Saturday, January 03, 2009

Swing: Experience, timing and knowledge

What is "swing" - that quality that makes music danceable?

Edward Willet discusses the question in his article "Why Jazz swings".  The "why" was a question studied by Swedish physicist and jazz pianist Anders Friberg.
Willet presents Friberg's research this way:

"The basic rhythmic unit in jazz is the quarter note. That’s usually what defines the "beat," what you tap your feet to. Melodies are superimposed over the beat, and are often made up of eighth notes, which, in classical music, are exactly one half as long as quarter notes. However, the jazz musician would play those notes alternately long and short, with the long note on the beat, and the short note off the beat...

Friburg found the ratio between the notes varied with the tempo. In slow pieces the long eighth notes were extremely long, and the short notes were clipped so short they were almost 16th notes. But at faster tempos the notes were practically even. Only at a medium-fast tempo of about 200 beats per minute did the drummers use the 2-to-1 ratio. (Of course, there were variations caused by the drummers’ styles and the group with whom they played, but the basic principle held true across the board.)...

Friburg found that, instead of synchronizing with each other on the beat, as classical musicians do, jazz musicians unconsciously synchronize on the off-beats, the short eighth notes of the swing pattern."- Edward Willet

Aside from providing an analysis that could suggest how to make electronic music more compelling, or to provide a yardstick as to why a given player or group's performance fails to excite it also suggests a case study for testing phenomenological methodologies. However, this technical analysis doesn't detract from the experience of hearing music 'swing'. Indeed, it confirms that the subjective experience is a legitimate epistemology based in aesthetic experience not mystical thus suggesting a pathology.

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"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster