Thursday, April 12, 2007

Turn the Beat Around

Jeff (with two f's) probably knows if there is a name for this musical phenomenon: a song begins, and the listener thinks the emphasis will fall on certain beats; but when the rhythm builds, the listener discovers that the beat of the song is almost the opposite of what was anticipated. It's hard to put into words, but easier to show by example.

I can listen to Rev It Up by Jerry Harrison several times back to back, and I will still be fooled each time I hear the opening guitar line (played by Chris Spedding). This is from Jerry Harrison's 1988 solo album, Casual Gods. I can imagine Grace Jones singing (or more accurately, intoning) a gender-switching cover of this song.

A similar phenomenon occurs when I listen to the Digable Planets' brilliant Four Corners. It's the drum pattern itself that tricks me: if I try to count out a 4/4 beat over the rhythm (before the horns and the voices begin), I will inevitably begin on an off-beat. I'm amazed that the rappers were able to follow the rhythm. This is from the unjustly neglected Blowout Comb album (1994).


At 4/12/2007 11:35 PM , Blogger 2fs said...

Hey Jon - sorry I can't help you out here: not sure if there's a name for this really, since it's more a matter of perception. I mean, yeah, sometimes bands can try to trick the listener intentionally: I read just recently that the drum part on Devo's version of "Satisfaction" is a perfectly normal drum pattern...but played on the wrong drums. So the beat sounds more or less inside-out (and in fact, it took me a while to get the beat right in that intro: I used to be fooled, just as you describe, when the rest of the instruments came in. James Brown woulda fined me something fierce!).

I actually posted on this phenomenon some time back

At 4/13/2007 7:59 AM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Ah, so you did! I wonder if different songs "trick" different listeners. I have no problem following "Dancing Days", for example.

At 4/13/2007 5:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a Frank Black song that does this, but I forget which one. I used to be slightly faked out by the beginning of "The Ghost and the Black Hat" by the Go-Betweens, but only the first few times.

And I, anonymous commentator, have a couple songs like this, which has caused consternation to more than one drummer, even though it always sounds right to me.

At 4/13/2007 11:48 PM , Blogger 2fs said...

Actually "Dancing Days" isn't one that flips this mysterious trigger - I only compared the effect to the way "Dancing Days" feels. Difference is, in the Zeppelin tune, I know where "one" is. In the other ones, either I'm temporarily confused - or (as with that XTC track) pretty much permanently warped.

At 3/20/2008 3:32 AM , Anonymous Francis said...

One song that always does this for me is "My Book" by the Beautiful South.


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