“In C” as a Poly-rhythm Generator

The snow of last week is gone! I am rolling off a weekend full of beautiful images and sounds. From Archibald Motley’s vibrant, sensuous portraits to the sound of a roomful of clattering teacups and voices, singing, I can tell that Spring has Sprung! Hallelujah!!!

Vibrancy is the word this week. The “cy” on the end gives the word a shimmer to my ear, like brushes on a cymbal. Vibrancy comes from the Latin vibrare which means to shake to and fro – so to vibrate, oscillate, shimmer in the sun. With all this shaking going on, I had the thought, “I wonder if “In C” could work with only (or mostly) percussion instruments?” Let’s give it a try.

First, the voices-probably 5 or 6 with the optional 8th note pulse (on a cowbell, perhaps- hehheh). In order to keep melodic interest, woodwinds and vibraphone will come in on the phrases with sustained notes. In addition to the original two percussion instruments, I included some Indian drums, a beatbox, and an Irish drum rack that I put together. One thing I discovered right away with multiple percussion parts was that Patterns 1 and 2 can sound very off when accumulating (see “Who is Terry Riley, and What is ‘In C’?” blog post) due to the triplet feel they posture against the eighth note pulse. The reason for this is that too many emphasis points are coming down too randomly, especially if several of the voices have loud bass drum or toms. To offset this, I placed the most of the voices on the high frequency end, where sounds are light and, well, shimmery.

Oh, and there is a bass track that plays a crucial role in holding this ensemble together. Every time I brought the bass in on the second pattern, the whole piece felt really thrown out of whack. Don’t get me wrong, I tend to like “out of whack.” I call myself The Idiosyncratic Beats of DeJacusse because I like for music to move in and out of time. I like to have things feel “a little off” or “not right” and then slide into a clear and deeply moving pulse. This effect can jar the listener into their head and then lull them right back out again. I do this to myself all the time. So, I tried dropping the Pattern 2 Bass in at different times in hopes of finding a sweet spot for it, but it was “out of whack” in a less than satisfying way, so I deleted Pattern 2 from the bass line repertoire.

The recording you are about to hear is the first 8 patterns of “In C”. I have started thinking of “In C” in sections, the first of which runs from Pattern 1 through 8. This group of patterns feels like an introduction to me. In the recording, I started all the voices off together on Pattern 1 and allowed them to branch off from that solid base. The base only lasts about 5 seconds, then things sound a little chaotic for a half a minute or so, then it settles into a loose poly-rhythm. At about 1:30, you will hear what Trudie identified as the “This Old Man” theme, which is present in Patterns 2 and 3.. All the voices end on Patterns 7 and 8.

I invite you to listen:

Pattern 7 is like no other pattern in “In C” – the count in to the first notes played is 7 beats of silence then 3 quick repetitions of middle C then 9 beats of silence to finish the pattern. So, when played as a loop, there are 16 beats between sounding the instrument. This pattern along with the two sustained tones of Pattern 8 are the transition to what I consider the second section of “In C” which is Patterns 7 through 20. This recording begins with the voices layering in on Pattern 7 with the woodwind on the Pattern 8 long tones and ends with all the voices on two unison ta-das of Pattern 7 at the end.

I call this piece: “I dare you to listen to the whole thing.”

It is clear from these two recordings that “In C” contains a host of poly-rhythmic potentials. I will continue working with this percussion choir, and I will see what other unique combinations of voices this piece might lend itself to.

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