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Black Atlantic Rhythm: Its Computational and Transcultural Foundations

Jeff Pressing
Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Vol. 19, No. 3 (Spring 2002), pp. 285-310
DOI: 10.1525/mp.2002.19.3.285
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mp.2002.19.3.285
Page Count: 26
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Black Atlantic Rhythm: Its Computational and Transcultural Foundations
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Abstract

The "Black Atlantic" rhythmic diaspora, be it realized in jazz, blues, gospel, reggae, rock, candomblé, cumbia, hip-hop or whatever, seems to have widespread capacity to facilitate dance, engagement, social interaction, expression and catharsis. This article examines the reasons for this. Black Atlantic rhythm is founded on the idea of groove or feel, which forms a kinetic framework for reliable prediction of events and time pattern communication, its power cemented by repetition and engendered movement. Overlaid on this are characteristic devices that include syncopation, overlay,displacement, off-beat phrasing, polyrhythm/polymeter, hocketing, heterophony, swing, speech-based rhythms, and call-and-response. Using an evolutionary argument, I point out here that nearly all of these have at their heart the establishment of perceptual multiplicity or rivalry, affecting expectation, which acts as either a message or a message enhancement technique (via increased engagement and focusing of attention), or both. The causal path for the remaining devices is based on adopting structures shared with speech, notably prosody, conversational interaction, and narrative. Several examples illustrate how, particularly in jazz and jazz-related forms, extensions and relatively complex creative adaptations of traditional African and African diasporic rhythmic techniques are a natural consequence of a culture of questioning and reflection that encompasses maintenance of historical reference and accommodation to innovation.

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