Off-beats on the brain

Do you know this song?

Videotape by Radiohead


If you have time, have a watch of this 10 minute video:


In this video, we hear how what we as listeners may hear as 4 chords on main beats of the bar is actually a syncopated rhythm, each chord being placed just before every main beat of the bar. What this does in practice is make the musicians work that much harder to get these hits in the right place which gives the sound a particular energy; in contrast to the easy, grounded sound we would get from something more four-square, what we get is something more edgy, more nervy, and always driving forward. It’s partly why we don’t feel like the fourth of the four chords is ending the phrase every time (which would quickly become boring) but instead it never feels finished.

It made me think about the Rite of Spring which some people say could have all been written in 4/4. Sure…but would it sound so electric without 100 musicians having to ferociously count and lock-in together, players feeling grounded together in strong beats and grabbing at jagged off-beats at Stravinsky’s choosing? The choice of notation changes the experience of the player and therefore what the audience receive.

I LOVE this recording of Bernstein and the LSO performing Rite of Spring. It’s completely terrifying and completely electrifying. Check out 33:17 into this – there’s no way this would swing like it does without the downbeats exactly where they are:

This is all just a passing thought for now but it feels like an important one.

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