By Luciano Maggiore and Enrico Malatesta

Listening involves many questions. Some of these relate to listeners and their reactions: questions about how a piece of music makes them feel, whether they ‘like’ it or not, or how it relates to other contexts and experiences they are familiar with. Other questions seem somehow ‘internal’ to the music itself. Take the subject of rhythm, about which many questions could be asked, such as:

• What’s the smallest, quietest, or most irregular sound a rhythm can be built from?

• How long can the pause between each event last before a regular series of sounds ceases to be perceived as a rhythm?

• How long does it take for rhythm to be perceived in a series of sound events?

Luciano Maggiore and Enrico Malatesta’s new album “Talabalacco” seems to be driven more by the second category of questions than by the first. The release was composed from several unrelated recordings of synthesisers and acoustic objects, building a number of rhythmic patterns using the most minimal of means: clicks, taps, scrunches, and so on. All small sounds, but also discrete, with a clear beginning and end. Each rhythm seems designed to test the parameters of rhythm as a concept and as a phenomenon, to see how far things can be pushed before the sense of structure collapses. For the most part, this threshold is never crossed.

We could call the first category of questions subjective and the second objective, but to do so would be to miss the point entirely. What music based on the second category of questions does is push back the limits of what is accepted as possible and meaningful within a given discursive field, while at the same time undermining the apparent taken-as-givenness of that field’s dominant assumptions. In other words, it has the effect of re-calibrating perception, re-distributing thresholds of sensitivity and significance. A rhythm is a distribution of intensities in extensive space; change the distribution or the intensities, and the space — from which arises a whole topology — changes too. Through their rhythms, Maggiore and Malatesta give to loose distributions and small sound events the kinds of intensities that one would expect only tight distributions and big sound events to claim exclusive right to. This has something to do with power, as well as with feeling.


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  1. says: Brandon

    I found your discussion of the subject of rhythm really interesting. I don’t think a lot of people consciously think about the infrastructure that makes music separate from disparate sounds. Perhaps disparate sounds themselves are music. Who knows? I make no claim of having a proper answer.

    Granted, I won’t be blasting Talabalacco on the way to work tomorrow morning, but I think this kind of music is important because it leads us to ask questions.

  2. Hi Brandon, thanks for the comment! I once took a course called ‘Music and Cognition’ led by two neuroscientists who were also professional musicians, and they a really interesting perspective on what makes music different from non-musical sounds. For example, we looked at lab studies that suggested that the threshold gap at which sounds stopped being perceived as rhythmically linked and became disparate events was around 1,500msec; another study found evidence for rhythm perception in infants as young as two months.

    Perhaps, in some ways, Luciano and Enrico are approaching the same questions from a very different though equally valid and rigorous angle.

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