Author: Hosken, Fred
Title: The Pocket: A Theory of Beats as Domains
Institution: Northwestern University
Begun: September 2016
Completed: August 2021
This dissertation proposes a theory that views beats as probabilistic domains that I term â€œpockets,â€ taking a vernacular term commonly used by jazz, funk, and popular music performers to describe the state of being in a good groove and making it concrete through empirical methods. Pockets have three key properties: they are domains of time, whose membership is probabilistic, and the specific shape of the probabilistic distribution is associated the qualitative experience of a performanceâ€”its â€œfeel.â€ The theory of pockets that I advance can be utilized to provide new perspectives on rhythmic structures in music, as well as new approaches to understanding patterned microtiming in performance, the phenomenon of musical â€œgroove,â€ and musical â€œfeelâ€ more generally. Pockets are a complement to Danielsenâ€™s theory of perceptual â€œbeat binsâ€ (2010), theorizing extended beats in the sound signal of performances. By importing the term â€œpocket,â€ the technicalities of the shaping of music time can be made meaningful by drawing on real-world qualitative descriptors of â€œfeelâ€â€”a pocket may be â€œlooseâ€ or â€œtight,â€ a performer can â€œlay back,â€ be â€œon top of the beat,â€ or â€œpush.â€
I first survey, in Chapter 1, the literature, drawing together the established theories of beats
in music and cognitive research and arguing that there is a need for a theory of beats that prioritizes the sound signal produced by performance events. Chapter 2 introduces the theory of pockets, justifies why the label â€œpocketâ€ is so important (rather than simply â€œdomainâ€), and establishes the existence of pockets with a music information retrieval analysis of three corpora of drum performances. Chapter 3 considers what these pockets mean for the listener experience, introducing descriptive terms that might be used to make sense of timing variations between performances. Chapter 4 presents an empirical study that explores whether listeners are able to perceive subtle timing differences. And finally, Chapter 5 considers how differently shaped pockets interact with form in popular music, analyzing Stevie Wonderâ€™s â€œSuperstitionâ€ to argue that musicians manipulate the shape, size, and location of the pocket across a song to enhance the experiential qualia of different sections.
Keywords: Rhythm, Perception, Performance, Music information retrieval
1. Beats in Theory & Cognition: Sounded and Perceived
2. The Theory of Pockets
3. Individual Performer's Pockets & Feels
4. The Perception and Discrimination of Different Musical "Feels"
5. Dynamically Changing Pockets and Form in "Superstition"