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Categories and Timing: On the Perception of Meter Author(s): Tellef Kvifte Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 51, No.

1 (Winter, 2007), pp. 64-84 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology Stable URL: . Accessed: 24/03/2013 03:32
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51, No.




Categories and Timing: On the Perception of Meter

Tellef Kvifte / University of Oslo

Introduction "Meter and Grouping inAfrican Music," Temperley asks the In following questions: "How well can African rhythm be reconciled with What similarities and differ the prevailing music-theoretical view of rhythm? ences emerge between African rhythm and Western rhythm, as the latter is his paper

meter and grouping inAfrica,Temperley states "To anticipate my conclusions, Iwill argue that, at a fundamental level, African rhythm as described by eth is similar to Western rhythm and can be accommodated in nomusicologists the same basic model" (ibid.). I am not going to argue against this specific will point to theories and empirical evidence that seem not conclusion, but I to fit well with themodels of meter referred to by Temperley. More specifically, this paper addresses what I perceive as a fundamental conflict between

viewed by contemporary music theory?" (2000:65). My point of departure in want to discuss implica this article is only slightly different. Like Temperley, I tions of some recent theories of rhythm and meter in the light of evidence from outside so-called Western (art) music. However, Iwill not primarily address African music. Iwill instead draw on experiences from other types of music, such as jazz and traditional Scandinavian dance music. My conclu sions will also differ from Temperley's. In the introduction to his paper on

aspects ofwhat might be called "themicrorhythmic para digm," and models ofmeter that take forgranted a low(est) metric levelwith isochronous pulses. Iwill argue that the lattermodels are, at best, limited in scope, and of little value to describe and explain certain quite common observable rhythmic behaviors. The idea of a lowest isochronous metric level ismore or less explicit in concepts such as additive rhythms and den sity referent, as well as inmore modern models, like those of Justin London (1995, 2002, 2004). With
2007 by the Society

reference to Kauffman



refer to

for Ethnomusicology


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Kvifte: Perception



such theories as theories of a Common Fast Pulse (CFP), using "pulse" instead of "beat" to avoid confusing themwith the B(eat) level in themetric models under discussion. Finally, Iwill suggest that it is convenient to distinguish more clearly than is usual between models ofmetric categories and models of metric timing.

The problem
is the The basic premise for research intomicrorhythmic phenomena we do not play any rhythm exactly as it is,or could be, written in belief that standard notation. Further, deviations from the mathematically simple and exact values of notation fall into two categories, namely random variations due to imperfections on the part of the performers or the equipment, and systematic variations that are important as part of the style,and/or important for the rhythmic feeling. In such research, reference may be made to different metric levels. Studies

may concern, for example, the level of subdivision of beats, (e.g., Pr?gler 1995 ; Benadon 2006) or the beat and bar or measure level in studies of so-called asymmetric rhythms in Scandinavian traditional music done by Bengtsson (1971), and Kvifte (1999). The patterns studied concern not (1974),Groven only expressive variations of rhythmic figures played on a background of a One hesitates regularmetric framework, but also themetric framework itself. to use terms such as "deviation" or "variation" to describe these patterns as the patterns that are described are not perceived as necessarily deviating

from a norm. Rather it is the norm itself that one tries to describe. Bengtsson we should avoid calling it'deviations'when puts it like this: "In fact, dealing with rhythmwithout stating clearly thatwe justmean deviations from a norm thatwe use as a sort of temporal ruler. We have no other mechanical ruler,mainly because we know far too little about such micro-structures" (1987:78, emphasis in original). In some cases, therefore, what is implied is a metric grid where the rela on units between different levels does not conform to simple ratios tionship between integers. Such an idea of ametric grid that is not regular, however, is will outline contrary to some prominent positions within rhythmresearch, and I two of these and discuss some implications of the different positions. on Terminology

A Few Remarks

This study requires a note of clarification concerning terminology. The two central terms, "meter" and "rhythm,"are used inmany different ways, and there are many definitions in the literature.One of themore recent that I agree with is London's version from 2002:

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Meter is defined

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temporal teronset

as a stable and recurring of hierarchically structured pattern to the pattern Metrical related of in patterns, although expectations. in the musical intervals1 present surface, are distinct from that pattern.

(2002:529) to his description of rhythm as "a coordinated and con temporal pattern," and will add that such patterns are usually to be understood relative to a meter, as is implied in his observation that "meter is also viewed, at least by most music theorists and psychologists, as being distinct from rhythm, where rhythm involves the phenomenal pattern of I also subscribe nected

ness of these concepts (2000:33-35). Also important for the definition of meter

durations (more precisely, interonset intervals or'IOIs') and dynamic accents. that the same melodic pattern may be heard in a number It is acknowledged of differentmetric contexts" (London 2002:531). Such a clear-cut distinction between meter and rhythm isnot shared by everyone. Clayton discussed the question at length, addressing the question of the possible universal useful is that it consists of at least will levels. We and two, normally assume the levels of beats, usually more, measures and subdivisions, (abbreviated B, SD and M), where the beat level a commonly has privileged position and is sometimes called a referent level



Fast Pulse


The widely discussed concept pair, additive/divisive rhythms,may go back to Curt Sachs' book Rhythm and Tempo (1953). But, as London wrote for the Grove's online dictionary:
or used as confusedly as "additive" are as confusing and "divisive". of a series of by the concatenation rhythms are said to be produced is produced the alternation of units, such as a rhythm in 5/8 which regular by often, multiplicative) (or, more (2/8 + 3/8). Divisive rhythms are produced by some to 2 x 2/8. In of 2/4 is equal integer unit such that a measure multiplying Few terms Additive addition, additive are often assumed is associated to be with asymmetrical (London rhythms, while 2005) divisive rhythms symmetrical.

Adding to the confusion is the use of the term "rhythm" in this context. The way I understand this (and several other) definitions and descriptions of what is implied is really "meter" the concepts of additive and divisive, is that as I use the term in this article, and not "rhythm." Examples of additive meters frequently include 5/8?either as 2+3 or 3+2,7/8 as 2+2+3 or 3+2+2 and 9/8 as 2+2+2+3. Divisive meters are typically shown as 2/4,4/4 or 3/4. With such examples, the distinction additive/divisive But themathematical construction of the additive and may look quite obvious. divisive meters is not thewhole matter. There also seems to be consensus in

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Kvifte: Perception



the literature that the difference is a question of perception. To perceive a rhythm as additive is fundamentally different from perceiving it as divisive. Berger, for instance, says explicitly, "It is important here to realize that odd versus even meters must not be conflated with additive versus divisive time" (1997:485). The point is that it ispossible to perceive a given musical sound inboth ways, with distinctly different musical experiences. One example, that Sachs himself used, is a pattern of 3+3+2 (1953:90). Perceived in a divisive

one can hear in it an isochronous series of beats and that these beats are hierarchically structured. In some cases, however, one cannot infer awholly isochronous metric structure from the durations present on the musical surface. In particular, there may be some meters where the beat level of themetric hierarchy consists of a nonisochronous series of durations; these

context one perceives the beats as the basis, and then finds the subdivisions by dividing the beat. In the additive context, the subdivisions are basic and added together to form beats. Relevant in this context is the concept of "complex meters" as described London: "Describing a musical passage as 'metric' usually implies that by

context, this pattern may be described as a syncopated pattern in a four beat bar. But in an additive context, each of the pulses is to be perceived as the actual beat of a three-beat bar,where the beats have different duration, as shown in Figure 1. The basis of the difference may be that in a divisive

cases are referred to as complex meters"2 (1995:59). In plain language, in a complex meter the beats do not have the same length. This definition does not in itselfpresuppose anything in the direction of how themeter is expe rienced, specifically not whether it is the bar, beat or subdivision level that
is at the center of the metric

London uses the following excerpt (Figure 2) from Bernstein's melody "America" as an example. Instead of interpreting the perceived meter as chang Figure 1.A 3+3+2 pattern perceived


in a divisive (upper) and additive (lower)


p r





r T

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Winter 2007 (1995) as

Figure 2. From "America" by Leonard Bernstein, used by London

an example of a complex meter.

ing between 6/8 and 3/4,he suggests thatone should allow forbeats not being
isochronous, and describes the pattern as a "five-beat metric structure: two

long beats followed by three shorter beats (L-L-S-S-S)" (London 1995:66). But in London's context, such meters pose a problem: "A series of non I have posited that isochronous B[eat]s poses a special problem because the B level functions as the reference level in the construction of themetric level function as the temporal 'anchor' hierarchy. How can a nonisochronous for the construction of other levels of the metric hierarchy? The answer is that it can do so via the stabilizing presence of a level of isochronous S[ub]D[ivision]s" (ibid.). London goes on towrite that "in thismusical con text the listener will make an extra effort tomaintain the SD level in order

to assist with her/his comprehension of the B level," or, in other words, the levels of SDs "provide an isochronous baseline upon which nonisochronous themetric hierarchy may be constructed" (ibid.:67). A strikingly similar idea is found inAfrican rhythm discussions in the
1970s and 1980s. One

diversely called multimeter, polyrhythms or, as inKauffman's paper, "African Rhythm?a Reassessment," multi-rhythms: "One of themore widely accepted theories ofAfrican music is thatmulti-rhythms can be reconciled by relating them to a common fast beat." Under the heading,"The Theory of a Common
Fast Beat," he considers both Waterman's





to understand



"density referent" (Kauffman 1980:396). Richard Waterman wrote thatAfrican multi-rhythm was "structured along a theoretical framework of beats regularly spaced in time and of cooperation in terms of overt or inhib itedmotor behavior with the pulses of the metric pattern whether or not and Hood's the beats are expressed in actual melodic or percussion tones" (Waterman 1952:211-12, as quoted inKauffman 1980:396). Kauffman continues: "Wa terman believes that these beats provide a 'metronome sense' that operates





Density Referent" (1982:114).

behind themusic" (ibid.). A similar idea is represented inMantle Hood's concept of "Density Ref erent": "What was the fastest pulse in the piece, discounting momentary doubling or tripling characteristic of rhythmic ornamentation? Although no one could saywhat the slowest pulse of a piece might be, everyone agreed that each piece has a fastest pulse. This measuring device was dubbed the

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Kvifte: Perception



Lerdahl and Jackendoff's theories are explicitly formulated to be relevant for tonalwestern music, and they point out that the rules they describe may not be universally applicable in all details. In connection with meter, they give four rules ofwell-formedness, and indicate that the fourth rule may be subject to variations in other styles of music. According to this rule, "The tactus and immediately largermetrical levels must consist of beats equally spaced throughout the piece. At subtactus metrical levels,weak beats must

be equally spaced between the surrounding strong beats... [This]makes the tactus theminimal metrical level that is required to be continuous (though there is nothing prohibiting smaller levels from being continuous too). It also permits the tactus to be subdivided into threes at one point and twos at another, as long as particular beats of the tactus are evenly subdivided" (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983:72). As it stands, this rule asserts that beats must be evenly spaced. But the rule does not imply that Lerdahl and Jackendoff are of the opinion that there should be an isochronous

inmind, indicating how her rules for generation of possible meters might be used to formmeters where the beats are of two kinds with a 3:2 ratio. Singer's observation that "the fact that the absolute duration of the units often does not make a perfect 2:3 ratio" (ibid.:386) is also relevant in have this context, and Iwill return to this later.

lowest level. They say explicitly that the beats may be subdivided in differentways at different points in themusic. Further, they are also open tometers where the beats actually have different durations. They use Singer's paper on "The Metrical Structure of Macedonian Dance" (Singer 1974), as an example on what kind(s) of variation to the rule they

The Problem Specified

to descriptions of additive and complex meters, is the view that formulates by asking: "How can a nonisochronous level London point function as the temporal 'anchor' for the construction of other levels of the metric hierarchy? The answer is that itcan do so via the stabilizing presence Common

of a level of isochronous SDs" (1995:66). In other words, to be able to per we form?or entrain3 to?a pattern of beats that do not have the same length, a to at this ticks clock that must, according view, keep going regular intervals, and the beats must conform tomultiples of the clock units. London goes so far as to formulate this as one of his general principles ofmeter: "If the B level is not isochronous, then the SD level must be isochronous. Furthermore, the listener will maintain this level even when it is not present in the musical signal in order to stabilize and track the nonisochronous patterning of the B level" (ibid. :69).

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Winter 2007

This brings up several questions. How arewe able tomaintain consistent pattern of nonisochronous beats? How will we as listeners be able to entrain to such a series? If the experience of tempo is tied to the beat, how do we perceive tempo when the beats are not all the same? The solution offered by many authors is deceptively simple and convincing. Given a yardstick of

small, equal units, all the levels above will be easy to explain. Such a yardstick is (relatively) easy to entrain to, and ifyou are entrained to this level in the hierarchy, it is almost trivial to entrain to other levels. Ifbeats are unequal, one could assume that tempo is tied to the isochronous lower level rather than to beats. Therefore, it is not surprising to find this idea in several versions, as described above.

Discussion But there are, inmy view, several reasons why the CFP theories should not be regarded as universal theories of meter. The most obvious observa tion, and also perhaps themost difficult to defend by hard evidence, ismy own experience playing complex meters. I fully agree that counting equally me the first time I tried to play melo spaced subdivisions was necessary for also for a long time thereafter.But I am equally clear dies in 5/8 or 7/8?and me to play a 7/8 tune in a musically satisfyingway that it is not possible for
if I have to count the subdivisions to be able

music in a complex meter and feel comfortable, I have to be able to feel the nonisochronous beats as basic. Instead of 1-2,1-2,1-2-3,1 will feel 1,2, long 3, etc, or Quick-Quick-Slow using Singer's (1974:386) terminology. Imay of course feel the subdivisions ifneed be, but I don't have to, as for instance, when a melody line articulates the beats, or even longer units, but does not

to keep

the meter.



articulate the subdivisional units.When I talk to fellow musicians about this, they are quite clear in their opinions that the beat level is the primary focus, and that paying too close attention to the subdivisions is detrimental to get ting the groove right. A 2+2+3 meter will
structure, rather than

therefore be described
with seven

in terms

of a three-beat

as a structure


One should also point out, as Singer did in the quote above, that the beats are not always simple sums of an even underlying pulse. Further, Blom states:
A as com is to depict the measure third procedure employed by some dancers, of short vs long, or quick vs slow units. In terms of relative duration the posed is largely but not entirely This method short / fast units are 2/3 of a long / slow... adequate example, as far as the segmentation in which the last metrical of time unit is concerned. There are dances, for of the measure is regularly elongated

by approximately half a temporal unit. (Blom 1978:4)

Following this idea,we may look at measurements made of actual sub divisions of the beat in performed music and other genres. Given a metric framework with a lowest level of fast, isochronous units, one would expect

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Kvif te:Perception



to find subdivisions of beats that fall into very few categories of duration, conforming to a subdivision of the beats into 2,3,4, or in rare cases, up to 5 and 6.1 present one set of data for subdivisions of beats in my article "Descrip tion of Grooves and Syntax/Process Dialectics" (2004). Therein, a number of measures of a Norwegian springar (a particular dance genre) that has three isochronous4 beats are measured. The beats are typically subdivided
in two or three notes.

for the note pairs of 36 beats are summarized

line represents a beat with two notes, where


at only

the beats



notes, are



in a graph in Figure 3. Each

the notes represented by

the endpoints of the line connecting them. The vertical placement of the endpoints represents the length of the note, measured in percentage of the beat. As the sum of the two notes will always add up to 100%, a high value for the first note will produce a low value for the second, and vice versa. A note pair that divides the beat in two equal parts will thus produce a hori zontal line in the graph. The graph may indicate that the note pair values
form almost a continuum between the extreme values. Also, controlling for

the possible systematic differences between the three beats of the bar does not bring any order to the chaos (Kvifte 2004:70).


3. Relative 90


of notes

in note-pairs

in a springar




+J 60 05 0) _Q M? O 4-1 50 C <0 ut_ 0) ?40




Note number

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Winter 2007

built on a division of the beat into three, is refuted: "To be sure, exclusively though seemingly not often enough to bolster tripleted phrases do occur... the claim that jazz eighths are fundamentally triplets" (Benadon 2006:91). Figure 4 shows BUR distribution for solos by two different performers. For the sake of comparison, themeasurements shown in Figure 3 are converted to BURs, distributed on Benadon's
refer to percentages rather

Drawing on data from a different genre, Benadon's measurements (2006) seem to confirm this absence of a simple and clear-cut subdivision of the beat. Part of Benadon's paper describes the beat-upbeat ratio5 (abbreviated BUR) for series of eighths in solos by a number ofwell-known jazz musicians. His data does not seem to indicate any evidence for clear categories of subdivi belief that jazz phrasing is sions of the beats. Specifically, the widespread

scale, and shown


in Figure 5. Here





in the two mentioned should also note that the music measured papers is not especially "untidy" in the sense of amarked tendency to agogic performance with a great deal of tempo stretching and compression. On the contrary, both papers draw on genres where strict tempo is important and would, in any case, be valued; the Norwegian example being dance music. It difficult to argue that tempo variations should be an important factor on the One

Another type of evidence may be found in a number of Scandinavian springar and polska dialects. In these meters, the three beats are of different length and the relative lengths of the beats do not conform to any simple multiple of common isochronous (2006),










are measured.

subdivision. These genres have received

Figure 4. From Benadon

large the figure. number

of note-pairs

two performers.

showing distribution of BUR values

BUR scale

for a

at the bottom

Bill Evans



n 1 52 39 43 35
6 in

fi ri. PI
Dexter Gordon












2.0 1.9


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Kvifte: Perception
5. Data Figure distribution. from tune Leif

shown as







Leif Rygg

3 1.3 1.4 1.5

6 D_ <0.3


0.4 0.5




n -nnn
0.9 1.0 1.1




? ?g

3 1.9

3 2.0>2.0


attention in the Scandinavian

research literature formore

than 100

single performances. One suggested descriptive model is shown in Figure 6 where the short firstbeat in some types "gives" time to the long second beat within certain limits. In thismodel, the medium beat is always one third of
the measure. However, measurements of actual

years (e.g.,Groven 1971;Blom 1981;Ramsten 1982;Saeta 1992;Kvifte 1999). However there is still no general consensus on how these meters are to be understood, except for the practically unanimous view that the three beats as a rule will not have a common isochronous SD level. Also noted by many, is the great variation on the relative length of the three beats; not only between different dialects of themusic, but also between performers and even within

varieties such as short-long-long,with the three beats taking approximately




as shown in relative in a bar in springar 6. Variations Figure length of beat are supposed in Blom Most to fall in the area from (1993). performances to 3:5:4. The lowest line included for illustration of the ratios 3:3:3 only.

h .h




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Winter 2007

25,37 and 37 percent of themeasure, not at all conforming to thismodel. Also complicating the matter is the rich variety of possible subdivisions, as the above example indicated. One should also note that there seems to be no doubt about tempo being perceived as constant, and not affected by the different lengths of the beats. The springar genre is an example of a metric typewhere neither the entrainment of a listener or the tempo-keeping of a performer may be easily explained by a subdivisional clock pulse. In fact, a Common Fast Pulse theory ismore of an added complication than an expla nation in this case because the observed relative lengths of the beats. of Expressive Variation? a common fast pulse can not be used to describe

A Question

variation during performance.6 Such variations may then be construed as faulty means of expression. London, for instance, is of course aware of the problems
raised by such variations, and spends a lengthy footnote on this: the rest timings varia A note here and throughout the use of the term "isochronous" regarding It is, of course, well known that in performance, metric of this paper: are rarely isochronous, to a degree of expressive but in fact are subject performance, as random variations or, more interesting in this connection, as a

One possible way to save the theory of a common fast beat, may be to invoke the theoretically important distinction between categories of duration and performed durations. In this perspective, the units referred to in the con struction ofmetric hierarchies are to be understood as durational categories, that (like any other category of any other musical parameter) are subject to

tion?see, forexample Gabrielsson (1982),Sloboda (1983), Clarke (1985,1989), Shaffer, Clarke, andTodd (1985), andTodd (1985). On the other hand, it isboth
those temporal patterns temporal I speak of "isochronous" in when Therefore, I am using the term as a shorthand for "an underlying series of isochronous (London durations 1995:60) that are subject that patterns that involve

to distinguish between and desirable necessary even durations and those involve more-or-less categorically the following representation to expressive different durations.

examples, of an idealized variation

in performance."

Iwill not argue against this.On the contrary, Iwill underscore the im portant point thatwe have to distinguish clearly between "those temporal patterns that involve more-or-less even durations and those temporal pat terns that involve categorically different durations." This is of course in no tomicrorhythmic studies, and the distinction is in fact one of opposition the main points in one of the classic papers on microrhythmic structure (Bengtsson 1974). Also, what has been said above on the subdivisions in springar and jazz performances, is not in opposition to this. In both cases beats are subdivided in two or three. The confusion startswhen questions of timing and questions of categories are mixed together. The point where

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Kvifte: Perception



I disagree with London, is where he states that a nonisochronous level must be upheld by an isochronous lower level. This is a statement regarding not only metric structure, but timing practice, and I understand this tomean that a nonisochronous level must get its timing information from a lower level clock. A similar thought seems tome to be the rationale for the concepts of

both metronome sense and density referent. or against, the notion that I will not argue for, African meters and rhythms (whatever one would take such a generalization tomean) are to be under stood in terms of a CFP theory. But Iwill argue against generalizing such theories to the extent thatALL metrical music is to be understood as built from a lowest isochronous level, in the sense that such a level gives stability and timing to thewhole structure. This is how I read London, and also how I understand the concepts of density referent and metronome sense. Lerdahl

and Jackendoff's rules imply a lowest isochronous level, but they do not tie the lowest level to timing questions. On the contrary, they seem to indicate what they call the "tactus" level to be central in questions of timing:
However, The not all these tends levels of metrical structure are heard two) and on one (or primarily rate. This which the beats pass by at a moderate ductor waves his baton, the listener taps his foot, shift inweight (see Singer 1974, p. 391). Adapting listener to focus such a level the tactus. The regularities of metrical by at this level. As direction, the listener progresses away of his metrical perception structure at small becomes levels as equally intermediate prominent. level(s) the con in

is the level

at which

the dancer

the Renaissance structure from

a completes term, we call are most stringent in either


the tactus

can easily alter or superimpose, and at very small levels?imagine, of 32nd say, a cascade notes?metrical At large levels the patterns distinctions become academic. of accentuation less distinctive, blurring any potential tend to become phenomenal metrical and Jackendoff (Lerdahl 1983:21) pattern. extrapolated flow. Thus nate triplets

greater sense of musical

the acuity liberty in metrical


possible and duplets

fades; correspondingly, without his disrupting



to a tactus level as described in the citation above, regarding the levels be low as formed by dividing the beat and the levels above by adding the beats together. The levels below are perceived as divisive and the levels above are perceived as additive.

we can't use the fast isochronous clock pulse or Common Fast Pulse If to explain allmeters, what other possible explanations are there? Well, there is of course the Common Slow Pulse. Instead of thinking about the pulse in the same way as a clock where all time units are built from one fast reference pulse, such as a pendulum or the oscillations of a crystal,we might hold on

The premise that puts the CFP paradigm into trouble is the idea that divisions can only be composed of equal units. If one divides a beat into

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Winter 2007

two, the two parts are supposed to be equal. And of course this is correct if one takes for granted that to divide is using themathematical operation of division. But there is no reason why it should be so. As my children know very well, when I divide a chocolate bar into three pieces, there is absolutely no guarantee that those three pieces will be of the same size. The reason is simple; I do not use a calculator to divide the chocolate; I use my body. In the same way, when we, as listeners or performers ofmusic, subdivide beats,
do not use calculators, we use our bodies.


But in light of the following discussion where meter is seen as connected to body movements, one might wonder what kinds of constraints possible ways of moving the body might place on subdivisions of units. Ifone tries to understand metric perception as the passive undertaking of a person sitting in a chair, the idea of a fast clock pulse, produced somewhere

we have a referent level above the beats, there is no Seen in thisway, if reason the beats should have not only different lengths, but also lengths that are not simple multiples of shorter subdivisions. In fact, theymay have any kind ofmutual relationship, as long as they add up to a unit on the level above.

we consider in the nervous system,may seem a tempting explanation. But if a different,but stillquite common context forperformance ofmusic, namely music played fordance, we may think in another way. The all-important factor in this connection is that it is possible
in your body, can

to entrain your body movements

a common movement


the music;

themusic and other possible participants. Such kinds of movements are, in my opinion, more likely candidates for referent level units than a fast clock pulse without any clear location in the body. One argument in favor of this view is the empirical evidence of the close relationship between observable body movement patterns (as in dance) and metrical patterns inmusic. A fellow musician once remarked to me that to get the members of a band to play in timewith each other, and be in the same groove, is a question "walking in the same way." Similar,but empirically farbetter grounded arguments, are found in the dance research of Jan-Petter Blom. In some genres of traditional Scandinavian dance, there are many ways a dance couple may move. The following quote has to do with so-called Norwegian bygdedanser, but, if taken as a general description, may be used formany of themusicians

that you,



pattern of up-and-down movements of the dancers' center of gravity. Such movements, called "librations" in Blom's terminology, are a necessary part of normal walking, and may, for the purpose of illustration, be represented by a series of straight lines as shown in Figure 7a. The vertical position of the

other dances: "Dances are composed as a continuous sequencing of interac tion motifs and themes comprising systematic adaptations of holds, turns, distances and relative positions" (Blom 1981:306). The point is thatwhatever types of interaction motifs a dance couple an is there important invariant in the performance, namely the performs,

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Kvifte: Perception



same duration as the fundamental unit of the musical meter of 3/4, and b) distinctive for this kind of dance. Other dances, with a three-beat musical meter structure, have different and characteristic librational patterns. Differ ent dialects of the Norwegian springar dance may, in fact, be distinguished both on the basis of their respective librational patterns and on the basis of their specific version of themeter; their characteristic groove. Figure 8 shows librational patterns for two different varieties of the springar dance. I believe the specificity of these observations form a convincing argu ment forbody movements as central tometer. This isnot just another general

body's center of gravity is represented on the y-axis, and time on the x-axis. The basic unit for analysis is one down-and-up movement, a "dance beat" in Blom's terminology. Figure 7b shows a typical librational pattern for one type of waltz. Here two dance beats, the first twice as long as the second, form a unit that is repeated throughout the dance. This pattern is a) of the

observation such as that heartbeats orwalking steps have approximately the same frequency as fundamental beats in many kinds ofmusic. On the contrary, Blom shows that there are specific characteristics of body movement that correspond to characteristics ofmeter in the associated music.


Figure 7. Librational patterns, walking

axes are vertical displacement

(a) and waltz (b). From Blom (1981).

of body's center of gravity ("vertical

Space" or line S) and time (t). L and R for Left and Right foot. (L) and (R) auxiliaries; the tie is for continuity of support.





r rw

(L) R

r r is
L (R) L

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Figure springar

8. Librational dance, as

Winter 2007
two different varieties of the Norwegian

for patterns shown in Blom


A furtherobservation along the same line ispertinent also to the remarks above on my practical experiences with so-called complex meters. In some Balkan dances and a variety of Norwegian gangar (a dance, like springar, belonging to the above mentioned bygdedans type) one may find a pattern In a discussion that Blom and I pub where pulses are grouped 2+2+3+2+3. lished, Blom wrote in response to some ofmy arguments:
However, itwould be more

the followingwithout takingdance rhythm into account: The bowing figure ingangar is not experienced or considered by Kvifte or any 2+2+3+2+(2+l)
scholar it represents, same grouping due a musical to represent to the bowshifts, very well might meter. Why is this so in spite of the fact that a patterned distribution of stresses, while the the content of a Balkan have been 12/8 meter?7


to me

if he finds

it possible

to explain


(Blom and Kvifte 1986:515)

What is important here is the observation of the correspondence of the normally perceived metric structure and the preferred pattern of bodily mo tion. In this case, we might find that the Balkan pattern shown in Figure 9a, with one dance beat for each of the groups 2+2+3+2+38 effectively forms a a structure of 5 dance beats, corresponding to perceived 5-nonisochronous

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Kvifte: Perception
Figure 9. Librational patterns for dance corresponding



to a 2+2+3+2+3

cal pattern; Balkan-style (above)

and Norwegian

gangar style (below).

beat musical meter. In the gangar, however, the same pattern will be perceived in a 4-beat structure with 4 isochronous dance beats. These may be shaped as a 2:1 down-up time relationship or, alternatively, alternating with some

with references to diverse fields such as linguistics and neurology, that our perception of all kinds of musical events may be better understood on the background of our practical experiences of how movements and manipula tion of objects
I believe element

1:2 groups to bring out the accents in the pattern, as shown in Figure 9b. This argument may also be seen in thewider context ofmotor-mimetic and sensori-motor theories. God0y argues from a ecological point of view,

(including musical

instruments) produce


in the direction Iwould this points of what like to call a motor-mimetic in music and cognition, meaning that we mentally imitate perception we or that we may to music, actions when listen attentively sound-producing as it unfolds. the contours of the music imagine tracing or drawing actively of such a motor-mimetic aspects theory, I as well as a to support this as a hypothesis for the crossmodal of music, which workings explanation as follows: Motor-mimesis translates from musical sound

there are many unexplored Although believe there is now enough material

hopefully productive may be summarized to visual both of singular actions, images by a simulation of sound-producing motor sounds and of more musical and textures, forming phrases complex in our minds. that re-code and help store musical sound programs (Godoy

2003:318, emphasis inoriginal)

God0y references primarily what he calls musical "objects" and how they are understood, and does not explicitly tie his arguments to the time

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Winter 2007

dimension ofmeter and rhythm.A more specific argument in that direction is found inTodd where a "sensory-motor theory of rhythm, time perception and beat induction" is described:
We account of sensory for these phenomena systems, which by the interaction in terms of the power information of the sensory represent spectrum temporal has certain natural frequencies. The central image, and the motor system, which is not a passive is that beat induction but, rather, a form of process assumption action that that involving all the sensory and motor components sensory-guided i.e., major it controls. of the nervous system system and the musculoskeletal portions Even if the musculoskeletal .is not activated, i.e., there system.. levels of the system ("the controller") output, the higher supraspinal

entails, which are. To ternal which

is no motor

is the in be more beat induction agent mediating specific, the principal of the musculoskeletal system and its dynamic representation properties as a "feedforward" the "controller" model. 1999:5) (Todd requires

Connecting body movements along the lines described above, we do not need isochronous units on the lowest level in the meter, and meters like those described for springar above do not need to be explained away as "atypical" or "irregular,"and may not pose great theoretical problems. On

The idea put forward here is quite simple. One should distinguish be tween categorical models and timing pattern models. The organization of durational categories may need different descriptions than themechanisms of timing that are atwork. The categorical models may very well be like the ones described by London or Lerdahl and Jackendoff, but will not need to point out primary, referent or tactus levels. A timingmodel, however, will have to define such a primary level thatmay, or may not, coincide with what is perceived as a tactus level in the sense used by Lerdahl and Jackendoff. From this level, one can imagine two distinct processes, one additive, where isochronous pulses are added together to form higher-level units, and one divisive that splits a given level into smaller units that do not have to conform to simple mathematical fractions of the unit above. As data from springar

the other hand, we lose the neat descriptions offered by the CFP theories in terms of categories on different levels of a metric hierarchy.

performances indicate, such divisive processes may continue at least two levels down (e.g., affect both B and SD levels). we do not have to relegate The distinctive feature of thisperspective is that all deviations frommathematical ratios to "expressiveness," but are free to in clude any kind of subdivisions intomodels
to represent such patterns

ofmetrical patterns. The question

notation, however, remains un

of how

in standard

solved, as does thewhole question of a suitable description of such patterns. The perspective of a timingmodel puts the question of durational cat Under the CFP paradigm, the data concerning the egories in a different light.

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Kvifte: Perception



SD level in the springar and jazz data referred to above are difficult to explain. They do not seem to indicate any clear categories on the SD levels as would be expected if the durations are to be constructed from building blocks of

we stillhave no trouble in assigning durational categories such as, forexample, "equal-equal","long-short" or "short-long" tomusical events splitting a beat in

fixed length. Using the Common Slow Pulse model, any subdivision of the beat would be possible, and the data pose no problems here. This is not to say that the question of durational categories below the B level iswithout interest.Even ifthe actual time values forunits on this level vary significantly,

will, to a larger degree than the CFP model, encourage empirical studies of actual performances, of livemusicians'and listeners'perception of themusic inquestion, to unveil the categories atwork. To what extent such categories are possible to infer frommeasurements of the musical sound alone, is an open question, and, inmy view, not to be taken for granted. The Common Slow Pulse model also draws attention to another aspect of the models of London, and Lerdahl and Jackendoff. These models try to explain how metrical information may, on the basis of general rules, be computed from a

two. But the possible variation in actual duration may be much larger than if the units would also have to serve as a base for timing on levels above. Instead of postulating a number of possible categories from the available units on lower levels in a categorical model, a Common Slow Pulse model


signal. In other words, learning is not really a part of these models, possibly apart from somehow learning the rules described by the theories. The Common Slow Pulse model, allowing for arbitrary divisions of units,will be much harder to explain using computing algorithms where sound data is the only input.On the other hand, one would expect learning and experience to be of importance using thismodel, and see the process of entraining to a meter more as a pattern-recognition task than a computational task, that is, musical a matter of learning to recognize and discriminate a large number of (musical) patterns than of learning to apply a small number of rules. It is not central to the argument here whether meters with a lowest iso chronous level exist or not.What I have tried to show is only that there is evidence from some (common) musical performances that does not fit such

amodel verywell, and that another model may explain the observations more completely. I do not argue that the CSP model is a better universal model of meter than the fast common pulse model, but rather Iwould like to state the need forbetter typologies ofmeter than those offered by western notation. One possibility may be thatmeters with a common fastbeat form a class of their own, distinct frommeters where the lowest level isnot isochronous. Alternatively, one could imagine a typology of meters based on "lowest iso
chronous level."

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Ethnomusicology, Remarks

Winter 2007

Concluding formeter

by researchers with either too littlepractical experience with livingmusic, or with too much respect for traditionalWestern European music theory. It should be remarked that in the discussions in this paper, two different ways of viewing meter have been mentioned, namely meter as produced and performed by a performer, and meter as perceived by a listener, dancer or performer. Itmay very well be that these two situations should be treated separately in a more detailed discussion. One might also want to discriminate further.For example, one could assume that there are significant differences the demands for precision and stability inmeter production and perception put on a dancer in a crowd vs. a musician in a jazz band vs. a solo between classical piano performer. Have I really explained

to be central also in ethnomusicological literature is strange conception because there are quite a number of obvious observations to contradict the idea. Therefore, I think that insisting that additive meters must be perceived in terms of adding subdivisional units is an ethnocentric fallacy,promoted

If the idea of an isochronous basic clock pulse as the universal basis inmusic were found exclusively in theories concerning western art classical music, Iwould perhaps not be too surprised. But finding this

anything at all by asserting that units on a certain units? Is this metric level may be subdivided in arbitrary nonisochronous really an alternative explanation? Will we not still have to explain what we actually do to perform and maintain irregular relationships between beats? Yes, of course. I have not explained how we do that. But I have given some

in the study of dance by simple division by integers is amply documented movements. How it is done is another matter that is not very well studied in literature, but this question deserves more thought. musicological Further, the CSP model hinted at here also requires a level of isochronous units, just as the CFP model does. The difference however is that in the CSP model it is not necessarily the lowest level. But then, is itpossible to imagine a meter where NO level has isochronous units?

empirical evidence thatwe actually are able to do this, and I have tried to show where to look for explanations. The crucial difference here is that the low-level hypotheses leads us to look for fast oscillators, most likely located in the brain. The higher-level hypotheses will lead our attention in the direction of bodily movements in the same frequency range as normal walking speed or, we as Iprefer to see it,in the range of typical dance movements. The fact that are able to subdivide such movements in ways that are not easily described

1. Interonset events; interval (abbreviated i. e., two beats or two tones. IOI) is the time between the onset of two consecutive

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Kvifte: Perception



to claim that non-iso 2. Later, London left the term "complex meter": "... it is problematic chronous meters are more complex than isochronous meters tout court. Thus, I am rejecting ..." (2004:174). The main the use of the term "complex meters" that I previously employed the necessity of an isochronous lower level remains, however. argument concerning

however, is tightly coordinated down movements of the bodies in three main beats

3. See Clayton (2004) for a discussion of the concept of entrainment. or to a group of dances known as bygdedanser 4.The springar type of dance belongs in a circle on the floor, and each couple performs "countryside dances "Couples are organized a series of dance motifs only loosely coordinated with the other couples. The dance rhythm, between fiddler and dance The music of the dancers. couples, and is visible in the up said to be found is conventionally one with three beats in the measure, three beats in a long-medium-short

categories, one with three isochronous in a pattern of short-long-medium, and one with

pattern. 5."The Beat-Upbeat Ratio [BUR] calculates the proportion between notes] by dividing the durational value of the first by that of the second. eighths yield a BUR of 1.0,whereas 2006:75). 6. The a BUR of 2.0 represents

[two successive eighth Thus, two equally long a triple configuration ..." (Benadon

see e.g., the references in the following literature in this field is comprehensive; for a discussion of ) or Kvifte (1992:43) quote by London (1995). See also Kvifte (1989:94-96 the concepts analog/digital in this connection. I am still unable to explain thiswithout reference to 7.Twenty years after this discussion, dance meter, and do, accordingly, now look more to motor and gestural evidence than I did at the time of the quoted paper. 8.The down-up movement relations will normally be 1:1 for the "2"-groups. For the "3" In this particular case, the 1:2 version is chosen.

groups both

1:2 and 2:1 are possible.

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