Rhythmic Feel as Meter

Rainer Polak
2010 Music Theory Online  
This article studies the empirical structures and theoretical status of rhythmic feels in jembe music, which is a popular style of drum ensemble music from West Africa. The focus is on systematic variations of durations (Bengtsson 1975)—that is, cyclic patterns of non-isochronous pulse streaming at the metric level of beat subdivision. Taking for example a standard piece of jembe repertoire that is set in a 4-beat/12-subpulse metric cycle (often notated as 12/8), I show that the ternary beat
more » ... division forms a repeated sequence of unequal (short, flexible, and long) subpulses. This stable rhythmic feel pattern, SFL, is unmistakable and non-interchangeable with a second ternary pattern, which is characterized by long, flexible, flexible subpulses (LFF) and occurs in other pieces of jembe music. As predicted in Justin London's "hypothesis of many meters" (London 2004), these timing patterns distinguish individual meters. I further analyze how schemes of binary and ternary beat subdivisions can be synchronized to operate in parallel. Such metric nesting is based on the patterned non-isochrony of rhythmic feels. Cyclic variation of subpulse durations, I argue, is inherent in the repertoire and fundamental to the metric system of jembe music.
doi:10.30535/mto.16.4.4 fatcat:6nkw7zofjrevbhy5v2ah67bwky