Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fade-Outs: Houses in Motion

Talking Heads: Houses in Motion


Almost two years ago, our theme here was Tricky Beats, and I did a series of posts on polyrhythm. If you missed it, I explained how polyrhythm works here. In polyrhythmic music, the Western ear does not hear divisions of measures, the way we do with the music we are more familiar with. Instead, there are these multi-measure cycles. The different rhythms all start at the same time, and there are times during the music when they all come together for a brief moment, before flying apart again. The effect is sort of like a musical perpetual motion machine, with each part moving according to its own logic. The resulting sound has the same fascination as watching a high wire act.

On albums of West African music released here in the United States, songs are usually less than ten minutes long. But when these same musicians perform in Africa, a single piece can last a half hour or more. Subtle shifts emphasize one rhythm over another as the music progresses, and the fascination never ceases. I have only read about these performances, but I would dearly love the chance to attend one some day. Talking Heads, with their album Remain in Light, were inspired by the music of West Africa. All of the songs on the album fade out. The songs are short by African standards, but the fade-outs suggest a longer work.

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