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Studio D • Saturday morning, 9:00–10:30

Metrical Templates and Disruptions

Joti Rockwell (Pomona College), Chair

Daniel Goldberg (University of Connecticut) 

Meter as Template: Metric Allusion in Music by Thomas Adès

James Palmer (University of British Columbia)

Who's Feeling Crooked Now? “Progressive Bluegrass” in the Metric Disruptions of Punch Brothers

Abstracts

Meter as Template: Metric Allusion in Music by Thomas Adès

Daniel Goldberg (University of Connecticut)

In describing how listeners establish and maintain a sense of meter, psychologically and experientially oriented metric theories often focus on particular musical events, through interpretation of accents and grouping or projection of individual musical durations into the immediate future. This attention to the moment-by-moment unfolding of music in time is essential for explaining the ability to synchronize with precise and changing temporal organization, but the complementary role of past experience in shaping listeners’ metric interpretations remains mostly unexplored. In this presentation, I argue that most listeners bring to a new piece of music a learned, largely unconscious repertoire of meters that function as templates, simplifying the process of inferring meter by providing strong expectations for when sounds will occur.

In principle, these learned expectations influence metric induction in any music. Music by Thomas Adès offers an apt demonstration of the phenomenon because of Adès’s practice of alluding to familiar meters by presenting their rhythmic patterns in attenuated or distorted form. Analyses of score excerpts and timing from recorded performances illustrate how Adès invokes familiar metric templates by manipulating rhythm and by using other characteristics that typically occur in conjunction with unequivocal meters, including tertian harmonies and conventional handling of dissonance, dynamics, and timbre. These examples highlight the integral part that past experience plays in metric hearing and draw attention to the relationship among notation, sound, and perception.

Who's Feeling Crooked Now? “Progressive Bluegrass” in the Metric Disruptions of Punch Brothers

James Palmer (University of British Columbia)

Punch Brothers, led by mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, is a “progressive bluegrass” supergroup. Their standard bluegrass instrumentation—mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar, and bass—is at times their most bluegrass element. While early albums established their artistic prowess, their 2012 album, “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” “shifted the emphasis…to playful storytelling” (Chinen 2012). The most conspicuous element of play found throughout this album is its “crooked” meter. I demonstrate how one can perceive Punch Brothers’ metric indebtedness to bluegrass, while also discerning the distance of the Brooklyn-based group from the original “Crooked Road” (the Virginia Heritage Music Trail) in their progressive art rock approach to other musical aspects.

The song “New York City” is emblematic of Punch Brothers’ bluegrass-rooted “crookedness,” containing straightforward metric elisions or deletions, typical of bluegrass. “Soon Or Never” raises the stakes with two metric disruptions that engage a common bluegrass time quirk known as a “backstep.” Punch Brothers takes this typical bluegrass manoeuvre and builds a two-fold disruption that begets further metric quirks later in the song. “Don’t Get Married Without Me” creates the perceptions of metric deletion and addition through a progressively lengthening anacrusis. My transcriptions suggest different metric interpretations of the song’s disruptions of different pulse levels. These metric quirks become increasingly disruptive throughout the song as Punch Brothers saturates the metric structure with numerous conflicting impulses.

I conclude with a discussion of Punch Brothers’ carefully crafted text to “Don’t Get Married Without Me” as it engages with multiple metric disruptions.