Kaboom:
Triggering Rhythmic Anticipation
In my study of Korean music I puzzled over the way that chyango rhythms can create such an urge to dance, a strong lifting/dropping sensation mimicked by Korean dances with acrobatic jumping and flinging of long gown sleeves gracefully through the air. The fundamental characteristic of the rhythms is a light beat immediately prior to an accented downbeat: guGUN (for the left mallet) and kiTAK (for the right bamboo stick) with the capitalized tone coming on the downbeat.
My chyango teacher would always complain that taiko drummers often overaccented the down-ness of chyango rhythms when they studied the Korean style, not understanding the subtle lift that must be conveyed through these pre-beat accents.

My pondering of kiTAK and guGUN led me to consider the English onomatopoeic words that seemed to be doing the same thing : Kersplatt, kapow, shaboom, kabloosh, kerplunk, kerplop, kablewey, etc. In all these words describing impacts and explosions the cataclysmic event happens in the second syllable. (The dictionary pointed out that "ker" is an "intensive prefix" from the Scots.) It can be argued that explosions, lightning bolts and splashes are actually two events (ie. expansion of hot air in the first instant followed by a boom resulting in the collapse of the empty space after the expansion) each with their own unique sound. Meaning, an explosion does really have two sounds, with the second being the loudest.

However, there may be a further explanation that lies in the way that the brain processes startling sounds. I propose this because Japanese language has the same tendency to create bisyllabic onomatopoeic words for impacts and explosions: daSON, gaCHON, daKON. Having two etymologically different languages as English and Japanese exhibit the same bisyllabic custom for mimicking single event sounds brings me to theorize that there is something about human psychology that divides percussive sound into two stages. Perhaps the brain is going through a process of shock followed by conceptual analysis of the sound. Perhaps our spoken syllables for explosions indicate that there are two impacts on the mind, the shock of attention followed by interpretation of the actual sound.

Therefore the tendency for up-beat accenting in rhythm may be an attempt by the musician to speak to the brain in its own terms. Pre-beats may say to the mind, "Get ready, here it comes." The pre-beat accent is therefore an attention-getting device to stir readiness for what is to come. It draws attention to the event by creating awareness of the moment immediately prior to the beat the musician wishes the listener to focus on. (compare to the Persian Riz-e-Por, full roll preceeding a downbeat in Persian rhythms demonstated by
Peyman Nasehpour) )

I have come to believe that the most stirring, dance-provoking rhythms are those that provide upbeat accents prior to the first beat of the rhythmic measure. (The upbeat of the second beat in a four-beat phrase is also a potent accent beat for dance rhythms.) If downbeats are the listener's orientation within the song rhythmically, the upbeats provide a tripping or lifting sensation to the rhythm that further accentuates the solidity of the downbeats. It creates an accentuated attention to the time interval between the pre-beat tone and the anticipated downbeat that is kinesthetically like a sensation of falling. The more upbeat focused the drummer plays, the more the listener will focus on the downbeat and focus on the space between downbeats.

The dance sensation is, I believe, a reconciling between the downbeats and other asserted elements that would tend to detract from it. The dance is a balancing act between the beats and their antithesis, for any assertion off-beat needs to be accounted for in the mind of the listener in order to maintain the symetry of the rhythm. And symetry, in addition to predictability, is what the mind seeks in its counting of the rhythm phrase.

I am curious to have further feedback on this topic from any readers.

Email Christopher

Home