Arhythmic music?
January 13, 2012 4:39 PM   Subscribe

Are there any songs that change tempo every bar or nearly every bar?

That's all. Just curious to know if anyone has made a piece that varies in tempo every bar, and curious to know what it sounds like.
posted by outlandishmarxist to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Stravinsky comes close...have you listened to the Rite of Spring?
Also check out L'Histoire du Soldat. The link there is to the last movement but I think there's a lot of rhythmic variation in the earlier movements as well.
posted by costanza at 4:54 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The music performance term 'rubato' indicates that the performer should vary the tempo freely.
posted by Hither at 4:56 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to self-link here (to a MeFi music post), because I sort of attempted something like this. Instead of changing tempo every bar, what I did was to use to same phrase played at the same tempo, but with one note getting a little extended each bar. So while the tempo technically stays the same, the time signature is different for every bar. But, the effect is similar to what it would be like to change tempo every bar (or mid bar every bar). My idea was to make a piece that seemed like it just got a little slower throughout the whole thing. It kind of worked - it's tough to play.

Some of Reich's early phase stuff (piano phase, violin phase, it's gonna rain, come out to show them) kind of have this effect also, but without technically changing tempo every bar.

As far as I know, there isn't a piece that actually changes tempo every bar. Just from a practical performance stand point, there are sort of easier ways, notation and performance wise, to get a similar effect without actually having to make the musicians jump from 120 to 93 to 62 to 198 every bar (like the above examples, or just working within the tempo set but playing with rhythm and meter, or doing something free form, or using metric modulation stuff a la Carter).

Stravinsky, like in the Rite of Spring, changes tempo a lot, it's true, but he gets the real uneven feel (like in the 2nd part), by playing with rhythm and accents, not technically changing the tempo.

I'll be very interested if someone comes up with something, however.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:58 PM on January 13, 2012

See also free time. The wikipedia page gives some examples.

Also related is the 'cadenza' which can be in in free time.
posted by Hither at 5:06 PM on January 13, 2012

"Prhizzm - Half Asleep" is heavy with tempo changes. Not quite every bar, though. It's electronic music.
posted by colinshark at 5:32 PM on January 13, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, also interested in pieces that have constantly shifting time signatures.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:12 PM on January 13, 2012

Best answer: In Brian Eno's "Fullness of Wind" "the tempo decreases relative to the pitch of the instrument. The violins have the fastest rate of decay while the basses have the slowest." Wikipedia; the piece on YouTube

For changing time signatures, look to Bulgarian music. For example, "Jove Malaj Mome" alternates between 7/8 and 11/8, at least the way westerners transcribe it. Sandansko Horo is often written as 2 measures of 9 and one measure of 4.
posted by ceiba at 7:15 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Faero Island Dance composed by Percy Grainger. I don't think the time signature ever stays the same from one measure to the next.

Serenade composed by Derek Bourgeois is in 11/8 and 13/8
posted by Green With You at 8:41 PM on January 13, 2012

Solid liquid gas by They Might Be Giants.
posted by umbú at 8:45 PM on January 13, 2012

Oops. I didn't see the avant-garde tag there.
posted by umbú at 8:48 PM on January 13, 2012

Not every bar by a long shot, but "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part II" changes time signatures pretty frequently. Also: completely amazing.
posted by mintcake! at 9:05 PM on January 13, 2012

Best answer: A new tempo change every bar (along with a new genre):

John Zorn - Speedfreaks
posted by markblasco at 11:29 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Ozric Tentacles make a feature of both using less common time signatures, and changing throughout songs regularly. Check Saucers, for example, where they mix bars of (what I think are) 5/4 with 3/4, occasionally sticking an extra bar of 5/4 or switching to 6/4 just to keep you on your toes. They're my guilty pleasure, I shouldn't really like them as they are ludicrously new-agey/crusty, I put it down to some misguided teenage years
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 2:15 AM on January 14, 2012

Phish's song Reba uses the time signature to play out a phone number in the middle. And Dave Matthews Band's Rapunzel switches time signatures quite a bit.
posted by MeiraV at 8:59 AM on January 14, 2012

Li'l Louis — French Kiss (starting at 1m40s).

Also, Klezmer music traditionally has a floating tempo.
posted by Tom-B at 11:38 AM on January 14, 2012

Response by poster: That John Zorn thing was kind of what I was thinking about. But it's interesting to see the range of ways people have tackled the same question.

@Umbú: avant-garde was just a suggestion. I'm interested in seeing the way anyone deals with shifting tempos.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 12:37 PM on January 14, 2012

Response by poster: I love that Brian Eno piece. It's absolutely brilliant.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 12:50 PM on January 14, 2012

Best answer: The Wikipedia article List of Musical Works in Unusual Time Signatures has a section near the bottom called Unusual Time Signature Combinations which seems like a good jumping off point.

Apparently, "The Dance of Eternity" by Dream Theater has 128 time signature changes in six minutes, and The Trial of Pontius Pilate from Jesus CHrist Superstar changes time signature 41 times. My partner once told me that Schism, by Tool, was constantly changing time signature, and I see here that it has been recorded as having 47 time signature changes. And, just from my memory, a piece I sang in chamber choir, an arrangement of Bobby Shaftoe by Robert Latham, seemed to change time signatures just about every bar. It sticks in my mind because it was so difficult!
posted by ilana at 10:54 PM on January 14, 2012

Argh, sorry, the song from JCS is called Trial Before Pilate.
posted by ilana at 10:55 PM on January 14, 2012

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