Jun 12, 2010

It’s Reggae Time

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Swing is not a genre of music, rather a performance style. A musical piece can be played in swing or straight time. Musical notes and structure are identical in both performances, but the notes temporal patterns have slight, significant differences between straight and swing performances. Here are examples of several styles of swing: American Swing, Brazilian Samba, and Jamaican Reggae.

Prior swing rhythm research discovered swing ratio as a metaphor representing some classic jazz styles of temporal variations in performed music as compared to written music. In some cases, swing ratio is inadequate to properly model the real patterns of temporal variation. A further details analysis showing that swing exists hierarchically, i.e., the patterns of temporal variation played at one time scale may differ from those played at a slower or faster time scale.

Different instruments playing swing differently from each other, locking together at certain canonical time locations representing standard counting and subdivision of the musical meter. This latter phenomenon has been previously investigated as ensemble swing. The time locking, while precise, may not be exactly synchronized. Some people refer to this as “playing around the beat”, that is a very different musical feature than merely playing sloppy rhythmic synchronization. It is one measure of how tight or loose a musical performance is.

In Reggae, the downbeat is often not played by any instrument, and other canonical beat locations may also be demarcated by silence, followed quickly by several drum beats in a complex rhythm that may end on the next canonical beat. Detection of rhythms with an empty note event as an important feature of their pattern is a challenging task, both for musicians and computer algorithms.

By the way, how could music styles of such transnational popularity and influence be fashioned by a population numbering well under 1 percent of the world’s peoples, scattered in an archipelago, and quite lacking in economic and political power?

How is it that reggae, emanating from small and impoverished Jamaica, can resound and be actively cultivated everywhere from Hawaii to Malawi? Why should it be Cuba that produces the style that comes to dominate much of African urban music in the mid-twentieth century? Or, to go farther back in time, what made the Caribbean Basin so dynamic that its Afro-Latin music and dance forms like the sarabanda and chacona could take Spain by storm in the decades around 1600 and go on to enliven Baroque music and dance in Western Europe?

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