Turkey is in the oven, family is still sleeping, and I have some time to kill before my day becomes a balancing act… and that’s what this timely post is all about. The balance of time. Spend enough time as a practicing musician and you’ll eventually start asking yourself if anyone you know, including yourself, knows how to do anything besides count to the number 4. Ask a few more questions, do some digging, and you’ll drop down through the rabbit hole into the world of ‘odd’ time signatures, polyrhythms, paradiddles, compound meter, and other time-twisting pleasures.
4/4 time is the de-facto standard for popular music. Sure 3/4 was popular back in the day (the day being oh some 100+ years ago) but 4/4 remains strong because it allows our minds to effortless glide through a piece of music on our base instincts. Left foot – right foot – left foot – right foot, tick – tock – tick – tock, wax on – wax off, etc. For the most part our western world is guided by the on-off switch and it takes quite a bit of effort to break this vicious cycle so we can explore other musical worlds.
When first delving into odd signatures… a phrase which I despise because it immediately casts the subject matter as less than acceptable… most people struggle with the overall mechanics of the count. It’s important to understand the counts and basic mechanics, but far more important to move beyond that as quickly as possible and develop a sense of ‘feel’ to the meter. Just like with the practice of scales, one must make the practice musical in order to avoid rigidity (and being a bore.) Nobody wants to listen to you sing “One and Two and Three and Four and Five and” over and over.
So before we get into counts we should take five…
Play this piece for anyone you know, including non-musicians, and they will almost immediately recognize it from TV or film… and be able to follow it. Well it’s 5/4 time. If odd signatures are generally considered too complex then how is this possible? Simply put, it’s not projected as a musical theory project, it’s feel and that is what connects with the listener. Now let’s have Brubeck hurt us a little…
When I first listened to Unsquare Dance I got angry because I couldn’t keep up… even with the intro primer handclaps I just got lost. It’s 7/4. I can follow it on feel, but deconstructing it seemed to take a Herculean effort on my part. I needed a way to increase my knowledge of odd time signatures which led me to Bounce Metronome.
Check out this 5/4 visualization
Now how about a 5/4 over 4/4 polyrhythm?
The visual and sound approach provided by this app is by far the best I have found for quickly learning the feel of time signatures. Within a short timeframe I was able to get over Unsquare Dance and even start developing that sense of anticipation in the alignment of polyrhythms. Go on and check it out… make the time.
Recently I was considering purchasing a USB powered MIDI interface for my development/composition laptop. The idea here being that I would flop some 30+ foot long cables from the composition desk over to the recording desk and DAW. SoftSynths are ok but they often lack detail in harmonic overtones that will rear their nasty heads when you start pushing performances through a more realistic set of samples. I’ve been working on a few things and just got tired of exporting MusicXML to the DAW for previews. I was looking for real-time.
For whatever reason (probably my reluctance to part with cash) I decided to look and see if anybody had virtualized MIDI over LAN. I remember Steinberg made some early attempts with this type of thing long ago for net jams and MIDI has skirted around a CAT5 type connection so surely somebody just got smart and decided to ‘packetize’ the messages in a client/server app. Yes.. they did.
In all fairness, Mac has had this for awhile but I’m still in PC world. It’s rare I find a PC based MIDI utility that actually works… that’s why I’m posting this. In a matter of minutes I was able to setup my DAW as a server and connect to it from the laptop client. Running Finale on the client machine I was generating live MIDI over the network to my Midex8 hooked up to a Yamaha P-60. The best part? The laptop was on a wireless connection so I can freely pop into the next room to sit on the couch and still listen to performances or even edit without having to switch back to localized SoftSynth sounds or go back in the studio.
I was asked if there were any videos of the pedalboard in use. At the moment all I have is this older video of me noodling around with the system. The sound is from a room mic on the camera so it’s not the best quality but the video shows interaction between the board and DAW/VST.