Funky Fugue?
August 4, 2008 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend music that makes use of somewhat advanced counterpoint but doesn't have the rhythmic feel generally associated with baroque music?

I love the idea and sound of contrapuntal music, but all of the examples I've heard (and identified as such), Bach and other baroque composers, are somewhat boring rhythmically.

I'd be interested in hearing examples of syncopation or anything else rhythmically unusual in works of that era (perhaps interpretations of traditional pieces that take liberties?). More broadly speaking, I'd like to hear counterpoint in genres where it's not expected (you know, not associated with centuries-dead white guys). Pop, funk, jazz (particularly), hip hop, avant-garde electronic, even guitars, it's all welcome.

I realize what qualifies as true "counterpoint" is somewhat subjective. I guess I mean a strong sense of voice leading... multiple interesting rhythmically awesome melodies over one another.
posted by phrontist to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Moondog?
posted by neroli at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2008

Glenn Gould's Solitude Trilogy radiophonic work is at times a contrapunctic assemblage of overlapping voices. A fugue for actual voices.
posted by ddaavviidd at 11:11 AM on August 4, 2008

Samba often does this, and quirky experimental samba takes it to unexpected heights. Tom Ze's Doi (player to the left on that page) is a great example, and the 30 second clip they have in that page doesn't even show the most interesting part of the song, but gives you an idea.
posted by micayetoca at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2008

You might like Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint (and other works of his, too).
posted by judith at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2008

These are 20th-century classical compositions derived from the Baroque era that might be what you're looking for:

Shostakovich - 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 (not to be confused with his earlier composition with a similar name)

Gorecki - Harpsichord Concerto

Webern - Ricercar a 6 from Bach's Musical Offering

There's a lot more adventurous 20th-century music along these lines. Key search term: "neo-classical" (kind of a misnomer since it includes things that are more probably described as neo-Baroque).
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:52 AM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is a lot of polyphony in jazz. Check out early Louis Armstrong and Bix beiderbecke (New Orleans and Chicago style jazz). Many of Charles Mingus's compositions are based on riffs that build one on top of the other into dense polyphonic textures (one of my favorites: Moanin' from the Blues and Roots album). For a more refined sound, check out the Modern Jazz Quartet. The pianist, John Lewis, has even released albums of Bach's compositions played with a jazz trio. Towards the extreme end, there are free jazz artists like Ornette Coleman (large scale works like the Double Quartet, but even his small group stuff is often polyphonic (or harmelodic, as he would say)). You might like American Sacred Harp/Shape-note singing, which certainly has rhythmic vitality and an edge to the vocal quality.

There is a lot of interesting polyphony outside of Western music. Try out Baka or Mbuti bushman music (group, impromptu polyphony). There's also lots of interesting polyphony in Eastern Europe/Western Asia, like traditional Georgian music.
posted by imposster at 12:42 PM on August 4, 2008

posted by stenseng at 1:26 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Charles Mingus is a good start. Moanin', Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, Self Portrait in 3 Colors, and many more

Go way earlier and try Machaut. Thomas Tallis' 'Spem in Alium' breaks out into 40-part counterpoint towards the end.

Miles Davis' 'Nefertiti' has some of what is technically called "heterophony." At times there is the same melody being played simultaneously but with slight variations, ahead or behind the beat.

There are some wonderful moments of interesting counterpoint in Brian Wilson's "Smile"

A lot of the background figures in Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" (Sacre du Printemps).

One of the tracks on Radiohead's "Amnesiac" album ends with sort of a new orleans style free-for-all.

Rebirth Brass Band and other new orleans brass bands use a lot of "spontaneous" counterpoint which comes out of simultaneous improvisation.

I recall some interesting counterpoint in the Maria Schneider Big Band's album "Evanescence." I don't remember which pieces in particular, but listen to the whole album and you won't be disappointed.
posted by Alabaster at 1:49 PM on August 4, 2008

Hindemeth's Ludus Tonalis is Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier for the 20th century. He pulls so many fugal tricks and stunts that you could stay busy analysing for weeks.
posted by spamguy at 2:09 PM on August 4, 2008

Väsen do amazing things with acoustic instruments and Swedish traditional tunes. They're nearly telepathic.
posted by omnidrew at 2:09 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: Some of this stuff is really great. I'd heard of most of it, but hadn't recognized it for what it was.

To be clear, I'm looking for really well clear distinct voices. Moanin', while an awesome track, has less of sense of melodic movement through time than say, Ratatat.
posted by phrontist at 3:11 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: Moondog is now my role model.
posted by phrontist at 3:34 PM on August 4, 2008

Scott Joplin? Professor Longhair?
posted by hades at 4:50 PM on August 4, 2008

You've probably heard "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls.

Also on the musical-theatre tip, there's some very well crafted counterpoint in West Side Story, in particular in the "Quintet" ("The Jets are gonna have their way tonight....")

There's also the Quartet from "Chess."

Lots of counterpoint in "Chicago"

None of these are especially rhythmically challenging, but they may be a bit more angular and modern than your average baroque fugue.

A few years ago I heard on the Garrison Keillor show a folk ensemble do a juxtoposition of "Light the Menoreh" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," which was pretty awesome.

If I recall, Christopher Rouse's "Bump" from "Phantasmata" has some wacky syncopated 16th-note figures which enter in counterpoint with one another, maybe even in canon. The opening of "Infernal Machine" (also from Phantasmata) is several distinct voices gradually laying over one another.

I already mentioned Rite of Spring, but come to think of it you don't need to look further than the opening woodwind figures.

Oooh, Bartok's String Quartets. All of them.

And the opening of his "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta." The ending of his "Concerto for Orchestra," although rhythmically it's nothing fancy.
posted by Alabaster at 5:51 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some great suggestions here. If it's off-the-beaten-path music you're looking for then I'll put in a recommendation for a piece by Louis Andriessen (full disclosure: he's my old teacher). You might want to check out 'Hout'. It takes the idea of the cannon to it's logical and extreme conclusion and sounds more like a digital delay, except it's actually being performed live by four players. I found this on youtube, but the sound quality is better here.
posted by ob at 6:04 PM on August 4, 2008

While I really enjoyed digging into RATATAT's music, I didn't hear anything that was polyphonic: two or more independent melodies performed simultaneously. It's pretty much melody and accompaniment (or a harmonized melody), which is called homophony. Real polyphony is pretty hard to find in Western pop music. Sometimes the accompaniment can have a melodic aspect that can heighten the effect of independent melodic lines, but often the accompanying line turns into an ostinato (a repeated melody used as an accompaniment). Of the more well known pop musicians, Bjork does this pretty well (and frequently), sometimes breaking into sections of real polyphony. One of the few examples of polyphony in pop song I can come up with is the end of Radiohead's Paranoid Android. The polyphony doesn't start until around 5:05 in the final climax of the song (a typical placement). Yorke appears to be singing 3 melodies, but one is really more of an accompaniment: a descending melodic line that is followed by some other instruments. There are two strongly independent melodies being sung on top of that, though. This is a classic technique in musicals: joining two songs together at a climactic moment. Although not particularly climactic, it always makes me think of this moment from the Music Man.
posted by imposster at 8:07 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: ostinato (a repeated melody used as an accompaniment)

Isn't this still a form of polyphony? I don't see how a repeating second overlapping melody isn't still... a second melody.
posted by phrontist at 5:53 AM on August 5, 2008

As others have suggested (maybe not explicitly enough), the most useful term to search for is polyphony -- you want strongly polyphonic music. "Counterpoint" is probably broad enough that it's blurring your results.

My first instinct is that you'll find something you really like outside western music. Google/youtube yourself up some gamelan music (specifically, Balinese gamelan), some mbira music, some west african drumming.

In western music, check out the "New Complexity" school, starting with Birtwhistle and Knussen... check out Shulamit Ran (famously strong instinct for sharp/clear counterpoint within flexible/complex rhythms; her Private Game is a classic in that sense)... and Gyorgy Ligeti (famous obsession with multi-polyphony/clockwork; had recurring nightmares of being caught in complex human-sized spider webs, and you can hear it in his music :)).
posted by kalapierson at 6:29 AM on August 5, 2008

In western music, check out the "New Complexity" school, starting with Birtwhistle and Knussen...

Just a nitpick here. Birtwistle and Knussen aren't New Complexists. Ferneyhough and Finnissy would be classified as such, but not Birtwistle and Knussen. Still, there's polyphony in all this music (in varying degrees) so if that's what you're into, you might want to check all of this out.
posted by ob at 9:27 AM on August 5, 2008

I don't see how a repeating second overlapping melody isn't still... a second melody.

This mainly has to do with the technical definition of polyphony and may not be helpful in the search for music that you like. From the New Harvard Dictionary of Music:
"Polyphony: Music that simultaneously combines several lines ...; more narrowly, music combining several lines, each of which retains its identity as a line to some degree, as distinct from homophony, in which melodic interest is concentrated in one line."

That's why Bjork's music isn't really polyphony: there is usually one mainly melody with several supporting melodies that outline the harmonic background (homophony). Contrast that with Bach or Palestrina where any voice in the polyphonic texture may come to the fore of attention. (Although, even Bach wrote plenty of homophonic music). Ostinatos are usually accompaniments, unless the main melody itself is an ostinato.
posted by imposster at 1:17 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

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