The Mystery of the "Terminator" Theme Time Signature
October 18, 2019 10:47 AM   Subscribe

 
"What's the time signature for X?" is a fun game. Don't play it with "Cinnamon" by the Long Winters, though.
posted by hanov3r at 10:56 AM on October 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


As a person who's tried to cut trailers using clips from Terminator: yeah great fucking question

As the writer mentions near the end, later Terminator movie themes are much more straightforward (and the T2 theme is more recognizable for most audiences) so I ended up just using those.
posted by penduluum at 10:58 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Bullet time, I presume.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Bullet time, I presume.

The beforetime.
posted by curious nu at 11:02 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I love it when they get interesting time signatures just right. Dave Brubeck and Take Five are one of the most well known but I really enjoy the 1999 album by American Football.
posted by ShakeyJake at 11:03 AM on October 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


The answer is yes.
posted by Fizz at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Time in eight or....

...not.
posted by chavenet at 11:13 AM on October 18, 2019


If you listen to or play things like Bulgarian folk music you get better both at counting meters like this and coming to terms with the fact that they're best conceived of as repeating sequences of long and short metric feet (typically corresponding to three and two beats, respectively) rather than an undistinguished bag of, say, thirteen beats. If you look at the time signatures in some of Béla Bartók's music, for example, you'll find things like "2/8 + 3/8 + 2/8", which if merely notated as "7/8" would lose the information about intended stresses that might distinguish it from a meter like "3/8 + 2/8 + 2/8". Plus, it's just harder to count, and therefore harder to play in a way that makes semantic sense. So, yeah, I'd call it "3/16 + 3/16 + 3/16 + 2/16 + 2/16".
posted by invitapriore at 11:14 AM on October 18, 2019 [32 favorites]


Dave Brubeck and Take Five are one of the most well known

5/4 is nothing to get worked up about, compared to something like this, or "Keep It Greasy", or 8/12
posted by thelonius at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Fun post! It's in 7/8.

And the verdict? “It’s in 13/16. Three plus three plus three plus two plus two.”


Okay, fine, Slate.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


And now I see that the article broke it down the same way, and I think the author's report that it became clearer with that grouping in mind attests to the value of framing complex meters that way.
posted by invitapriore at 11:19 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


One plus two plus two plus one vs. one plus two plus one plus one: Music Edition.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:20 AM on October 18, 2019 [13 favorites]


... or 8/12

I thought for sure there was going to be some Elliott Carter at the other end of that link, but that video looks cool
posted by invitapriore at 11:21 AM on October 18, 2019


Time signatures are one of the notational things where the count follows the art/concept in that it is very easy to sing out a rhythm and then you have to come in afterwards to jam it to a meter.

Adding lyrics and emphasizing rhythm makes 4/4 and 3/4 and 2/4 good time signatures as the rhythm is more important than the melody. But without lyrics, dememphasizing rhythm, and without the need to play a track night after night with semi-literate (in the reading music sense) musicians, crazier time signatures can appear and do regularly.

I can't think of any songs off the top of my head because it was oh so many years ago, but even for a tiny high school band I remember playing many songs that changed meter from measure to measure a few times over the course of the song. In fact most of our sight reading contests made sure to have song sections that did that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:22 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I appreciate the mention of Solsbury Hill as another example of "song with a weird time signature", but they could have gone with Genesis' Turn It On Again, which actually has a 13/8 signature.

And amusingly it sounds like they even had a similar "wait, what signature is that" moment when composing (quote from Wikipedia):
The song – written mostly by Rutherford, with help from Phil Collins – was originally much slower. Rutherford explains on the Songbook DVD: "I had this riff [plays lead riff on guitar], but at the time I was playing it like this: [plays slower]. And Phil said, 'Why don't you try it in a faster speed?' and then he said to me, 'Do you realize it is in 13/8?' and I said, 'What do you mean, it's in 13? It's in 4/4, isn't it?' 'No, it's 13.'"
Wikipedia also has quotes from Phil Collins and Tony Banks saying they were amused to see audiences trying to clap or dance along and then get all confused and wonder "how did I get off beat?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on October 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the movie Nijinsky, where the dancers are trying to learn the music and choreography for Rite of Spring. And Nijinsky is counting the bars for them: "1 2 3 4 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 1 2 3 4" and getting very angry because the dancers can't follow this seemingly randomly changing time signature.
posted by Nelson at 11:27 AM on October 18, 2019 [20 favorites]


So what you're telling me is that Terminator's conception of time is confusing and doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Huh.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:27 AM on October 18, 2019 [44 favorites]


tldr; Composer accidentally did a 13 beat loop on the Prophet 10's sequencer, ended up with 13/16.

The Prophet 10 was just that bridge too far. It got a bad rep for unreliability and overheating early on, and even though later revs were more reliable, musicians didn't trust it.

The smaller and cheaper Prophet 5 model was the one that everybody wanted and it became a huge hit.

True story. Rod Argents Keyboards in London (a top synth shop in the late 70s, early 80s) had a demo Prophet 5, but none in stock because they would always sell out. People would play the demo model and then order one, which took a week or two to come. Two film composers desperately needed a Prophet 5 for a project they were working on, so they went to the store together with a plan. One kept the sales person talking while the other ran out the back door with the Prophet 5. Once the sales guy realized what had happened, the other guy handed the sales guy a big wad of cash. Argents had to choose between calling the police to arrest a (previously) good customer offering cash, or just take the money and do without a demo model until the makers could rush one over. They took the cash.
posted by w0mbat at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2019 [29 favorites]


Schism
posted by Slothrup at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


OK, metric mavens, how would you analyze the verses in "I Won't Go Hollywood"? It sounds to me like the guitar and vocals and bass are in 7/4, but the drums are in 4/4, until they drop some beats to sync up for the choruses.
posted by thelonius at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2019


That’s my take on it. The last guitar statement before the chorus starts on the upbeat before the 1, so the two short feet take up three eighth notes and then the guitar just hangs out on one note for the remaining five.
posted by invitapriore at 11:53 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


A conductor once told me you can always just count in one and that advice has served me well
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:53 AM on October 18, 2019 [15 favorites]


Metafilter: an undistinguished bag of beats
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:06 PM on October 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


0.1101 in binary
posted by otherchaz at 12:20 PM on October 18, 2019


Quick, name some songs with weird time signatures that manage to be funky instead of herky-jerky! I nominate the 7/8 outro to Bowie's Up the Hill Backwards.
posted by Beardman at 12:27 PM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Burt Bachrach's "Say a Little Prayer" is in all kinds of meter, or, has passages with 2/4 and 3/4 between measures of 4/4. Either way to say that is true.
posted by PandaMomentum at 12:31 PM on October 18, 2019


Quick, name some songs with weird time signatures that manage to be funky instead of herky-jerky!

"What About Me?", Snarky Puppy
posted by hanov3r at 12:34 PM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: the main harpsichord riff in the Stranglers' "Golden Brown" also follows a similar time signature:

ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three-four

...though it's slower (notated 13/8 instead of 13/16). For a good time, try to hum "Golden Brown" over the Terminator theme. It's SUPER HARD.
posted by The Tensor at 12:36 PM on October 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


I love it when they get interesting time signatures just right. Dave Brubeck and Take Five are one of the most well known....

dunno why but reading Take Five reminded me of the existence of the acapella group Take6 from the 80s / 90s that my Dad listened to every now and then which led me to googling them which led me to this artifact.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:08 PM on October 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Oh where to start with this article? Such sloppy journalism.

First of all, he describes the music as DAH-doonk, dah-doonk, dah-doonk, gonk gonk. when we all know it's really more precisely, "DAH-Dah DUN-DUN dun dun dun." Clear amateur mistake.

And in all mix tapes this must immediately lead into Ice Cube's "Wrong n***** to fuck wit." This is canon, people.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:25 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


If I were transcribing it I might even note it as three sets of 1/16 + 2/16 and two 2/16, because the stressed beat of each triple is the second beat, and that’s just weird. Weirder than 13 on its own, that is. 13 is unusual but easily enough counted in duples and triples when the accents aren’t uneasy on top of it.
posted by fedward at 1:32 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


"Fun post! It's in 7/8."

It could be written that way, but as invitapriore says, it doesn't break down the way 7/8 normally implies.

"... they're best conceived of as repeating sequences of long and short metric feet (typically corresponding to three and two beats, respectively) rather than an undistinguished bag of, say, thirteen beats."

Right. If it's an "undistinguished bag of [x] beats", it's in a simple meter and you'd choose a signature that made that clear. If it's regularly grouped, you'd choose a compound signature. If it's irregularly grouped, you choose either a complex signature (typically) or some combination of repeated sequences combing both compound and complex signatures (when the usual interpretation of a single complex signature is misleading, as in this case).

I have no trouble playing it precisely, intuitively grokking the rhythm. But when counting it out, I admit it gets weird and especially if I transcribed it I'd probably first try 7/8 and then realize I'd have to revise it to a sequence of changing signatures.

I had the very interesting and occasionally frustrating experience, as a trained musician, of having two semesters of music with other students as part of the almost entirely obligatory curriculum at St. John's College. Most people who are aware of the program there know it's the so-called "western canon", which people commonly think of as primarily literature and philosophy, but the program includes eight semesters of math, six of science, and two of music. It's not "music appreciation"; it attempts to teach the basics of musicianship via the progression of western music development and composition and, eventually, students write a minuet.

Not difficult, right, for those of us who are musicians? But most of these students, or at least half, have absolutely no experience with any of this, except as listeners. Watching complete novices struggle through what is for them a demanding pace of learning gave me some valuable insights.

Anyway, the truly weird thing is that meter and its formalization in time signatures was entirely left unaddressed by any of the source material, apparently leaving it to the instructor and/or student music lab assistant to explain. The instructors are rarely musicians (as all faculty are expected to eventually teach the entire program), although the student assistants always are. For the eighty years of the program's existence, the music tutorial has always been seen as troublesome and inadequate for what it attempts and has been repeatedly but never satisfactorily revised. For me, this complete neglect of formally teaching time signature was the prime example -- when students were first asked to write notation, they were thoroughly confounded by the choice of meter. Well, this was true in my class, including the instructor.

As a former music major elsewhere and a percussionist, I tried to fill this gap for the class, but it was hard-going.

When you get to music theory, as you always do in college but sometimes earlier, the musician is forced to deconstruct and formally analyze much foundational stuff that was acquired intuitively. It's very interesting and helpful! Especially if your prior training was just music in primary/secondary school in its various forms. Also, broadly speaking, western music has been rhythmically impoverished, so your average person is culturally poorly equipped to grapple with questions like the one in this post, even when it's relatively straightforward as in this case.

Now I await corrections and schooling by genuine authoritative mefites, among whom I am surely not numbered.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:33 PM on October 18, 2019 [16 favorites]


> I thought for sure there was going to be some Elliott Carter at the other end of that link

I was expecting DJ Bonebreak.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:37 PM on October 18, 2019


I've posted this before, but this is one of my favorite examples X French T-Shirt .
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 1:47 PM on October 18, 2019


Autechre - Anti EP - Flutter

Anti EP was a protest against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which would prohibit raves (described as gatherings where music is played), with "music" being defined as a "succession of repetitive beats."[7] Sean Booth explained the band's strategy for the song "Flutter" by saying, "We made as many different bars as we could on the drum machine, then strung them all together."[7]

The packaging bore a sticker with a disclaimer about the repetitive nature of the rhythmic elements of "Lost" and "Djarum".[8] "Flutter" was programmed to have non-repetitive beats and therefore "can be played at both forty five and thirty three revolutions under the proposed law"; but following their disclaimer, it was advised that DJs "have a lawyer and a musicologist present at all times to confirm the non repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment."[8] The sticker acted as a seal, which was required to be broken in order to access the media enclosed in the packaging.[8]

posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:53 PM on October 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


I count 13, so 13/16 I guess.
The hits are

16th, 8th, 16th, 8th, 16th, 8th, 16th, 16th rest, 16th, 16th rest.
posted by rocket88 at 1:59 PM on October 18, 2019


I surprised myself by counting it successfully as 3+3+3+2+2 almost immediately when I started listening to the theme a few minutes ago, and then remembered that I'd read some variation on this before and had apparently socked that away in my brain somewhere.

I've got a decent grasp on meter but it's never been a strong technical area for me, but "decent grasp" is enough that every time I've been in a band I'm the one decoding other people's confusion about timing elements. And that mostly comes down to most garage musicians not having any formal training and so operating on gut. And gut can get you very far writing music for your own sake and on your own recognizance, but it gets tricky as soon as two or more people have to reconcile those gut feelings to get organized. You either establish a common point of reference and theoretical pidgin to navigate to something you mutually agree on, or you keep gutting it out in a musical tension based on those conflicting gut feelings.

And either can work, to an extent; some of the more interesting things that have come out of songwriting work with bands I've been in have been built around mutual misunderstandings or differing assumptions about what the hell was even going on in this or that section. But it's also easy for it to get super frustrating when you just have a mess of confusion instead of a cool messy fusion. I've had to say "no, this is definitely in three, not four" enough times to recognize the value I've personally gotten from having formally studied at least a little bit. On the other hand it's easy for me to fall into the the trap of writing within the constraints of the systems I do know how to describe. So the theoretical grounding isn't good or bad, it's just...different. It has its ups and downs.

Likewise if Brad Fiedel had had someone else in the room with him, they might have agreed that that late loop and the 13 count was rad and leaned in together, but they also might have looked at it together and agreed it was weird and hey let's do another take and put it at 12 and start from there. Either could have been fine. But it was just Fiedel and his gut, and his gut said fuck it and no one else had to agree or disagree, and we got what we got.
posted by cortex at 2:02 PM on October 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


(And actually, the most recent version of this I dealt with in a band was "no, it's not in three, its 3+3+2 eighth notes over four." And, honestly, that's both an important and straightforward distinction and sort of a slippery little thing if you're just gutting through it, especially depending on how swinging the whole thing is, since reading it as 3+3+3 with a little wiggle room isn't totally out of left field. We could have gutted it out and ended up with some accidental hints of polyrhythm, maybe, but it would have driven me nuts and the drummer too.)
posted by cortex at 2:08 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


One of these days I'll figure out time signatures for real. The question I never really answer for myself is what the point of the second number is. Like, I have understood for most of my life that a 7/4 time signature means there are seven beats in a measure. But why is there a difference between 7/4 and 7/8? Aren't they basically the same thing, aside from a notational preference (quarter notes versus eighths)? Tempo determines how fast a piece is played and it's not like quarter notes have an intrinsic length. Right? Maybe?
posted by chrominance at 2:10 PM on October 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


Ok, now do the theme from the Berenstain Bears.
posted by rollick at 2:21 PM on October 18, 2019


Aren't they basically the same thing, aside from a notational preference (quarter notes versus eighths)?

Yes, it's just notational preference.

They might imply slightly different things though. For eg 3/4 vs 6/8, the former implies that of the 6 eighth notes in a bar, 1, 3, and 5 have a stronger emphasis.

3/8 implies a faster tempo than 3/4 in the absence of tempo markings.
posted by pingu at 2:21 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Along with a handful of other things, music time is one of those ideas that is just totally opaque to me. I can get it when they have a really obvious "upbeat" or make it louder at the end of a measure or whatever when they're demonstrating the concept.

But when people play me actual music and say "listen, here's 4/4" I can't hear it at all. I mean, sure, I can vaguely hear that a waltz has a different sort of beat from the We Will Rock You, but it takes a beat about as blatant as that one before I can really notice it.

Caused some annoyances when I was playing Riff-Raff because I never did know when to start singing during the Time Warp. They finally gave up and queued me from offstage.

I took piano lessons, I played the clarinet for a while, I always got time by mimicking the way other people played.
posted by sotonohito at 2:31 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


In reply to chrominance: As with fractions, modern time signatures have a numerator and a denominator. The bottom number is basically a visual reference, describing the choice of symbol being counted. It is to some extent, only required or relevant when reading and writing music. It CAN describe relative speeds but this is not always the case as eighth notes, quarter notes etc can be counted at any speed, depending on the context.

To greatly oversimplify: the top number is (mostly) audible. The bottom number is (mostly) visual. The second number, represents the written symbols for quarter notes (crotchets), eighth notes (quavers) and so on.

Very early written Western Music would only have one number- what we now think of as the top (numerator) in the time signature. This is what you can hear, it represents a pattern of Strong and Weak Beats.

For the many fine musicians who don't read, and untrained laypeople, arguing about the bottom number is sometimes (frequently?) bullshit. However it can be useful to compare the proportions between the notes.

For example in cross-rhythms as described in thelonius's example above- where it would be more useful to describe a 7/8 (not 7/4) riff over a 4/4 beat. You can hear the separate eighth (ie faster) notes in the bassline. (And the two elements will align every eight bars of 7/8 or 7 bars of 4/4.) This could be notated in 4/4 or you could use a separate stave for the 7/8 bit, probably the first one would be more user friendly for someone reading the music - if playing it by ear maybe the second type would be more workable.
posted by Coaticass at 2:38 PM on October 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


The syncopation in the first part of each bar is confusing because it sounds like a short isorhythm, so the syncopation doesn't define/match the pulse. The last part of the bar is definitely 3 pulses. I can see the rhythm, and wish I could write it here to share.

It's almost in 7/8; 13/16 is slightly one sixteenth short. (I think cortex has it, it was probably done in studio, by ear.)
posted by LooseFilter at 2:42 PM on October 18, 2019


thelonius's example above- where it would be more useful to describe a 7/8 (not 7/4) riff over a 4/4 beat.

Well, to me , it seems that the snare backbeat lands irregularly - on beats 2, 4, 6, then on 1, 3, and 5 and 7, etc - which is what made me want to think of the entire thing as in 4, not 8.

I'm certainly open to the idea that this is wrong, but that is how I analyzed it. I guess you can just as well count what I was thinking of as a measure of 7/4 as two measures of 7/8.
posted by thelonius at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


On reflection, I suppose it is most reasonable to count the guitar riff as one-two one-two one-two-three, one-two one-two one-two-three, which means that 7/8 is the natural way to label it.
posted by thelonius at 2:54 PM on October 18, 2019


Came for complex time signature discussions and "Golden Brown" references... was not disappointed.
posted by greenhornet at 2:58 PM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


This discussion demonstrates how difficult this is to explain to novices. And it's unavoidable if you expect those novices to begin to write standard musical notation -- such as when, right away, they have to learn to tie notes together.

For example, given only what people have explained above about the significance of the numbers in a time signature, how to explain how one groups (and thus ties, when necessary) notes together in the very common compound time signature of 6/8? The given explanation is insufficient.

"Yes, it's just notational preference."

It's really not, though. The choice of note value (the bottom number) conventionally has strong implications about the structure of the rhythm. It's not math. Rather, it's a combination of some objective characteristics of the structure of the rhythm as conceived/played, and culturally constructed conventions about how the notation's rhythmic structure be subjectively interpreted by the musician.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


When I need to get use coffee grounds out of the espresso thingy and into the bid, but, crucially , not dislodge the metal container inside the espresso thing (because then it plummets into the bin and I have to fish it out) I have learnt that the Terminator rhythm is the most successful rhythm with which to tap the espresso thingy onto the edge of the bin.

Therefore, my mornings generally ALWAYS star t with the DAH-Dah DUN-DUN dun dun dun of Terminator.

I don't know why that rhythm works and just banging it doesn't, but it doesn't.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I guess you can just as well count what I was thinking of as a measure of 7/4 as two measures of 7/8.

I heard it that way initially, but it didn't feel quite right to me (last beat is a bit shortened). Also, 7/4 can fit, but it puts the feel of every other bar as "upside-down" to the pulse, and that seems obfuscatory, no? Better to chunk smaller and have the meter more closely fit the shape of the ostinato.

Of course, the reality is that time signatures are only a frame, a system of temporal organization and measurement; the same time signature can be applied in varying ways; and rhythm--despite the specificity of our notation--is as much descriptive as prescriptive. Once composers started working in studios as primary (i.e., with electronic and digital tools), they gained the ability to compose pretty fully before even thinking about notation. If the whole Terminator soundtrack is electronic, it's possible that little to none of it was ever written down, so the composer may never have clearly answered the question for himself.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Note also that the piece begins with a pick-up note.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:14 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


For example, given only what people have explained above about the significance of the numbers in a time signature, how to explain how one groups (and thus ties, when necessary) notes together in the very common compound time signature of 6/8?

Well, the bottom number of a time signature has no implications other than identifying which symbol receives a value of 1 (or is supposedly "equal to a beat," but that's actually a lousy definition). Everything else is negotiable, including how one groups or counts those 'units of 1'--each piece of music provides its own context clues for that. I teach my students a distinction between pulse and beat: pulse is the smallest common unit that is regularly tracked, and may or may not match the larger beat grouping. So with 6/8, I connect it to 3/4, because they're the same time signatures but grouped differently. For both time signatures, the rhythmic symbol that is equivalent (one pulse) is an eighth note; thus there is no real "time change" between 6/8 and 3/4, but rather a change in grouping of pulses--the rhythmic unit of pulsation remains the same, even if the beat changes. Assuming it's compound 6/8 and not simple 6/8, but again, the notated music itself should provide specific answers.

(Of course, I teach university music majors, so they can grasp a more subtle distinction like this. But then again, I used this framing as foundational waaaay back when I taught middle school band and it worked really well, my students were always crazy proficient sight-readers and played as comfortably in 6/8 or 7/8 as 4/4. I also made sure never to teach them the single worst thing most beginning music teachers teach: that a quarter note is equal to one beat. That is just so not true. The only thing a quarter note is definitively equal to is 1/4 of a whole note. No rhythmic unit is worth any objective value of measurement until one symbol is defined as equal to '1'--and then the consistent fractional relationships among all rhythm symbols allow one to deduce the value of everything else in relation to that '1'. So in 4/4, sure, a quarter note is equal to one beat, but in 4/2, a half note is. By teaching my students from the very beginning that the value of '1' is fluid and assigned to various symbols, they didn't seem to find any meter intrinsically "harder" than any other to count, because we built in conceptual fluidity from the beginning. Also, can I just editorially add that "quarter" note is the dumbest name in all of rhythm, it makes no sense. We have a clear hierarchy of whole, half, ...., eighth, sixteenth, 32nd notes, so it should clearly be called a "fourth" note. But nobody listens to me on these things.)
posted by LooseFilter at 3:46 PM on October 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Rather, it's a combination of some objective characteristics of the structure of the rhythm as conceived/played, and culturally constructed conventions about how the notation's rhythmic structure be subjectively interpreted by the musician.

Sure, I think we actually agree. I would argue that this is the definition of "notational preference". You can write objectively the same notes a different way, and it could have some implications for how the music is subjectively interpreted (in some genres/traditions)
posted by pingu at 3:54 PM on October 18, 2019


You can write objectively the same notes a different way, and it could have some implications for how the music is subjectively interpreted

The composers I know think about this all the time.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:56 PM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


If written without a time signature, yes, 6/8 and 3/4 is equivalent, but really it's closer to 2/4, but with a focus on triplets.

Generally 6/8 is going to be stressed twice per measure: DA-da-da DA-da-da, while 3/4 is DA-da DA-da DA-da. It's not a requirement or anything, but it would be silly to think the two are the same.
posted by aspo at 3:59 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


My favorite is sneaking in odd time without making it seem too math rock. I played in a band with a minor college radio track with verse/prechorus/chorus in 3/4 4/4 5/4 but no one really noticed it. Also as said above , playing Eastern European folk music or Middle Eastern stuff gets you used to really weird signatures like 7/9/13 and at a certain point you can improvise over it without really thinking about it. The toughest ones for me are some of the slow ME rhythms in long even times like 10/12/14. It’s easy to forget where you are or try to convert into something more normal.

But breaking everything into chunks of 2 and 3 is how I learn most of them. For example in 7, all of these feel really different:

2 2 3
2 3 2
3 2 2

I love this stuff!
posted by freecellwizard at 4:00 PM on October 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


I had the very interesting and occasionally frustrating experience, as a trained musician, of having two semesters of music with other students as part of the almost entirely obligatory curriculum at St. John's College. Most people who are aware of the program there know it's the so-called "western canon", which people commonly think of as primarily literature and philosophy, but the program includes eight semesters of math, six of science, and two of music. It's not "music appreciation"; it attempts to teach the basics of musicianship via the progression of western music development and composition and, eventually, students write a minuet.

So they taught everything in terms of its historical development? How did they handle key signatures and tonality? As I understand it, the history of the concept is pretty opaque.
posted by thelonius at 4:10 PM on October 18, 2019


don't forget the crunge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWf5FYSK7Yc
posted by ergomatic at 4:22 PM on October 18, 2019


but it would be silly to think the two are the same.

(I guess all my formal training and years of creative, performance and teaching experience as a musician have utterly failed me, then. As well, all of my teachers and in fact, the most well-regarded text on teaching rhythm and meter. And all of my students must somehow be faking their proficiencies. What I described above may not fit with your conceptual understanding, but I assure you that it's far from silly. And also, n.b.: same except for grouping. Which is the only difference.)
posted by LooseFilter at 5:07 PM on October 18, 2019


"All You Need is Love." Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time!
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:09 PM on October 18, 2019


Three of a Perfect Pair.
posted by oflinkey at 5:17 PM on October 18, 2019


"So they taught everything in terms of its historical development? How did they handle key signatures and tonality? As I understand it, the history of the concept is pretty opaque."

Yeah, that's a big part of the problem. Two semesters is absurdly unrealistic for what it's attempting. Thus, it's not very coherent. It tries to approach the subject from historical development, but this is untenable with a number of things and so it deviates when necessary. No one is happy with it, but no one seems to know how to fix it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:27 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wrote it down like this:

OOxOOxOOxOxOx

O is a strike and x is a rest.

It feels to me like 7/8 + 6/8, at least in terms of natural groupings. That's how I'd transcribe it, anyhow.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:47 PM on October 18, 2019


On further thought -- I hope I'm not belaboring this -- I think the reason why really understanding time signatures can be difficult and confusing is because this is an especially clear example of how music vitally exists at the intersection of the reductive exactness of mathematics and the ineffable subjectivity of creative expression. It's possible and, indeed, most common, to approach an understanding of and facility for music primarily from one of those two perspectives at the risk of failing to fully internalize the other.

People who haven't already shown an ear for music, when introduced to it formally (and especially if they are of an analytical bent), often find it easier to approach it very reductively because of its mathematical nature. And that's not even to mention how much early instruction is rote repetition.

On the other hand, untrained musicians who have had a talent for picking things up by ear often find formal training and its seeming mathematical reductiveness to be restrictive and off-putting.

In my opinion, if a musician chooses one of these perspectives and eschews the other, they will find their musical growth stunted because music only fully exists in the conjunction of both. (Note that one needn't be formally trained and/or explicitly be able to articulate the mathematical side of it to deeply understand it.)

I'm an unusual sort of person whose personality and predilections are all about the balance and synthesis of these two different perspectives in the more general sense. Nevertheless, I didn't really have a natural ear for music (in relative terms) and so, when first learning, I leaned on reductive analysis. As a percussionist, this was especially inviting. It took me years, and only as an adult, to realize how unbalanced I was as a musician. It was perverse because I don't have any difficulty creating new music -- that talent is there -- but it was limited by how much I'd invested in "mastering" musicianship from a reductive perspective that emphasizes technique lacking a real grounding in musicality. I'm a failed music major not the least because I was never going to have the technical mastery to get by for long without the musicality and, likewise, my desire for musicality was frustrated by my limited approach to studying music.

LooseFilter's approach to teaching middle-school kids the formalization of rhythm is very commendable because it accounts for both sides of this -- I'm certain that's why it was successful.

I know a lot of people who disdain jazz as a bunch of overcomplicated musical dexterity. But what they don't appreciate about jazz is how essentially it's expressive in a way built upon how it takes an elaboration of complex, detailed precision and then layers subjective expressivity over it in a way that exudes something vital and visceral. I'm not saying this as a jazz afficiando -- I have only a passing acquaintance. But to my ear, jazz succeeds or fails upon how alive it feels. My view of aesthetics generally is that quality in art is a function of how fully a subjective vitality is expressed within a reasonably strict formalism. So what I'm arguing is, I think, applicable to all art. It's just that in both tone and rhythm music is so self-evidently mathematical that it's easy to grossly over-emphasize the formalism or even reduce it to only that.

So when we try to explain time signatures to the novice, it's going to seem as if we're trying to mix oil and water -- we'll discuss the formalism, but then also discuss a musicality that's difficult to pin down, but is just as important. Then, in addition, there's the issue of the evolution of western musical notation which appears to make a great deal explicit even while so much is left implicit and passed along culturally and informally via institutions.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:01 PM on October 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


Sixty-four comments and no "Perpetuum Mobile?"
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:11 PM on October 18, 2019


33322 is what I hear.
posted by phenylphenol at 8:12 PM on October 18, 2019


For further study, see Don Ellis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUJL-7rOvDc

This one's in (seriously) 223 32 223 32 32 32 223 223 32 32 33.

It adds up to 64, which is why they can do the shout chorus in 4/4.
posted by phenylphenol at 8:22 PM on October 18, 2019


Upon further reflection I hear it as 2/4 + 3/8 + 3/4. Like a glitchy West Side Story.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:39 PM on October 18, 2019


Don Ellis! I hadn't thought of him in ages. My favorite piece of his is Blues in Elf (which, !BONUS! opens with pianist Milcho Leviev folding Moonlight Sonata effortlessly and joyously (and, apparently, in 3 2/3 over 4*) into the blues form.

*One-and-a-Two-and-a-Three-and-a-Four-and-One-and-a-Two-and-a-Three-and-a-Four-and- etc., if that helps anyone
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:54 PM on October 18, 2019


this is an especially clear example of how music vitally exists at the intersection of the reductive exactness of mathematics and the ineffable subjectivity of creative expression.

Not belaboring at all, comment flagged as fantastic! A pretty clear example of what you’re describing is the way the Vienna Philharmonic plays Viennese waltzes (especially with Kleiber at the helm).
posted by LooseFilter at 10:51 PM on October 18, 2019


I heard it as 7/8 with a swing and the 1 rushed, but that's my uneducated understanding.
I have to slow the video to half speed to hear 13, and still that's pushing it. I have a harder time hearing 13 than 7 even then.
Technically it's correct, but time faster than I can say the numbers doesn't make much sense in real life to me.

Mapping it out it in Digital Performer it definitely is 13/16, exactly. I thought it might be a little off, (and hence the confusion) since the article said he made the loop manually, but something must have been quantizing to 16ths when he hit the button because the beats are dead on.

It's the speed that makes it confusing.
posted by bongo_x at 3:17 AM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Mapping it out it in Digital Performer it definitely is 13/16, exactly.

Yes it is. You could make this 4/4 by adding a fourth instance of the initial three 16th+8th note figures: dit-dat, dit-dat, dit-dat,dit-dat, four-and. But there is no fourth one; so, 3 sixteenth notes are missing, and you are left with 13/16.
posted by thelonius at 6:51 AM on October 19, 2019


There is a weird insistence in music theory circles that 3/4 and 6/8 are enrhythmic — that is, identical. Edwin Gordon, the music education theorist, insists on it. In practice, no one would transcribe “Pop Goes the Weasel” as 3/4, not just because of the note duration, but because you count it as a march: One, two, one, two. You would never count in “Tennessee Waltz” that way; you’d count “One two three.” So this one bit of appeal to authority has never convinced me that they are functionally identical.
posted by argybarg at 7:52 AM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


no one would transcribe “Pop Goes the Weasel” as 3/4, not just because of the note duration, but because you count it as a march

6/8 seems closer to 2/4 than to 3/4 to me, also. Similarly, 12/8 is normally a slow 4/4 with a shuffle feel, and is not usually confusable with 6/4.
posted by thelonius at 8:00 AM on October 19, 2019


it's in 13: 123-123-123-12-12
posted by Vitamaster at 8:05 AM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


3/4 and 6/8 *are* identical - they both contain six eighth notes - but they are utilized differently due to cultural precedent. It isn't a one-or-the-other scenario.

Also: the melodic rhythm of the Terminator theme makes more sense if you think of the motif as one bar of 13/8 containing two repetitions of the 13/16 pattern, the second being syncopated.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:11 AM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Just leaving this perfect Harry Connick clip here.

I love everything about it: the knowing look to the drummer, the planning in the eyes, the execution, the drummer's cheer, the audience's dead eyes noticing nothing.
posted by pjenks at 10:59 AM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm on the hoof so haven't engaged as I would wish, but I LOVE this thread, Thanks all - best of MeFi.
posted by Devonian at 3:28 PM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I love non-standard time signatures. The Ant Man theme is in 7/8. I used to listen to the Don Ellis jazzband, which experimented a lot with unusual time signatures.

At one time the Don Ellis band had a pianist from Eastern Europe (I don't remember which country), and they mentioned that there's a lot of non-standard time signatures from the area because groups would do dances in a circle where they go in one direction for a four beats, then backwards for three, then forward, etc, so the music would have to have these 4+3 and ever more complex beats to match the dance patterns.
posted by eye of newt at 3:54 PM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Oh my goodness. The pianist was Milcho Leviev, from Bulgaria, and just passed away 7 days ago.
posted by eye of newt at 4:04 PM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


In my early teens I could never quite convince my friends that the time changes between verse (3/4) and "chorus" (8/4 or 4/4 or 2/4 depending on your preferred reading) in our favourite punk (or new wave, I guess) band Kjøtt's Clean Deal were real and mattered.

Their argument was that since the tempo doesn't change you can always just do the 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1... thing. Unlike, say, Rite of Spring in a performance true to Stravinsky's intentions.

I cannot possibly ever agree with that. Time changes are rare in (broadly speaking) pop music, and they should be noticed and encouraged. Also, yes I was always a pompous ass, why do you ask?
posted by Dumsnill at 2:18 AM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Not important, but I feel like I misstated it when I said definitely. It very much appears to be 13/16 as all the beats line up exactly.
posted by bongo_x at 12:41 PM on October 20, 2019


There's some odd measures inserted in Theo Katzman's new song, too.
posted by holist at 4:46 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


223 32 223 32 32 32 223 223 32 32 33

I always assume this is how the Melvins write - there's now way they're formally writing out all the changes as chords, but I have to assume they're laying out all the different time signatures in such a way as to at least communicate this stuff to whoever is on bass in a particular incarnation of the band. Unless Buzz just watches Dale and everyone else just watches Buzz's hair.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:26 AM on October 22, 2019


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