Saturday, December 3, 2011

RE: Peter's "Vamp's rhythmic patterns, and musical definitions"

In Pete's blog post "Vamp's, Rhythmic Pattern's and Musical Definition's" he ends with the question: "Does strange rhythmic variety detract from the piece and make it sound art?"

I do not know too much about Vamps, but I do know about uneven rhythmic patterns and the way that western brains respond to them. Uneven rhythmic patterns sound bad to us because they go against our Musical schemata (plural of schema), schemata are stored structures that we have about a body of knowledge, it is an organization of past experiences and reactions. Schemata are the frameworks in memory that shape how we think that a given story, situation, and even musical piece should go. Our tonal schemata in western countries are I-V-IV chord progressions and V-I cadences. When we encounter a new situation we retrieve our related past schemata to know how to behave in that situation. We compare the new material with our old material and if it does not fit we alter the given information to match our prior knowledge.
In music our rhythmic schemata is very stubborn, western ears do not like uneven rhythmic patterns because they do not fit in with our prior knowledge an how we expect rhythms to sound like. In a study by Hannon & Trebhub (2005) western and European participants were exposed to meters with asymmetrically spaced beats (which is found in eastern music) for two weeks. At the end of the trial they still had trouble recognizing and comprehending these culturally unfamiliar meters (Creel 2011).

Yet, in an other study it was found that our tonal systems give a little more leeway when it comes to new musical experiences. This is why we can little to Turkish pop and Bollywood music, because they have a different tonal system, yet they follow the western rhythmic schemata. If the music has an eastern culturally specific rhythmic pattern that is uneven and our tonal system on top of it, we will not find it aesthetically pleasing. Take this Turkish pop song as as an example (of a western rhythmic and eastern tonal song)
So to answer Peter's question, no uneven rhythms do not make pieces less musical or sound art, westerns just perceive them as less aesthetically pleasing because they do not fit our schemata.

Question: How do expectations in music shape how we perceive it?