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Musical Space

Musical Space: Math Rock


Mark Foley explores the relationship between math, meter, and music.

Music is almost always arranged in a repeating pattern of beats; the pattern, or “meter,” usually corresponds with a rhythm that is easy to dance to, so the meter of a song is usually a simple group of 2, 3, or 4 beats. There is, however, a history of composers making things more complicated. “Money,” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, has a strange, lop-sided groove because it is in an undanceable seven-beat meter.

Example 1: “Money”

It amazes me that dancers are expected to follow the metric patterns in Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet “The Rite of Spring.” The meter changes constantly in an unpredictable sequence of twos, threes, fours and fives.

Example 2: “Sacrificial Dance”

British progressive rock was notorious for its use of odd meters. King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Part 2” shifts constantly between metric groups of threes and twos.

Example 3: King Crimson:” Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 2”

Experimentation with meter is very much alive today in a genre some call math rock.  I’ll leave you to try to decipher this song by the Australian group Giraffes? Giraffes!

Example 4: Giraffes? Giraffes! “Koscinski’s Requiem for a Golden Chariot”