The pages of this site are intended to provide, in three main parts, description and discussion of an unusual model for the structure of rhythmic experience, and an implementation of that model in compositional practice.__ By browsing sections listed under OVERVIEW — the topmost heading toward the upper left corner of this window — you will see in broad brush strokes what the other parts of this site attempt in greater detail: (1) An overview of terms and inquiries that I associate with rhythm composition (2) some conjunctions and synthesis of those terms, that help compel the terms to interact in musical practice, and (3) some additional background on scholarship about musical time and rhythm, that especially informs this research. Finally, a series of graphic examples and basic soundfiles offer a peek at similar examples that are referenced throughout the remainder of the site.
This model originates in compositional practice. Over the 1990s and early 2000s in Seattle, San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Paris, I have found kinship among a number of composers, including (but not limited to) Joshua Levine, Tom Baker, Jacopo Boboni, Marita Bolles, Luciano Chessa, and the late Mark Osborne. By 1995, all of these composers had, in one way or another, begun to think of time and rhythm in a manner involving ambivalent, free, and conceptually endless strings of time-points, placing events one after another, in abundant layers, and without necessary reference to a metric system. The choices of a composer who conceives of time this way -- in unmetered, accumulating time intervals -- are profuse, and seemingly unlimited, and likewise difficult to navigate. Each of the composers just mentioned seems to have chosen different, but related, ways of sculpting such limitless textures with flows, conjunctions, disjunctions, and identities. These words are not representative of those composers' aesthetics or ideas, but many composers will recognize the seeds of their own perspectives in this conversation. I also hope they will find this way of framing the issues useful.
By choosing an online format to present this research (initially), I hope to encourage point-by-point commentary from readers in advance of submission for formal publication. I hope you will indulge me in that conversation.
This inquiry is intended a practical approach to an impractical, almost philosophical goal. In brief, the purpose of all this is to
- explore plurality intensively, under the assumption that plurality is pleasurable
- resist some hierarchies of listening behavior that we might consider to be, in some way, inhibitory, reductive, or otherwise compromising with respect to musical possibility
- free the experience of time from its normal role as the thing into which other musical qualities are distributed, so that qualities of time and temporal relations can themselves articulate and develop
None of this should seem too esoteric if we consider that ideas like these were on the periphery of the modern aesthetic over 100 years ago. Schoenbergian emancipation of the dissonance, and the similar "emancipatory" moves of post-war serialism, all suggest a plurality of intervals that are independently (rather than dependently), expressive; Stravinsky's rhetorical thrust in the Rite of Spring suggests a "developmental" and "differentiating" role for both basic rhythmic motives and orchestral resources -- two aspects of music that are understood traditionally to provide an anchor of "sameness."
As it happens, 'different' and 'same' are important terms to think, and re-think, while following the trajectories of thought outlined in this work. Although this compositional approach was developed without much influence from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, their work will be referenced occasionally here, because of its efficacy in clarifying some of what I think are heterarchy's most difficult problems. Deleuze and Guattari's Milles Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia imagines and idealizes cultural production in "lines of flight" that cannot be plotted along the coordinates of conventional philosophical difference. Likewise, many composers are fond of referring to music as some kind of "multidimensional space," but some of us have found that a zero-sum game of measured difference and likeness--no matter what number of co-operating dimensions we involve--is inadequate to describe the thresholds of group identity in which musical line (and thus rhythm) can occur.
Who worked on this
Ben Carson -- I am a composer, and Assistant Professor of music theory and composition at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I grew up in Walla Walla Washington, and studied music both in the Catholic School system there and in the Whitman College departments of music and theater. I later earned a bachelor's degree studying with composer John Peel, and a Masters Degree with John Rahn, Jonathan Bernard, and Bright Sheng. I was a collaborating researcher with Ani Patel at the Neurosciences Institute, and a visiting scholar to IRCAM's perception laboratory, supervised by Stephen McAdams; in 2001 I earned a PhD from UC San Diego under the supervision of Roger Reynolds, Gerald Balzano, and Harvey Sollberger.
My research has extended into a number of domains, including experimental psychology, critical science studies, the history of philosophy, gender studies, and psychoanalysis; however, in none of those domains have I extended my research beyond what could be useful in answering some basic questions about music composition. Among the most important of these questions is the question of subjectivity, or "how does a piece of music carry identity, for itself, or for a listener?" and "what is the relationship between subject and whole in musical expression?" (The compositional method described here is a subset of that inquiry, for reasons that will be clear only at the end, but can be hinted here: we are concerned with rhythm as a means of articulating types of difference and sameness; difference and sameness are the fundamental starting points in both psychological and musical theories of subjectivity and identity.)
My collaborator Ian Saxton holds degrees in music from UCSC and UC San Diego, where he developed an already-proficient approach to music software development with Miller Puckette and Roger Reynolds. Ian is responsible for implementing the user interfaces in all aspects of this project, and has played a strong role in developing many of its conceptual aspects as well, including a highly flexible algorithm for the production of constrained timespan strings and a sophisticated system of modular and inter-dependent filters for selection and manipulation of score events. Our working relationship requires him to understand all the details of my theoretical, compositional, and computational approach. Ian has taken my bare-bones programming, mostly in Excel and a little in LiSP and NetLogo, and extensively elaborated on those ideas through his own innovations in notation interface and rhythm visualization. His ability to tease clarity out of it all, through a continuous back-and-forth conversation over several years, is indispensable.
Debt is owed to a number of other collaborators and conversationalists not mentioned yet, including David Cope, Paul Nauert, David Evan Jones, Dard Neuman, Ivan Raykoff, Daniel Brown, Patrick Richey, Alexandra Lilly, John Seales, Patrick Richey, Daniel Matzkin, Chris Tonkin, Chris Williams, Chris Mercer, and Ming Tsao, each of whom -- knowingly or not -- has brought productive and challenging thought to bear on one or more of the episodes or concepts in this research. I hope of course to add to this list as time passes.
The model I present here is influenced by empirical study, but is not conventionally an empirical model. The model is also theoretical, without theorizing the whole of familiar rhythmic experience; instead, the goal is to introduce unfamiliar questions that lead to thinking about rhythm in an unusual role, carrying and negotiating the kinds of difference experience that we normally associate with out-of-time abstractions and qualities of acoustic experience.
Some will find this analogy painfully literal, but Deleuze and Guattari do not traffic in metaphor or allusion. ['Lines of flight' are really lines, ways of connecting one thing to another; what distinguishes them from ordinary lines is their passage through distances between inchoate locations; locations that are not attached to commensurate worlds of measurement. I have argued elsewhere that distances between contrasting musical ideas, or between multi-dimensional event streams and their compliments, bring into play the fundamental machineries of Deleuzian/Guattarian cultural production.]