With the whole “beat on or beat off” debate (wordplay by renowned genius Corey Dargel) playing out in the aftermath of Colin Holter’s latest Chatter post, I thought I’d share my experiences with the new music meets groove snafu. (But first, props to Mr. Gann for not using that word!) Okay, back to it. Personally, I don’t give too much consideration to rhythm when composing music. If it were possible, a lot of my music would probably be labeled as arhythmic. My scores often leave rhythmic details up to the performers, and more often than not they’re able to hone in on what I had in mind.
The funny thing about all of this is the Jekyll and Hyde relationship a lot of new music composers have with the backbeat. Forget about all those wallflower stereotypes of the socially awkward composer—I know a handful who can totally work it on a dance floor. As for myself, I need a little imbibing before busting a move. Bottom line is, most composers I know really enjoy listening to music with a beat, whether or not they decide to get up and dance, but when it comes time to compose, it’s straight to the no-head-bobbing zone.
I lied earlier about being an arhythmic composer. Like most composers, I do tend to be a little beat-shy when committing notes to paper, but when a commission for a solo percussion piece arose, it became an opportunity to get over my rhythmic aversions. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of creating something pulse-driven. After a few clicks on Netflix, a CSI: Miami DVD was on its way, begging to have its background music transcribed by yours truly. Before long I had a wealth of material to work with, and the mash-up Sub-Forensic Picnic was born. During the premiere I felt the audience really enjoyed the emancipated grooves (proving Colin’s original point: people like beats). However, I think I made the mistake of new musicifying the piece: truncating riffs, changing things up too quickly, and rarely just simply settling into the beat. I think the piece would have been more successful if I had the insight to refrain from fussing over material and let it be more of what it started out as: a steady beat. Lesson learned.
Some of my video work is beat-driven, and I keep dance music inspired grooves in my improvisational bag of tricks; no big whoop. I don’t see why—here comes another contentious term—serious composers get the urge to pooh-pooh something with a steady beat. And before anyone says 120 bpm in 4/4 time is boring, let me remind you that complex rhythms can be a real snore as well. Anyone who’s ever tried to lay down some compelling, un-cheesy beats can tell you: It’s not easy.