Dave Brubeck and Daft Punk walk into a bar
April 15, 2013 1:00 AM   Subscribe

It seems 4/4 is the universal time signature for electronic music / techno / EDM. Is there a song or artist that uses any other time signature in a consistent way? As in not just a bridge or for special effect.
posted by msittig to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Primus's song "Eleven" is in 11-4 time if I remember correctly.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:33 AM on April 15, 2013

Best answer: Also, have a look at this Wikipedia article for tons of options: List of musical works in unusual time signatures.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:35 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's Flutter by Autechre, which was designed to have no repetitive beats at all. (It's arguable whether that's really the case -- the melody certainly seems to repeat, but the drums and samples technically don't.)
posted by xil at 1:39 AM on April 15, 2013

"Money" by Pink Floyd.
posted by iviken at 1:47 AM on April 15, 2013

You're not going to find very many dance records that aren't in 4/4 for the simple reason that they're impossible to mix. I've seen a few records that had weird phrasing, where the riff was five or three beats long, but even so, they're still over the 4/4 beat.

You can get experimental IDM that's all over the place, but it's not techno or house.

One thing you CAN find all over the place in house music are polyrhythms, where the main beat is four to the floor, but the rest of the percussion is in different times.
posted by empath at 2:28 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

John Hiatt (who isn't very high on the list of artists expected to be playing around with odd time signatures) did Cry Love in 4+2/4
posted by penguinicity at 2:41 AM on April 15, 2013

Tubular Bells has a lot of interesting time signatures.
posted by flabdablet at 2:47 AM on April 15, 2013

Rush uses odd time signatures all the time. Their songs Freewill and Limelight are two examples.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 2:57 AM on April 15, 2013

Best answer: There are a couple of reasons I can think of why not much electronic music is in different time signatures.

One: It makes it much more difficult to mix, as stated before. Not only will the accents slip in and out of time, all the riffs and background effects will not line up, and it will sound terrible. As quite a lot of electronic music is designed with the mix in mind (anything that's not for the home listening crowd, basically - house, techno, electro, drum and bass, dubstep...the list of club music goes on) it's pretty much a requirement that it's in 4/4 if it's going to get play.

Two: A lot of hardware (and some software) is designed explicitly with this sort of thing in mind, and is inherently limited. A common amount of steps on a step sequencer (a device which triggers a sound with each "step"; universal on old hardware drum machines and some synthesizers) is 16; something that automatically lends itself to four divisions of four.

With software, there is no such hard limit anymore; but the default (because of the mixing issue) is generally in four, and with any default you'll get more people that won't change the settings than will.

Three: There's also the note that a lot of electronic music producers are not musically talented in the conventional sense. Often their skills are more texturally or engineering oriented, and will lack the baroque flourishes of musicianship that you get in things like jazz or prog rock, such as modulations, time signature changes, or more complicated harmonies simply because they're rather less versed in them. No offense meant to any producers; it is a different skillset.

If you wish to listen to complex time signatures, I mostly recommend progressive rock (a particular shout out to The Mars Volta for using 17/4).
In the electronic idiom Venetian Snares is a breakcore musician who uses a lot of different signatures, but he is definitely not for everybody.
Stockhausen is extremely unusual in his use of time, but while he worked in electronics he came about long before every single reason on my list could be even conceived of.

Further examples were I can think of them using such things reliably are either like VS (noisy rapid drum-based music) or Stockhausen (very abstract and somewhat informed by the classical tradition) so if you like either of those I can go fishing. Other examples in more "traditional" electronic music are mostly one-offs, I find.
posted by solarion at 3:59 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

So out of the mid 90s Rock / Industrial age there was a lot of excellent production. One of my favorite bands that hits odd time signatures and a bit of an electronic feel is probably the Tea Party. Just about all of their music changes up the time signature periodically. The songs are not just the songs you are hearing at the beginning - that's for sure. I've listed off a few that might fit the bill. I'd note: the most electronic/industrial album they put out was probably Transmission.

Save Me
Army Ants

A Pretty Extensive Concert
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:22 AM on April 15, 2013

Don Ellis, a jazz trumpeter and big band leader.
posted by bricoleur at 5:17 AM on April 15, 2013

Aphex Twin - Melodies from Mars track 1
Prefuse 73 - When Irony Wears Thin
posted by STFUDonnie at 5:58 AM on April 15, 2013

Kompakt (and other labels) released quite a few techno/house records in 12/8. Example.
posted by mkb at 7:12 AM on April 15, 2013

A lot of folk dance music is set in a meter particular to the dance for which it's written. Dances in 9/8 or 18/16 are not unheard of. This Wikipedia list will give you an idea of their diversity.
posted by The White Hat at 7:26 AM on April 15, 2013

You guys, OP is asking about electronic dance music, not folk or prog or jazz.
posted by blue t-shirt at 7:36 AM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

Captain Beefheart

If you've never spent much time with Beefheart, start with Trout Mask Replica - arguably his most difficult/brilliant album. There are different time-signatures being played on the same songs by the musicians, often completely against the grain. Not so much popular music as anti-popular anti-music. Produced by his childhood friend, Frank Zappa.
posted by 0bvious at 7:51 AM on April 15, 2013

Interesting question. Venetian Snares is the only all-electro artist I can think of who regularly used odd time signatures. It's not widely done in part because dance music by definition should consist of pretty straightforward, easily followed rhythmic patterns.
posted by voiceofreason at 8:04 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think The Notwist fits this. A few of their songs:

Pick Up The Phone
One With The Freaks
posted by augustimagination at 8:15 AM on April 15, 2013

this thread on ilx suggests Etienne Jaumet's "Repeat Again After Me" (3/4) and Micronost's "Got Mad Love" (5/4).
posted by blue t-shirt at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

LAMB's Sugar 5 is in, you guessed it, 5/4 (sorry, can't find one that hasn't been DMCA'd online)
Leftfield's 6/8 War is in, you guessed it, 6/8.
posted by bfranklin at 9:09 AM on April 15, 2013

Venetian Snares is the only all-electro artist I can think of who regularly used odd time signatures

The wiki page for Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom Poms (Grooveshark) has details on individual songs, as does the wiki page for Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding (Gs).

Here's another discussion of pieces with unusual time signatures, starting out by noting that Bob Dylan's The Times They Are a-Changin' was in 3/4, and that Gustav Holst's The Planets - Mars: Bringer of War was in 5/4.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2013

Kid Gloves by Rush
posted by 4ster at 10:12 AM on April 15, 2013

LAMB's Sugar 5 is in, you guessed it, 5/4 (sorry, can't find one that hasn't been DMCA'd online)

Yeah, Lamb does this stuff a lot. See also: Five, which shifts back and forth between 5/8 and 6/8, and Soft Mistake, which is in a consistent syncopated 10/8 (divided as 3/8+2/8+2/8+3/8).

They get filed under trip-hop and D&B, though I'm not sure either label is really a great fit.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:47 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think The Notwist fits this.

Neon Golden is a great album, but I'm pretty certain it's entirely in 4/4. All of the songs linked above are.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:06 PM on April 15, 2013

I was also sure Squarepusher had done stuff that would qualify, but I can't find anything. He's got a lot of music in really aggressively weird asymmetrical subdivisions of 4/4. And he's got a some stuff that for practical purposes doesn't really have a time signature, or that changes tempo so often it's not really worth bothering to count. But steady unambiguous 5/4 or 7/8, not so much.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:09 PM on April 15, 2013

As stated above, Lamb is good at this - their album Fear of Fours is pretty much all in non 4/4 time signatures, as the title suggests.
posted by Admira at 1:30 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Happy little (binary) trees. Is there a Bob Ross...   |   What advice would you give me if there might still... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.