Questions posed by Marcos Magalhaes and Marta Arajuo of Os Musicos do Tejo.
Q1: Jarrod, how would you define rhythmic cycle, and more specifically how would that definition compare or contrast between different musical cultures?
"My definition of a rhythmical cycle I could broadly express as rhythmic circles/revolutions that reoccur through the passage of time. As a general picture, without using music terminology, one could look at reoccurring things in nature, such as the cycle of seasons & the cycle of the cosmos, the moon, and the daily tides for example. As we narrow that down into quantifying terms, we can look at the cycle of hours in a day, further down to minutes and seconds. So when you look at rhythmical cycles, no matter how they would be mathematically quantified in analytical terms, you are more or less dealing with repetitive passing of time.
For example: in Indian classical music, whether it be Carnatic or Hindustani, you can see very long cycles which combine to make even longer song forms that can stretch for hours.
In the oriental world you can see as well very long cycles as in Ottoman classical music, or very short and fast cycles which are more common in folkloric and popular music. In Africa, specifically Ghana, there you deal with the science of Polyrhythm: many combined overlaying rhythms that in combination create one big rhythm that is also cyclictic, however not as analytically definitive as in other cultures. They don't necessarily have a concept of one, meaning that the cycle is always felt and known, although counting wise there is no marked one, everything revolves around itself. This same concept generally applies to North African rhythms, Flamenco Rhythms, Cuban, and South American music for example. There is a discipline of analytically knowing where the one is, which we need for communication and notation, but also being able to let go of counting and feel where the cycle resolves and repeats itself, thereby creating a natural flowing of rhythm, even if it is highly complex. "
Q2: What do feel is the musical reason and/or philosophical reason for music being organised rhythmically?
"Generally speaking, If you look at most things in nature, life in general, the science of the universe, you can see quiet good organization even within things that would appear to be chaotic. Most creatures know how to count in some fashon, however perhaps not consciously as the human species does. The human mind is wired to quantify and calculate things, both to keep records of the past and for adapting to future events. Particularly in the West we like to notate and analyse things down to the microscopic level and beyond resulting in what has developed into a highly sophisticated system of musical notation. However if you look at other musical cultures, in particular Ghana for example, there is no inherit analysis in numeric terms regarding cycles of time in music, they just feel and understand the balance of where the rhythm sits right. I think as humans we are unconsciously made to feel comfortable with the reoccurrence of cycles of time, whether they be short or very long, and if you look at everything that surrounds us you can see as well similar behaviour, whether it be from living things or even just in the rotation of planets and stars, even if through extremely long cycles of time as we perceive it. "
Q3: From your experience with different musical cultures, what or which do you consider to be the most rhythmically complex?
"I think how we perceive what is rhythmically complex is fairly subjective. For example, rhythmically Indian music contains extremely mathematically complex rhythms developed in a LINEAR way, as opposed to POLYRHYTHMIC music found in Africa which develops extreme complexity in a multi-layered, 3 dimensional way so to say. However, if you are born and raised in those two contrasting environments, your music from your area might not seem at all "complex" to you because it is also part of your life and upbringing. As well you can look at contemporary percussion music, starting with Edgard Varese perhaps, with his renowned percussion composition Ionisation. This is rhythmically an extremely complex and orchestrated percussion ensemble piece, however, complete opposite in the conception of rhythmical cycles to such cultures as India and West Africa. In contrast, if you look at aspects of Baroque music, which on the surface may not appear to be rhythmically complex, it still contain elements of breathing through cycles of time, which is crucial for the expression of the music. Someone from the far east, India, or Africa might find that extremely complex in relation to the music that they know and how they perceive rhythm and passing of time. In my opinion there is not one culture so to say that is more rhythmically complex than another, just the subjective impression from ones' own experience."