What do these two short audio clips from western music have in common?

Clip 1:

Clip 2: (Note: All rights obviously belong to original artists. The samples above are for illustrative purposes only)

Here are some indirect clues.

  1. This post is a contrived attempt at continuing the “theme” of the earlier Blue Oyster Cult post i.e. Carnatic Music concepts in the Western Music world.
  2. It is ironic that I post this soon after my confessions and presumptions on tani.

Take your time and avoid googling 🙂

If you don’t know the answer and want to know, or you know the answer but still are curious as to what I may blabber about this read on.

Both songs are set to 5/4 time signature, which is relatively rare in western music. The first sample is a popular Jethro Tull song titled Living in the Past. The second one is a famous Jazz composition Take Five of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Now the question is does this map at all to Carnatic Music, and why should it, and who cares?

To answer the last question first – probably no one cares. I will admit that this post is a result of contrived attempts at finding things in western music (the limited view of it I have) that are common with Carnatic Music. I was intrigued by the link between that Blue Oyster Cult guitar riff and an uncommon Carnatic raga – however tenuous it was (the idea behind that post was not a deliberate one). So I thought Hey maybe it would be nice to find stuff like that and post them on my blog – a regular, recurring theme. Well, it turned out to easier said than done given my limited exposure to both worlds. But like a reader forced to plod through reading a series that has lost steam, I force myself to post this anyway. This may be the last of post of its kind – but I will keep my fingers crossed. But I ramble needlessly yet again …

Getting back to the 5/4 signature, I am specifically curious about how the rhythm of the two samples may map under Carnatic Music rhythmic framework. First, I must confess that I am not conversant with western music theory, and am still a fit flummoxed by the time signature. A 5/4 signature seems to imply that there are 5 beats in a bar, and the note duration that constitutes a beat is a quarter note (1/4th duration). A 5/8 would mean that there are 5 beats in a bar and a 1/8th note duration constitutes a beat.

It is immediately tempting to say – Ah this means it is like a tala with 5 aksharas and each akshara is sub-divided into 4 or 8 internal beats – i.e. catuSra gati. But I find that this is not true although I cannot say that with any authority. The denominator in the signature does not indicate how the beat is divided, it simply seems to indicate the relative duration of a beat. It seems possible for the 5 beats in a 5/4 beat to be spaced such that one can think of it like a 5 akshara tala (say khANDA Eka). But it also seems possible for the 5 beats to be used such that it is sort of like khaNDa cApu.

And in some cases like above, it does not readily translate readily to either.

If you take the above two songs, the overall rhythm sort of goes like this:

1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2 1-2

or in carnatic terms
ta ki Ta ta ki Ta ta ka di mi

This is quite clear with Take Five as the bass and piano follow this (1-2-pause 1-2-pause 1-pause 1-pause). It should also be clear in Living in the Past if you listen closely. It is not only followed in the initial flute part, but also when the singer Ian Anderson sings:

Happy (1-2-3 1-2-3) And (1-2) I’m (1-2)
Smiling (1-2-3 1-2-3) Walk (1-2) a (1-2)
mile (1-2-3) to (1-2-3) drink (1-2) your (1-2)
water (1-2-3 1-2-3) Pause (1-2 1-2).

Maybe I am wrong, but this sort of a gait does not seem to directly correlate to anything in Carnatic Music. Of course, there is no question that this sort of combination is used by mridangist when accompanying a song in khaNDa cApu or playing in khanDa naDai i.e. where the rhythm is grouped in fives. They probably try all sorts of permutations and combinations. But I am talking about the pure rhythmic aspect of the above pattern – its inherent gait. To me, it doesn’t match the predefined gatis in Carnatic music. The closest I think could be khaNDa cApu, which simply goes

1-2-1-2-3 1-2-1-2-3
ta-ka-ta-ki-Ta ta-ka-ta-ki-Ta.

However, as you can see, this does not seem like a perfect fit.

  1. First, the rhythm in the samples and that of khaNDa cApu seem to be complementary to each other. In our samples, the beat starts with triplet(s) and ends with double, but khANDa cApu starts with a double and ends with triplet.
  2. Second, our samples above if interpreted in carnatic music terms seem to actually take 10 “internal beats” as a unique set i.e. ta-ki-Ta-ta-ki-Ta-ta-ka-di-mi, which seems different to me from iterations of khANDa cApu grouped together in twos.

That seems interesting to me as this has a feel of a unique gait i.e. gati rather than simply a super-set of khanDa cApu. We are told that gatis for 6 and 8 are unnecessary as they are handled by tiSra (3) and catuSra (4). Some argue that even sankIrna (9) is unnecessary as it is taken care of as a multiple of tiSra. From a pure mathematics point of view, I agree but from the aural feel of a gati, I disagree after this. It seems that 6, 8, 9 and here 10 can be divided and presented such that they have as unique a gait as 3, 4, 5 and 7. The innate gait of the above samples do not seem like khaNDa cApu. Nor do they seem like khanDa Eka. However, I can certainly put talam for these samples in khanDa Eka (doing khanDa cApu seems harder!) but again only as a way to keep time – not as a reflection of the rhythm of the song.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that mridangists have all combinations including this in their repertoire. But I wonder if one such combination can be exclusively “highlighted” like in these samples, and hence can becomes a new cApu :)! Nomenclature anyone?

Finally, here is a couple more samples. Try to map it as close as you can to a carnatic music rhythm 😉
Clip 3:

Clip 4:

(Note: All rights again obviously belong to original artists. The samples above are for illustrative purposes only. Clip #3 is again Dave Brubeck. Clip #4 is an excerpt from the song Woman Tonight by America)

PS: Oh btw, the title New carnatic “chops” from western music is a bad, half-hearted pun on the word cApu.