvious beat.

As I said in my original posting - I'm talking about the additional punctuation - the polyrthmic stuff piled on top of the basic four-four pulse.

But would I be right in saying, Adam, that most 'dance' music, whether it be African, Brazilian or whatever - however complex it may sound - is more often than not a basic four-four beat but with extra chilli and anchovies?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 20, 2006 4:33 pm
by Adam Blake
Absolutely right!

PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 11:21 am
by howard male
OK, here's one:

'Groove is in the Heart' by Deelite has a very similar bass riff and rhythm to 'Hit the Bongo' by Tito Puente which Gerry ended Saturday's show with.

And talking of Gerry's show - why no playlists?

PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 12:01 pm
by Charlie
howard male wrote:And talking of Gerry's show - why no playlists?

I have gently nudged Gerry on this, and he said he will do them when he has time.

I landed Gerry with this task of filling in for me at incredibly short notice, and he has had to find time to plan each show in a week that was already crammed to bursting beforehand.

Gerry's main activity is as a freelance PR man doing the radio & press promotion for various projects, and his work takes every minute of the working day and then some more. He also DJs both regular club nights and one-off events.

The after sales service of providing us with his playlists has so far proved one step too many.

But we hope to receive the details from him in due course.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 04, 2006 11:11 pm
by Chris Walsh
Howard, my thoughts on the whole timing thing (which is a personal fascination for me), I used to think that I'd gone off four-four time.... but then a drummer friend made me realise that what I'd really gotten sick of was crap drummers. That woefully uninspired 'tss tss dak tss tss tss dak' phrasing that pollutes all modern rock music. It's akin to a guitarist being able to only play one chord. My friend called it the 'English Drummer Syndrome' - rather unfairly, although mostly accurately... he had a theory that Western (read white) cultures were generally more harmonically based, whilst black and arabic cultures (though generally less developed harmonically) were far more sophisticated when it comes to rhythms. He figured that the middle east got the best of both worlds.

Although, with the exeption of smarty pants jazz tunes, an absolute modern masterpiece of poly-rhythm and melody is Seattle band Soundgarden's Superunknown record. They have the knack of employing crazy tunings and timings that sound totally natural. And you really need to know your sh*t to pull that off. I can't recommed it enough - that album broadened my musical horizons more than any other so far. Check it out.