Sound and Technology from the Artist's Perspective
Rhythm and the New
When the band speeds up you keep to the beat. When the beat becomes too quick to keep you split the time to dance only half as fast. With the music racing on, the driving energy and the rhythmic groove is dissipated. You hear and intellectualize the fleetness, but your body reacts at rates of human physical gesture.
Toscanini's conducting provides the foil to levitate speed away from rooted bodily awareness. The motion of eighth or sixteenth notes in quick tempi music he conducted, as in the NBC Orchestra recording of the finale of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony (Carnegie Hall, 10 November, 1952), is seamless, un-weighted, non-accentuated. With no subsidiary, secondary accentuation implied, Toscanini forces you to confront the very nature of speed. You must recognize each individual, uniform note, their rapidity of exposure and very brief duration, often without a larger hierarchy of pulse and accents to suggest a slower interpretation. It is a secret to the clarity and mercurial nature of his directing.
We speak of the rhythm of daily life, a rhythm largely marked by the various changes that occur in our day. As with the dance band or Toscanini's fast tempi, differentiation of event, change, is paramount to shaping our impressions. Change - the new, the different, even the expected - must be visited before any apparent rhythm is perceived.
Copyright © 6 May 2000 Jeff Talman, New York City, USA