A Cross-Cultural Examination of Features that Accompany Temporal Deviations in African-American Musics

Daniel Oore ©2017

Link to Research Gate


The present study establishes meaning and linkage among a cluster of specific structural features —the snap, twang, and blue note— and between this cluster and the temporal deviations they can be found accompanying. These features are explored through their perceived sonic, textual, and motional properties, as they have emerged across cultures and historical periods, with distinct ethos. Consideration is taken for the ethnic, social, and spiritual meanings invoked by each feature, their interrelationships as a cluster, and with temporal deviation.

Interrelationships include: snap and temporal deviations both emerging from polytempic interactions, yet contrasting in their respective grounded and floating qualities; snap and twang each articulating (i.e.: ‘worrying’) flexible blue note pitch regions; and twang and blue note’s respective articulations of vocal harmonics. I propose an isomorphic continuum may explain the ratios of temporal deviations identified in a number of African-American musics, suggesting deep interrelationships among snap, twang, blue note, and temporal deviations. If the blue note and certain temporal deviations are isomorphic, we can also learn about temporal deviation by studying the ethos of the blue note: I compare the ‘blue third’ with the diatonic minor third.

The relationships between these features and temporal deviations suggest they function as co-expressions of, or redundant cues for, the performer’s awareness and commitment. I interpret the consistency of heightened arousal invoked by these features, as embodied understanding across cultural contexts. When embodied, the cue is perceived directly: for example, commitment and intensity is experienced, not merely represented, in the snap. Such cross-cultural consistency of meaning does not preclude the possibility that the features function as code-switching cues to mark transformative moments in music, since consistency of meaning doesn’t indicate consistency of ideology.

Connecting the features to their subdivided variations opens the door to understanding the relevance and applicability of this study’s findings across an even wider breadth of musical practices. The spontaneous participant —artist, witness, researcher— kinesthetically channelling the creative spirit, stands to gain appreciation for the compatibility and complexity of different gestures, their consonances and dissonances, across disciplines and traditions.