Dissertation Index

Author: Yorgason, Brent

Title: Expressive Asynchrony and Meter: A Study of Dispersal, Downbeat Space, and Metric Drift

Institution: Indiana University

Begun: October 2003

Completed: August 2009


In this study, I examine the ways in which expressive asynchrony can affect our experience of a work’s meter. There are three main aspects to this study. First, I investigate dispersal, which is the slight spreading-apart of the elements of a rhythmic event in performance. Second, I describe the act of “placing the beat” in expressively performed music and propose that we can experience elongated downbeats (beat events which occur in downbeat space or “inframetrical time”). Third, I examine musical contexts involving continuous asynchrony and describe the experience of metric drift in passages involving asynchronous metric streams.

I begin this study by outlining the phases of the meter cycle and describing the different positions of observation that one can take within this cycle. I also discuss the importance of incorporating aspects of the measuring experience into metric analysis. In Chapter 2, I examine the temporal and aesthetic effects of dispersal in keyboard music, as well as its expressive functions. In Chapter 3, I outline some of the important characteristics of dispersive ornaments, such as their manner and speed of execution and their placement in relation to the beat. In Chapter 4, I explain that beats can have different perceptual qualities and describe the experience of downbeat space. I illustrate how elongated downbeats may act as temporal and textural pivots or as ornamental phrase-links, separating out temporally the multiple concurrent functions of a downbeat. In Chapter 5, I examine performance practice evidence in historical descriptions of classical rubato and in the recordings of late-nineteenth-century pianists. In Chapter 6, I consider the effects of expressive asynchrony when used as a continuous effect and describe how our metric attention can imperceptibly drift between interrelated metric streams. In the final chapters I introduce a method of graphically representing a listener’s measuring experiences (using a path of metric focus diagram), provide supporting evidence for my ideas in the findings of studies undertaken by scholars in the fields of music perception and cognition, and outline some possible future directions for the study of expressive asynchrony and meter.

Keywords: meter, asynchrony, downbeat, performance, perception, dispersal, metric drift, metric streams


Introduction 1
Focus on performance 6
Previous studies and analyses 8
Organization of the study 10

Chapter 1: Measuring and the Meter Cycle 13
Mapping out the phases of the meter cycle 13
Positioning ourselves within the meter cycle 32
Incorporating the measuring experience 40

Chapter 2: Dispersal 46
Artistic delay 51
Softening and sharpening effects of dispersal 53
Voice independence 55
Dispersal location 60
Dispersal as structural marker 65
Dispersal as textural or temporal pivot 70
Effects of dispersal 73
The broken attack 75
Motivic use of dispersal 77
Progressive dispersal 82

Chapter 3: The Characteristics of Dispersive Ornaments 89
Grace notes and small notes 91
Arpeggios 96
"Composed-in" ornaments 110

Chapter 4: Downbeat Space 124
Placing the beat 125
Downbeat space, the elongated downbeat, and inframetrical time 132
Separating out the concurrent functions of the downbeat 148
Comparable concepts in other fields of research 161
Summary 187

Chapter 5: Rubato and Asynchrony in Performance 188
Classical rubato 189
Notated classical rubato 192
Historical recordings 202
1. Chord-spreading 203
2. Hand-breaking 205
Historical performance practice 216

Chapter 6: Continuous Asynchrony and Metric Drift 218
The rhythmic effects of continuous asynchrony 219
Metric streams 227
Metric dissonance 239
Influences on our metric focus 251
Metric drift 263

Chapter 7: Tracing the Path of Metric Focus 291

Chapter 8: Measurements and Models 322
Problems and limitations 323
Early studies 328
Vernon’s asynchrony study 330
Repp’s asynchrony study 335
Repp’s arpeggio study 341
Melody lead 348
Locating the beat 355
Perceptual onsets and ensemble timing 358
Timing of grace notes 361
Models 362

Chapter 9: Conclusion 372
Interaction of expressive asynchrony with higher levels of meter 372
Expressive asynchrony in music for other solo instruments 377
Expressive asynchrony in music for left-hand piano 380
Expressive asynchrony in music meant to imitate other instruments 380
Expressive asynchrony in chamber and orchestral music 382
Expressive asynchrony in vocal music 386
Limitations of this study 389
Summary 390

Appendix 1 393
Glossary of Terms 395
References 410
Discography 420


Brent Yorgason
Assistant Professor, Music Theory
Marietta College
215 Fifth Street
Marietta, OH 45750


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