truly odd time sigs

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by velvetkevorkian, Nov 18, 2005.

  1. there we were sitting in a very boring composition lecture, when the mad australian gave us part of the score of brian ferneyhough's 4th string quartet and played it to us. all well and good, you might say- a nice ultra modernistic, atonal piece to wake those lazy students up of a friday lunchtime! which is true. BUT there is a bit where it goes into 4/12 time. :eyebrow: no thats not a typo. how would you work this out?

    i tried counting up the notes in each bar but due to the frankly unpleasant complexity i keep on getting different numbers. we tried
    to find something between an 8th and a 16th, but couldn't get it to make sense in relation to anything else.

    my clarinet playing compadre noted that he had played another piece by the very same composer (for solo clarinet, i think) which had used 4/10.

    so, any ideas? or is this just ol' ferneyhough being difficult and trying to wind us up? :D who knows....

    you do! so speak up!
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Top number is how many beats to a bar and the bottom number is what rhythmic value gets "one" beat.

    So what's a 12th note? I'm dubious.
  3. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005

    I'm not confident that is possible or that it makes any sense.
  4. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    Half way between an 8th and a 16th? Dotted 16th?
  5. jallenbass

    jallenbass Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Technically a 12th note could be an 8th note in a bar of 12/8. I'm not sure how 4/12 would be different from 4/8. Did it have a |1 2 3 1 | or | 1 1 2 3 | feel? The 123 being a triplet feel?
  6. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Did it have kind of a pompous feel?
  7. jazzbassnerd


    Aug 26, 2002
    I would be interested how those time signatures were set up. For instance, it could be an interesting way of notating metric modulation. A 12th note would be 1/8th notes from an 1/8 note triplet, so maybe the composer is just expression a "tempo change" in terms of the original tempo? Like a long passage of 1/8 notes and then he wanted 1/8th note triplets grouped in four (two examples that come to mind are Billy Higgins's ride cymbal and Herbie Hancock on My Funny Valentine/Four and More). This could be a very cool way to do this instead of having to negotiate everything through various time signatures.

    I hope that made sense.

    Same for the 10th notes, except those would be with 1/8th notes grouped in 5's. Like a 5:4 ratio. I think.

    If this doesn't make sense maybe I could explain it better.
  8. Jleonardbc

    Jleonardbc Guest

    Nov 12, 2004
    a "1/4 note" is a quarter note (duh).
    An eighth note triplet is three notes that, together, rhythmically equal a quarter the value of one of those three notes is 1/4 divided by 3 = 1/2. Hence, one of those notes would be a 1/12th note, and this time signature has 4 of those to a measure.

    The 10th note is still intriguing...
  9. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    That almost makes sense . . . but in the end, it doesn't. In 12/8 you're not counting twelve twelfth-notes you're counting twelve eighth-notes. In each bar, there are eighth-notes and there are twelve of them.

    Or to paraphrase Monty Python and the Tale of the Holy Hand-Grenade, "Twelve shall be the counting, and the counting shall be to twelve. Thou shalt not count to thirteen; neither shalt thou count to eleven, except if thou shalt be moving past eleven toward the final number, which shall be twelve." Blues 12:8.

    Punch line: There ain't no such thing as 4/12 except in the following circumstances, which shall the sole circumstances be:

    a) It's a typo
    b) It's bull****
    c) Someone's trying to make up new, useless notation formulae in an effort to make the commonplace seem complex.

    "One . . . two . . . five!" Over & out.
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    This used to be my sig :

    'Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.’

    — Charles Mingus
  11. jazzbassnerd


    Aug 26, 2002
    I'm really sorry but I have to disagree completely. There is such a thing as a 12th note. We just generally don't think about this stuff in "normal" "western" music.

    4 quarter notes make up a 4/4 bar. 8 eighth notes make up a 4/4 bar. 12 twelfth notes make up a 4/4 bar. These notes do exists. I don't think of this as a "new, useless notation" at all. I have not seen how this is used in this particular piece, but it seems to me like the composer trying to express something and has found a flaw in modern "western" music notation.

    They way I would interpret how to play in 4/12 would be that the previous bar's eighth note triplet would become the 4/12 bar's "eighth note." If this is the case, he's notating a tempo change, but specifying exactly what the new tempo is, based on the previous tempo.

    I think that a twelfth note is definitely something that exists. (How else do you define the value of eighth note triplets?)
  12. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    As an 8th note triplet. If a twelfth note exists, write me one. A note with a tail is a quarter note, with one flag is an eighth note, with two flags a sixteenth etc. There isn't one with one and a half flags (or one and 3/8s flags or one and 5/8s flags, simply cause that **** would get SO hard to read).
    If you take a bar and write the time as 4/12 and put a single 8th note in there, you haven't written a "12th" note, you've written an 8th note.

    If you want to change tempo from 4/4 to one where the 8th note of a triplet becomes an eighth note (or more accurately, where an 8th note triplet = a dotted 8th note), then that's what you write. IF you want a quarter note to equal a dotted 8th, that's what you write. If you want a half note to equal a double dotted 16th note, thats' what you write. You don't have to make anything up.
  13. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.

    So what your saying is that there's currently no way to notate a 12th note, except as part of a triplet. This is not the same as saying there's no such thing as a 12th note, as a concept.
    HAve you seen various forms of ancient notation, or notation for a lot of music from the middle east? At some point in notation history, there was no way to write 8th or 16th notes, either, but they sure exist now. Maybe this guy is just inventing 12ths. Odd, true, but not unnecessary or invalid by nature. He may just not want musicians to add a triplet "feel" to the piece by writing a bunch of triplets, and decided the 12th note was the way to go.

    Part of the process of getting a graduate degree in composition is showing that you have something new to add to the pot. With the advent of computers, and the plethora of territory already covered over the last few centuries, this has resulted in musicians and composers looking to mathematically derive new sounds, be they tone (additive/subtractive synthesis), interval (microtonal tuning), or subdivided rhythm (the 10th or 12th note?). I, for one, am curious to see if I can track this piece down and hear it.
  14. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Sort of. Not only is there currently no way, there's not really a lot of leeway with the current system of notation. Now it may be that we are on the brink of changing the current system of notation (dubious though I may be), but that's gonna be more than just adding a new number at the bottom of a time signature. Most of the older European systems just notated pitch (the same way tab just notates geographical position). The current system came about because there was a need to standardize a method to notate rhythmic value.

    See above. The conception of metric modulation is not invalid (and nobody is saying that it is), but an 8th note is an 8th note, no matter how much you want it to be a 12th note. No matter how much you CALL it a 12th note. You got a dot, that dot has a line, that line has one flag; boom you got an 8th note. Every time you read it, in any piece of music, with any time signature.

    Then you should have something new. Just because I start spelling that word KOMPOZISHUN doesn't mean I invented a new word. Or gave that word a new meaning. If I write 4/12, but what I really mean is that TRIPLET = DOTTED 8th, what did I do that was new? And how, as a musician, does that make it easier for me to read a measure in 4 with triplets, a measure with the time signature 4/12 that contains 4 eighth notes and a measure with the time signature of 4/8 that contains 4 eighth notes? Because the bar of 4/12 exists only IN RELATION to the bar of 4. And that relation can be notated in the current system.

    Well that's a great example. Microtonal music does not use the standard notation. When you see an "A" on the staff, you don't have to decide if they really mean that pitch or some other pitch. Neither should you look at a note with a tail and a flag and need to determine what rhythm they "really" want.
  15. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.

    That from an interview with the composer, the rest of which can be found here:

    It's not a typo, or BS, just modern music composition.

    EDIT: My brain hurts by the time I hit page 3. It's not light reading.
  16. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    Sure you should. It happens all the time, and the interpretation varies, depending on the player, the conductor, and sometimes, the individual performance. I have three different recordings of Holst's The Planets. They all sound different, with dynamics, articulation, and even basic tempo varying greatly between the three. Why? The orchestras involved all played from the same score, and the conductors all conducted from the same score.

    Because of perception. Where one conductor thought Holst meant one thing, another conductor saw the same notation differently.

    I believe, based off of the interview I linked to, that Ferneyhough is attempting to change a player's perception of the written note with the goal of changing the overall feel and sound of a piece. By transporting the written page out of a preconcieved context such as 6/8 or 4/4 he is trying to fundamentally change the way the player performs, and thus the way the audience hears.

    This theory may be a complete crock, I admit, but I want to hear the results before I judge too quickly.
  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    And they all had different pitches? Interpretation is interpretation. There may be variables in the way one conductor or musician will phrase a specific bar with specific rhythms. But the pitches don't change, the VALUE of the notes within the bar doesn't change. An 8th note is an 8th note is an 8th note. You may have a different tempo, you may have an accellarando in a phrase, but....

    That is all so beside the point, however. There still isn't a 12th note.
  18. lbanks


    Jul 17, 2003
    Ennui, IN USA
    When in high school, we were given stuff with a 4/12 sig('Modern American' stuff... in the '60's!) The band director said to treat it as a 4 and that it was just a method of making a complex trumpet and string notation easier to read. But I played tuba and the part was stupid, so I fell asleep.
  19. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.

    The pitch may be identical, but the tone is not. Play an open A, and then play the A at the 5th fret of an E string--there's a difference, and the perception of the player, as well as technical practicality of hitting notes, determines which is played. And the value of notes does change.

    A great example of this would be swinging 8ths. In a pair, they look identical. But one is longer than the other. What's more, the swinging 8ths of Miles' cool jazz are not the same as the swinging 8ths or Dizzy's bebop, or the swinging 8ths of a New Orleans brothel player in the early 1900's.

    I believe the 12th note (not a recent development) is an attempt to more precisely codify this changing perception of note values, to more accurately portray what's inside the composer's head.

    I recently finished a run of Singing in the Rain. There's a difference in "feel" between the cut time and 4/4 time signatures. Holding the notes written to their full 1/4 note value was determined, by myself and the musical director, to be inappropriate to the period. I ended up playing the written value as if they were all staccato, though it wasn't written that way, and it sounded better. A note's written length is open to interpretation, in a big way. Subdividing a measure by 12ths, 10ths, etc is an attempt to more precisely convey what is desired, and leave less open to interpretation.

    At its root, the "flag" system of notation merely shows how precisely a measure is subdivided, not a concrete value in and of itself. You ask, show me a 12th note--12 notes in a bar would be written as triplet 8ths in 4/4 and an 8th note is written with a flag--therefore, it's an 8th note, not a 12th. This composer, and others like him, seem to say that's not the case. A note with a flag, or two, or none, can be a 12th note depending on how the measure--an arbitrary delineation of time- is subdivided.

    Read his interview. It's an interesting philosophy regarding songwriting in particular and art in general, and he explains the mindset in way more detail than I could go into here. It makes sense to me, sort of. He writes in 12th notes, because time is elastic, and that was the best way to notate what he wanted.
  20. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    No need to be sorry. People disagree with me all the time and they're generally right.

    But you have just made my point for me. Instead of making the commonplace easy to read -- by writing twelve 8th notes, so we could actually make the music happen the first time -- you'd have us reading twelve 12th notes, which we don't see every decade. The music would sound the same. The additional complexity in the writing would be pointless.

    I'm dealing with this at this very moment as I transcribe Donald Brown's Bad Case of the BU's. Parts of the head need to show 4/4 (or have people reading a lot of complex-looking 4-over-three rhythms which read real easy as 16ths in 4/4/). Parts of the head are almost illegible unless written in 12/8. The pulse remains the same, whether subdivided into 2 (eight 8ths in 4/4) or 3 (bar-walking shuffle in 12/8).

    So with all due respect, I stand by what I said. So-called "4/12" is either a typo or a way to make the easy seem hard. 'Cause like Ed says better than me, it's not a way to make the hard look easy, and THAT is the first function of notation.