Theory and practice of long-form non-isochronous metres. The case of the North Indian rupak tal

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Martin Clayton


This paper addresses important issues in the theory of metre by means of a detailed study of a particular form of non-isochronous (NI) metre, the North Indian rupak tal. Rupak tal is described as comprising 7 equal matras (time units), organised into three groups (3+2+2 matras), and is therefore non-isochronous at the Group rather than the Beat or Subdivision level. The term 'long-form non-isochronous metre' is introduced to describe the phenomenon of metrical structures including a non-isochronous pulse level with IOIs >1000ms, of which this is an example. This phenomenon is explored with the aid of empirical analysis of a corpus of recordings of rupak tal performances, focusing particularly on vocal performances in khyal style. This empirical data is considered in the light of extant literature on Indian metrical organisation, on ethnomusicological theories of aksak, on psychological theories of rhythm perception in NI-metres, and on metrical theory more broadly.

The implications for a general theory of musical metre are then considered, leading to an argument that (a) while theorisation is not a necessary condition of metrical perception, a recognised metrical pattern must be treated not only as a form of perception based on the entrainment of attention (London 2012), but as a form of culturally-shared knowledge contributing to top-down processing of metre; and (b) the theorisation and representation of aspects of metrical structure means that metrical cycles are not limited to the extent of the psychological present.

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