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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E
                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1993 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 0, Number 3      June, 1993      ISSN:  1067-3040    |
  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu
AUTHOR: Lester, Joel
TITLE: Commentary on Justin London's MTO 0.2 article
REFERENCE: mto.93.0.2.london.art
File: mto.93.0.3.lester.tlk
     Like many of his other illuminating writings on these
topics, Justin London's "Loud Rests and Other Strange Metric
Phenomena (or, Meter as Heard)" in MTO 0/2 cogently presents some
of the problems that have held center stage in writings on rhythm
and meter in recent years (and probably for centuries in one or
another form). But London's proposed solution to some of these
problems via the notion of a "dynamic model" in which listeners
interact with acoustic signals from the music they are hearing
lacks a crucial component. London posits that we can avoid some
of the severest problems of various metric theories by adopting a
participatory attitude -- as he says in paragraph 12, "let's tap
our feet and count along."
     The question he fails to address is: How do we know when to
begin to count? Consider his one-line tune from paragraph 6: c-d-
e-f-g-a (r) d-e-f-g-a-bb (r) b-c-b-c-b-c (r) d-c-bb-a-g-f, "where
the duration of each pitch is an 8th note, and each rest two
eighth notes (rests are indicated by (r)), at a tempo of a
quarter-note = 100," and where b stands for B-natural and bb for
     I was stymied by this example for for some time before being
able to resume reading London's article. At first, I assumed I
was going to create this (as a performer, of course! -- I'll
return shortly to the differences between meter for the performer
and the listener) with no preconceived meter and let the tune
create its meter for me as I went along (in effect, I was role-
playing having a split personality and being a performer and
listener simultaneously). At first, I found myself grouping
eighths in pairs starting on a strong eighth. The recurring
pattern of six eighth-notes plus two-eighths rest made it clear
by the end of the second string of notes that I was dealing with
a periodicity of four quarter-notes worth of music. (By the way,
I did have to impose that metric decision on the music
retroactively from the end of the second string of notes.) The
resulting harmonies and nonharmonic tones that were implied by my
beginning on a strong eighth led me to question whether this was
a common-practice-period tonal melody at all. As I "tapped my
feet and counted along" in this manner, I was hardly hearing the
melody that London presents later in that paragraph. I was
hearing his pitch-string, but not his melody in the sense of the
pitch-string organized by meter (and, consequently, harmony; I
agree with Heinrich Christoph Koch's two-century old assertion
that changing the placement of the beat changes the harmonic
structure, and hence the nature of a phrase itself).
     I was unsatisfied with this first rendition, not least
because I didn't think that London's previously-stated apology
for producing "banal" examples posited such a weird melody. So I
tried beginning with an upbeat eighth, still retaining the
implicit 4/4 structuring. Once again, I ended up with a melody
structured quite differently from the way London structures the
pitch-string at the end of his paragraph.
     How does London explain how we know when to begin counting?
Essentially, he provides us with a score to the melody with the
metrics indicated (near the end of paragraph 6). London implies
that he has not provided a score, but instead has invoked our
commonly-recognized metric pattern of "sol-la-ti-DO." But this
begs a host of questions. I will leave aside how we know to draw
upon this particular pattern, when other common scale-step
patterns beginning with two rising whole tones and semitone are
just as possible. I will restrict myself to two questions even
more primitive than that one: How do we know that the melody
begins with an upbeat? And even more deeply, what evidence is
there that when this melody begins we know that the first note is
"sol?" Without knowing that, we cannot know to invoke London's
     Musical scores are sets of instructions for performers. And
composers of tonal music included metrics in their scores to
preclude precisely the sorts of problems I had in trying to
figure out how to perform London's melody. Performers must know
where the accented beats are located, or else they will not know
how to perform the music. Imagine trying to put into effect
Leopold Mozart's instructions to begin measures with downbows if
you didn't know where the downbeats were!
     But listeners have to figure out where the beats are
*without* scores (an issue I have addressed in "Notated and Heard
Meter," in *Perspectives of New Music* 24 [1986]: 116-129, as
well as in my *Rhythms of Tonal Music* [Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 1986]). It is no accident that
composers are usually a lot more friendly to listeners than
London was to his hypothetical physicist, generally providing
accompaniments, durational differentiations, textural
differentiations, dynamic differentiations, and the like at the
beginnings of pieces to allow the listeners to establish the
metric grid so that they can indeed "tap their feet and count
along." In other words, composers provide a variety of criteria
for differentiating events from one another. Whether one wants to
call those criteria *accents* (as distinct from *metric*
accents), as I have done in my book on rhythm, or use some other
conceptualization or locution, these criteria are necessary. To
fail to consider them is to fail to consider the differences
between scores as instructions for performers and sounding music
as an adequate source of information for listeners.
     A final note: since I have not yet been able to get my PC to
read the GIF file with examples, I read London's melody cited
above in the tablature notation that appears in paragraph 6 of
his article, not in a staff notation that he may have provided in
the GIF file. As a result, I could not draw upon my long
experience in sightreading staff notation to survey quickly the
entire melody in one fell swoop -- I was forced to create the
melody note by note as it occurs. I believe that we theorists are
so adept in reading musical notation that in addition to failing
to appreciate fully how scores are instructions for performers
and not for listeners, we also often fail to realize how easily
we use visual cues to create a synoptic perception of a passage
instead of a diachronic perception that is closer to what a
listener receives.
Joel Lester
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