Tracking the beat in Carter

Author: Poudrier, Ève

Presentation details: Eleventh International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC), University of Washington, Seattle (WA), 26 August 2010.


Abstract: In Elliott Carter’s music, the association of structural polyrhythms with different musical characters implies that polymeter serves a primarily rhetorical function. However, the characteristically irregular musical surface that results from the interaction of structural polyrhythms with other procedures such as metric modulation and written-out rubato challenges listeners’ ability to perceive a clear or enduring meters. This paper posits of texture and elusiveness of beat fruitfully understood as a solution of polymetric perception. By activating competing beat structures, the composer invites the listener to engage in a form of perceptual “play” specific cues are communicate pulse sensations the listeners’ subsequently deflected in order to prevent integration of simultaneous and contrasting rhythmic layers into a single metric framework.

The results of a beat-tracking study using source materials from Carter’s 90+ for piano suggest surface irregularities, of expertise with 20th-century music. The results also confirm the previous findings that musicians’ lower threshold for detecting pulse irregularity had on pulse attribution (Madison & Merker 2002) and that listeners’ ability to detect simple ratios separating non-consecutive events depend on first-order relationships (Demany & Semal 2002; Carson 2007). Finally, patterns of participants with information on the perceptual cues used by musicians for beat-finding and specific strategies successfully used by Carter to manipulate beat induction.