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Actress’s ‘Lost’ – 6/4

‘Lost’, from Actress’s 2010 album Splazsh, is an interesting example of a track which sounds quite simple at first but reveals hidden complexity.

The time signature is best defined as 6/4. This is clearest at the beginning, where the bassline repeats every six beats:

Actress 6:4

However, things get more complex with the introduction of the loose triplets at 0:29, and then even more so at the end, where the introduction of the snare means the beat could be interpreted as a 4/4 pattern repeated every one and a half bars.

This is another great example of the ambiguity we discussed back in the ‘Dream Phone’ example. There’s a chance Darren Cunningham wrote ‘Lost’ with his project’s time signature set to 4/4, then included a 1.5-bar bassline loop, giving this unusual sense of timing to the track. It could be argued that the unconventional and unpredictable timing is a large part of what makes ‘Lost’ such a great track – it’s close enough to conventional 4/4 house tropes to sound familiar, but also different enough to sound original.

Venetian Snares’ ‘Szamar Madar’ – 7/4

Variations on 3/4 and 6/8 are relatively easy to follow (perhaps because they feature occasionally in familiar rock and pop tracks – try The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ for one of the most well known examples), but things tend to get a little more difficult to follow as the numbers get bigger, particularly with odd numbers. Time signatures such as 7/8, 9/8, 11/8 and 13/8 might seem the kind of wilfully obscure choices you’d only expect to find in jazz or prog rock, but they can work effectively in some cases.

For something a little more unusual, let’s listen to ‘Szamar Madar’, taken from Venetian Snares’ 2005 album Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. Aaron Funk works extensively in alternative time signatures, with a particular fondness for 7/4 time. ‘Szamar Madar’ is based around a sample of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which is in a 7/4 time signature (the original can be heard around 2:40 in this video).

The beat comes in at 2.30 in 7/4 time, with 7 crotchets in each repetition. The piece could perhaps be counted in 7/8, but notice how if we do that, the first beat of the second 7/8 isn’t emphasised by the sampled strings. 7/4 is the more logical choice.

Changing time signatures

We heard in Kenton Slash Demon’s ‘Ore’ how different time signatures can be used in certain section of a track to give a change of feel. Lastly, let’s consider the instrumental outro of ‘Hunger’, from Flying Lotus’s 2012 album Until The Quiet Comes, a piece of music in which the time signature changes even more frequently throughout a repeated section.

Starting from 2:20, the track’s time signature consists of four bars of 7/8, one bar of 6/8, one bar of 5/8, then back to 7/8, and repeat. On paper it’s staggeringly complex, but in practice it works surprisingly smoothly. A good reminder that just because you’re making music under the broad umbrella of dance and electronic genres, it doesn’t mean you can’t also get experimental with the most fundamental attributes of your music.

Author Oliver Curry
6th November, 2014

Passing Notes is sponsored by

Spitfire Audio

Spitfire Audio is a British company founded by two film composers looking to revolutionise sampling.

They set about recording the world’s finest players in the best locations in order to capture samples of unrivalled quality. Used across the music, gaming and film industry, Spitfire has become the go-to for producers and composers looking to add truly authentic sounds to their works.

With offices in Central London and a growing workforce of experienced music, film and recording professionals, their revolution continues.

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