Placement of the scale figure in the metric structure




Expressive timing in musical performance is commonly understood as the relation between a subjective conception of rhythmical patterns and the 'objective' regular pulse. Expressivity is then achieved by local timing deviations from a regular pulse (Repp, 2001).

If we understand musical listening as embodied and multimodal (Baily, 1985; Mead, 1999; Livingstone, 2006; Thompson, 2005), we can assume that the shaping of musical time has a direct relation to how we perceive the world through our bodies.  Hence, the calculation and proportion of such timing deviations are carried out through the body of a performer. The question is: would it be possible to base the expressive timing entirely on the kinetic energies of a violinist’s body movements?

The process of achieving an embodied reading of the throwing figure in section V1aT1 begins with a sonic realization of the scale figure such as it is graphically represented in the score. This approach is followed by an extension of the sound-producing movements in order to evoke a particular bodily gesture, and culminates in employing body movements and gestures directly connected to the physical action of throwing.

Employing expressive body movements that are not directly involved in sound production has several implications on the process of interpretation. While a Soundist measures the amount of accent, dynamic shape, tone colours, etc. in order to construct the sonic image that represents the given gesture, a Gesturist asks: 'How heavy is Sancho?'; 'What kind of effort does it take to throw him in the air?'; 'How high does he fly?'; 'How heavily does he fall?'

With these considerations I looked back at the notation and attempted to infer the structure and technique of the physical action of throwing into the rhythmical structure of the throwing figure. 'Where do I grasp Sancho? Where do I exert the most effort for throwing? Where do I let go?'

As notated in the facsimile, the scale figure consists of four thirty-second notes, which take up the space of an eighth note in the metric structure of the bar. As there are two scale figures in the bar, an entire quarter of the bar is taken up by these figures.


Ex. 1 'Scale figure' does not fit in the 4/4 metric structure.

The problem is that the rest of the bar already contains four quarter notes; in order to fit the two scale figures into the bar we will have to 'steal' some metric value from the quarter notes. We need to decide how much metric value we are going to allocate from the quarter note to the scale figure.

There are several gestural implications to these choices. If we prioritize keeping the value of the quarter notes more or less intact, the scale figure will just appear as a non-disturbing ornamental element. But this solution to our metrical problem results in a rendition where the action of throwing passes practically unnoticed.



Vid. 1 The scale figure is here placed before the beat, but played in a very fast ornamental manner, so that it does not become metrically significant.


In exploring various alternatives, I realized that the actual physical effort used for the throwing action should be applied to the scale figure, while the quarter note merely releases the accumulated energy and launches Sancho into the air. In order to perform this action with full physical impact, the scale figure needs to take a significant amount of time and space.

I would suggest allocating the scale figure a full eighth note length. This should give the throwing action enough space and energy to make a gestural impact:


Vid. 2 The scale figure takes the space of an eighth note length.


Having established the length of the scale figure, I have to decide whether it will steal the time and space from the preceding or the following quarter note.

'Stealing time' from the following quarter note will place the scale figure on the 2nd beat. The metrical accent will then coincide with the first note of the scale figure, with a weaker top note which is now placed on an off-beat between the second and third beats:



Ex. 2 & Aud. 1 The scale figure is played on the second beat. The red markings illustrate the quarter note pulse, with the scale figure coinciding with the second and fourth beat.



Vid. 3 The scale figure on the beat


Because of the lack of a strong impact on the top note, the gesture feels more like hitting rather than throwing something. Or, if we stick with the image of throwing, this version implies a rather effortless throwing action or of throwing something fairly light.

To throw a person of Sancho’s stature requires much more effort (‘…he was probably short and fat’, someone remarked jokingly when I mentioned the question of Sancho’s weight during a rehearsal, V1a).

Starting the scale figure before the beat will gather the energy allowing the top note to “explode” on the beat, resulting in an energetic throwing gesture.


Ex. 3 & Aud. 2 Scale figure before the beat enacts the throwing action that starts immediately after the downbeat. In this way, the energy is gathered throughout the scale figure, while the top quarter note, coinciding with the second beat, releases the energy.



Vid. 4 The scale figure is here placed before the beat and embodied as a throwing gesture.


One could assume that we have now exhausted all possibilities of realising this scale figure motif. First we placed the scale figure on the beat, then before the beat, with all the implications discussed above. In the following example, the New York based group places the scale figure neither on, nor before, but after the beat!


Ex. 4 Placing the scale figure after the 2nd beat will mean that neither the scale, nor the top quarter note will coincide with any beat of the 4/4 structure, resulting in a lack of throwing impulse.

Although it is always refreshing to hear (and certainly to play) a new version, the after-the-beat version is gesturally very confusing. If playing the scale figure on the beat felt like hitting rather than throwing something, then playing it after the beat feels more like dropping something...


Vid. 5 The scale figure placed after the beat results in a confused gesture.






Back to video essay V1a






Back to video essay V1a