Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Rhythm as signifier
I just watched a new political ad by the Democratic National Committee, showing how John McCain has changed his estimates of how long American troops will be in Iraq. No new information, but the background music is fascinating. At first I thought it was in an asymmetric meter, or more likely a changing meter, with 12/8 as the predominant meter mixed up with a 2/4 or 9/8 to make it sound clumsy. But it is more subtle than that. The music stays in 12/8 for the whole time. What gives this insidious feeling of incompetence is the use of syncopation. The upper strings at points sound like they are slowing down, though they always end on the right beat. The bass line at a few points shifts to an almost duple, but it isn't exactly duple, thus making it even more uneasy. But what is truly amazing is that the musicians demonstrate a real skill in playing complex rhythms that purposely sound wrong. Thus they are really good at sounding bad. I want to know who wrote this music.