It is HIGHLY recommended to listen to the music on this YouTube playlist before or while reading this blog.
The majority of western music nowadays is almost completely dominated by the very common & symmetric 4\4 time signature. That’s definitely the case with popular music & especially with EDM. 4 on the floor anyone ?
The 4\4 time signature known also as common time is a sort of a ‘golden’ time signature, a default time signature, the most ‘basic’ & ‘fundamental’ one in western culture today probably due to its complete symmetric qualities. Every music software you can dream of opens with a ‘default’ template which is… you guessed it : 4\4.
That wasn’t the case a few hundred years ago in Medieval times where the 3\4 or 3\2 actually, the triple meter, was considered the perfect one ( after the holy trinity ) & the duple or quadruple was considered imperfect. Nowadays it seems that western civilization is in many ways pre-conditioned to think & operate in the 4\4 environment. That’s definitely not the case with other cultures like African music where the 3 over 2 poly rhythmic tension is most prevalent, the Indian music with it’s unique & complex Tala rhythmic syntax & Balkan music with its complex & asymmetric rhythms & meters.
In this blog I’ll try to introduce some interesting examples of electronic music ( not necessarily EDM ) which break the 4\4 dogma & which offer a refreshing & unique rhythmic attitude. I tried to cherry pick tracks which I believe are generating this rhythmic shift in a very natural & musical way. The list will progress from ambient & rather mellow musical tracks to the most hardcore & extreme. Let’s hit the road.
Our rhythmic journey begins with one of the earliest & most unique acts in electronic music, the UK based duo Eat Static. Panspermia taken from their 2nd & very successful album Implant has a unique 9\4 asymmetric ambiance to it. The track opens with a beautiful & gradual electronic ethereal intro very characteristic of Eat Static’s sound. It’s only around 2:20 that the listener might notice he is not on the common 4\4 ground…The acoustic-tribal percussion parts also provide this track its unique quality along with Eat Static’s psychedelic soundscapes. The different asymmetric rhythmic accentuations ( on the 4th beat & the 5 & a half beat or should I say the 11\8 beat…) definitely contribute to this track’s asymmetric magic. A 9\4 electronic masterpiece.
We’ll continue our asymmetric journey with DJ Shadow. Although not considered an ‘electronic’ artist ( isn’t hip-hop an ‘electronic’ art form actually ? ) the American producer Josh Davis had a significant breakthrough with his seminal debut album Entroducing… & for a very good reason. Changeling from that album has a unique rhythmic pattern : It has 3 bars of 4\4 & a 4th bar of 2\4. This 14\4 loop creates an interesting syncopated rhythmic pattern which has an asymmetric & surprising quality to it but yet feels very organic & musical. Along with Dj Shadow’s sampling prowess & his great sense of melody, sound & composition the outcome is a subtle & trippy instrumental hip hop musical piece with the special DJ Shadow musical signature on it. Who said 14\4 can’t be groovy ?
The Canadian Venetian Snares is the ultimate rhythmic & musical genius of our time as far as I’m concerned. I will definitely dedicate a complete blog ( or blog series ) to his overwhelming musical prodigy & especially his rhythmic universe. Banana Seat Girl is one of Aaron Funk’s ‘mellowest’ tracks. This track taken from the superb Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1972-2006 album is an incredible deconstruction & reconstruction of different jazz & funk samples & elements in a way that only Mr. Funk is capable of. Aaron Funk once described his music as : “genetically enhanced hyper-speed jazzcore in inhuman time signatures”. I believe this track is a good example of that…It would be completely useless to try & figure out the ‘time signature’ in the 1st 2 minutes of this epileptic jazz intro. It’s only around 2:15 after the break where we can refer to any musical pattern\bar\meter etc. which is in the default 7\4 Venetian Snares time signature. Some more Venetian Snares rhythmic madness later on in this journey…
Let’s continue with another electronic music prodigy by the name of Tipper. The British Dave Tipper is a well established producer in electronic music & very well known for his amazing production prowess encompassing many different electronic genres as Ambient, Trip Hop, Nu School Breaks & Glitch Hop to name a few. Released as a single Algae Bloom In Seven is a 7\8 ambient piece with all the characteristic Tipper elements : beautiful ambient pads, arpeggios, melodies & soundscapes accompanied by Tipper’s glitch mastery. All of them beautifully layered together & sound completely natural & flowing within the 7\8 time signature.
We move on to another established British act in experimental electronica known as Autechre. Rob Brown and Sean Booth are mostly identified with IDM ( although they refuse this definition ) and are considered pioneers in the realm of experimental electronic music. Most of their releases were published on the well established experimental electronic label Warp Records which also released singles, EP’s & Album’s of artists such as Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada & Richard Devine to name just a few. Dropp from their EP7 Album is yet another piece in 14\4.Very much like the Changeling track by DJ Shadow it is divided to three 4\4 bars & one 2\4 bar which creates a very interesting rhythmic pattern. That’s also where the similarity to DJ Shadow ends. The ambient melodic intro turns into an interesting amalgam of rhythmic noise soundscapes which now add the melodic part a completely different context & atmosphere. Autechre’s signature sound production is also very dominant & although the beat is present all of the time, the time signature & meter are rather elusive. It’s also worth mentioning the beautiful animation of the clip & it’s great musicality.
Now we continue with my humble contribution to this odd time signatures playlist.5\8 Rituals offers my personal acid-tribal interpretation to some imagined ancient-future rituals. Based on some beautiful frame drum parts by the percussion virtuoso David Kuckhermann. I hope you’ll enjoy this 5\8 drum ritual music 🙂
Back to Venetian Snares. Szamár Madár ( which means donkey bird in Hungarian in case you wondered… ) is an amazing piece taken from one of Mr. Funk’s most successful albums Rossz Csillag Alatt Született ( born under a bad star in Hungarian of course…) Also considered his ‘classical’ album since it contains many samples by classical composers like Bartok, Stravinsky & Mahler to name just a few as well as many orchestral samples & arrangements interwoven with Funk’s signature breakbeat programming. This specific track is based on Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 by the British composer Edward Elgar. Most of the track is in the 7\4 time signature which is Venetian Snares default time signature. The classical part with the main cello theme ( 1:12 ) is alternating between 6\4 & 8\4.Probably one of Vsnares greatest hits if one can apply this term here…The video clip which is also a masterpiece was created by the visual & 3D genius David O’reily.
We continue with the mastery of Venetian Snares this time from his album The Chocolate Wheelchair. Einstein-Rosen Bridge is based on a theme song from short-lived American sci-fi comedy called It’s about Time. The theme has undergone a thorough Venetian Snares treatment & sounds like a totally different piece…The reason I included this masterpiece is because I wanted to show his mastery in creating a 7\4 song with lyrics & melody that feels so natural & flowing ( well… to me that is ) & yet keeps his signature rhythmic programming & sound universe. Enjoy the chocolate…
As I promised our odd time signature journey becomes more aggressive…The Algorithm is basically the extremely talented French electronic producer Rémi Gallego. His music is an interesting fusion of Prog Metal & Djent with very intricate & powerful electronic breaks, highly intensive drum programming & game music sound bytes. In this track Trojans & also in many other tracks by The Algorithm it is quite difficult to refer to ‘time signature’. The meter is constantly changing & only specific parts of the track ( for instance 1:30 , 1:57 ) have a sense of beat & meter. The introduction of ‘live’ drummer makes it even more interesting. The drum parts are most challenging to play ! The Algorithm certainly introduces a unique fusion of prog metal & electronic music & his rhythmic programming is very intense & surprising.
As our journey becomes more hardcore & insane it would only be natural to go back to the ever challenging rhythm & sound genius Venetain Snares. If you’ve made it till now then you should definitely walk the extra mile…Horse & Goat, the opening track of Aaron Funk’s EP bearing the same name is sometimes described as Glitchcore. This 10\4 track is a glitch masterpiece with the recurring ‘horse & goat’ vocal sample. I think of it as a ‘theme & variation’ piece whereas the variation become more & more extreme & diverted from the original theme. It clearly exemplifies Mr. Funk’s sound design mastery.
Ion Divvy taken from Venetian Snares album Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding is an interesting 11\8 glitch ambient piece. Aaron Funk is masterfully interweaving the main melody with the glitchy, circuit bending electronic sounds & bits & as always makes them sound rather natural together. The 11\8 meter can also be divided into 4\8 + 7\8.In this album Funk is experimenting with different time signatures including some very unorthodox ones ( like alternating between 19/4 and 13/4 time…) The album was created for a 12.6 surround system & was meant to fully exploit the spatial domain. I wish I could listen to it on such a surround system…
Our odd time signatures exploration journey ends with some of the most intensive Venetian Snares tracks. Hand Throw from his Chocolate Wheelchair album is based on an a capella of the Dancehall artist Burro Banton & his song Boom Wha Dis. This typical dancehall tune has undergone a Venetian Snares speedcore\breakcore mutilation taking it to extreme sound territories. Venetian Snares is pushing the sound envelope to its limits. In terms of time signature this is a typical Vsnares 7\8 track but I’m sure you won’t notice that once the sonic attack escalates by the end of the track…
I hope you enjoyed this odd time signatures trip. Here’s another odd time signature playlist I curated on Soundcloud.Feel free to comment & leave your feedback & watch out for my next rhythmic explorations coming soon 🙂