The familiarity of odd meters

“It’s a simple 7/8″. It was all it took to make me feel like a complete idiot.

I had been happily banging on my drumkit for a while by then, but had never had the experience of playing with musicians I didn’t know from anywhere. All the other projects started for reasons that hadn’t immediately to do with the technicalities of the music being played, and in not one of them did such indications ever come up. There had never been discussions about the instruments themselves, either. No “tone” and “texture” discussion of a particular model of drumkit, no “brilliance” of this or that brand of cymbals. None of that. It mostly boiled down to “It’s shiny. It’s loud. I like. Can I bang it now?”.

This was different. I had been brought in at the last minute to replace the usual drummer (spontaneous self-combustion? I’ll never know). There were expectations; a song was to be rehearsed and played, there was no time to hang around having drinks and discuss the music each one likes, no time to wait for the stars to align properly for us all to play it. There were notes and breaks and bridges. And a 7/8 meter which, to someone whose counting skills were limited to what everyone knows about drum playing, appeared to be a monumental, unsurmountable hurdle. Despite not remembering the song at all, I remember the sensation of panic, as if it were yesterday.

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• • •

The familiarity of odd meters

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“It’s a simple 7/8″. It was all it took to make me feel like a complete idiot.

I had been happily banging on my drumkit for a while by then, but had never had the experience of playing with musicians I didn’t know from anywhere. All the other projects started for reasons that hadn’t immediately to do with the technicalities of the music being played, and in not one of them did such indications ever come up. There had never been discussions about the instruments themselves, either. No “tone” and “texture” discussion of a particular model of drumkit, no “brilliance” of this or that brand of cymbals. None of that. It mostly boiled down to “It’s shiny. It’s loud. I like. Can I bang it now?”.

This was different. I had been brought in at the last minute to replace the usual drummer (spontaneous self-combustion? I’ll never know). There were expectations; a song was to be rehearsed and played, there was no time to hang around having drinks and discuss the music each one likes, no time to wait for the stars to align properly for us all to play it. There were notes and breaks and bridges. And a 7/8 meter which, to someone whose counting skills were limited to what everyone knows about drum playing, appeared to be a monumental, unsurmountable hurdle. Despite not remembering the song at all, I remember the sensation of panic, as if it were yesterday.

The fact is that everyone, (yes, you too) can play drums. You really just need to be capable of counting to 4, which, for most human beings, is not exactly brain surgery. Let me demonstrate: count 1-2-3-4, out loud, at the same pace, repeatedly. Now, instead of numbers, replace 1 and 3 with “boom”, and 2 and 4 with “tack”: boom-tack-boom-tack-boom-tack-boom, and so on. There. Congratulations, you’re a drummer, beating a solid, universal 4/4, the pillar of 90% of rock music. All else are variatons on a theme. As you can probably guess, a 2/2 is even easier, as you only need to be able to count up to 2: it goes 1-2-1-2-1-2-1-… (this skill, incidentally, could very well land you a job playing drums for Metallica, as it seems to be the only beat that Lars knows). If you absolutely must get all hip and technical, you can rename the “boom” to “bass drum” and the “tack” to “snare drum” (or, as we professionals like to refer to them, the kick and the snare).

Oh, and if you don’t care for playing drums at all, please do me at least this small favour: when you clap your hands to music with regular, even meters (2/2, 4/4, and so on, which is most modern music), please clap on the correct beat. There’s nothing as infuriating as a concert audience consistently, happily and stupidly clapping on the wrong beat. This has ruined more than one concert for me, and I suspect that my loud yelling of “noooooo, 2 and 4, for fuck’s sake!”, may have ruined it for other people as well. Now that you know the inner workings of advanced drumming, it’s actually fairly easy to clap correctly: you clap on the “snare drum”, the “tack”, the even beat (i.e. 2 and 4, or 2 and 4 and 6 and 8, and so on). Try clapping to the Alabama Shakes’ Always Alright on 2 and 4 (watch the drummer’s left hand). It just feels right. Now try to clap on 1 and 3. Exactly. It sounds like the prussian army is marching in. I suspect that this was not the groove the band was going for.

As you can now see, a 7/8 meter seems to be anything but intuitive. After that rehearsal, of which I wasn’t fired immediately because of my superior skills in following the bass-player’s foot (can’t remember your name, but thanks for the tapping, man), I sat at home, trying to make sense of this strange beast. The theory, as I understand it and making no claim that it is correct, was clear enough to me: all notes are eighth-notes, and there are seven of them in a measure. “Forget the eighths and the fourths and all the funky subdivisions,” I told myself. Count to up to seven, repeat and repeat. Aha, tapping the finger on the kitchen table, while counting out loud, works! To the drumkit! Hmmm. Hold on. When I play with real sticks on a real drumkit, my counting goes out the window. I don’t know where I am after the second sequence of sevens. Drumkit to kitchen table to drumkit to kitchen table went on for a while, and then I gave up. I shrugged it off with a “bass-player’s shoe it is.”

Later, in the shower, and maybe for having been obsessed the whole day with the damned beat, but for no reason discernible to me, I started humming a song. The song is Genesis’ Back in N.Y.C. Not only did I quickly move from humming to loudly singing into the shower-head, I also started dancing to the beat I had heard countless times and knew by heart.

Holy crap.

It goes onetwothreefourfivesixseven-onetwothreefourfivesixseven, together with the keyboard notes! It’s a 7/8! A 7/8! I could play a 7/8 all this time and never knew it!

This was such a moment of revelation, that I immediately (well, after finishing dancing in the shower, anyway. If you must know, at just the right water temperature, and if no one is watching, I am one fine singer and dancer) took it upon me to listen to what is one of the most important records of my life, song by song, no, beat by beat. A few hours later, after the tenth or so repetition of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I was speechless. I had just found out that many songs on the album were played in even weirder meters than I knew existed, which was surprising to me, for a very specific reason, which is that I could (still can) play the whole drum part of that record by heart. This meant that even if I had no name for it at the time, I knew how to play very odd meters. Stuff like Back in N.Y.C., which isn’t even a pure 7/8, it’s only 7/8 in the verse , and then 17/4 in the first part of chorus, and 35/8 (whoa!) in the second part of chorus, orRiding the Scree, which is a 9/4, or, or,… I almost had a stroke right there.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was my very first drum teacher. In those long gone days of being able to have the kit set up in the basement, I could play to the album, again and again, for hours on end, much to the annoyance of my family (given the incessant practising, they too, probably know the album by heart now). I could and did study the most minute details of Phil Collins’ drumming technique. After all, it had been my first concert ever, probably one of the last with Peter Gabriel at the helm, and as far as I’m concerned, Genesis never did manage to reach that perfect peak ever again.

I can hear you back there, thinking “Phil Collins? Have mercy…” and I agree with you. I have no patience for anything Genesis or solo, post-Peter Gabriel; Phil should have never left the drums, especially not to sing. The image that he brings to your mind is probably that of a short, bald man singing cheesy songs, which is correct, but not the only image that should pop up. You see, before all that he is a drummer, and probably one of the best drummers who ever was. If you don’t believe me, go try to follow (on the kitchen table is fine) just The Battle Of Epping Forest (7/4, 4/4 and 6/8), or Supper’s Ready (9/8). And I don’t mean to complicate your task by asking to follow the drum breaks, no, just the basic beat. Not obvious, right? And yet the songs are perfectly memorable, even if not linear.

I’ve had the Phill-Collins-is-an-insufferable-twat discussion show up in my life too many times, but never have I had the opportunity to explain why he isn’t. As you can see it takes too long to defend why he is not, at least not when he’s drumming. In the end, to me, anyone who can master that kind of technique with such ease can very well go sing cheesy stuff as much as he wants.

He taught me the 7/8 and that’s all I care about.

• • •

Celebrating failure is a cop out

Don’t be an industry douche. They call themselves ninjas or gurus…even evangelists. They’re the ones who will tell you, to your face, that they are smarter than the other guy. They’re the ones who have stopped reading by now.

David Snyder — Dear Jr Creative…

• • •

Enough (Para mim, chega)

Quick and unrevised translation by myself, feel free to suggest improvements.

Enough with the resignation and complacency. Enough with the silence, obedience and frustration. I can’t take any more of this simulation of democracy, which only serves to perpetuate the moral incompetence, the civic void and the extinction of humanism. I can’t keep on watching ambition, power for its own sake and the bowing to mercantilism, dictate the future of my children, their children and their children’s children. The insensitivity is so monstrous, that they cannot even see that their children too, will pay for their blind persistence in failing at what’s wrong and repeating the unrepeatable.

I have had enough of fake patriotism and alleged sacrifices in the name of a better future, which only exists in spreadsheets, using formulas that have always failed, created by dim-lit minds, in the name of the same obscure principles that have thrown us into the hole we’re in, always digging on one spot to cover another.

We have entrusted Portugal for too long to incompetent, lazy hands, often sullied and guided by selfish agendas. The downside of being a people who doesn’t want to get involved in politics is that we left that to them and they don’t want to leave anything for us.

Enough with the believing that they’re not doing it for questionable reasons, that they know what they’re doing, that only they can do it. Portugal is mine, yours and of all those to come, and this is not the Portugal I wish upon anybody.

We have to start over, somewhere, and I suggest that we start by restoring our dignity. You will have to accept that you don’t know how to repair the mess you’ve caused, and move aside. We are a quiet people, whose heart usually beats quietly, but when it doesn’t, everything shakes. I believe that we will know which are the right options to restore this country to its proper place, but you will need to step down from your thrones and come visit reality. If not, get out of the way and let us make what we’ve been wishing for ourselves, for more than a thousand years: a country that’s dignified, truly democratic, fair, productive, and which embraces an infinite source of wealth: the sea.

How is it done? I don’t know. Not alone, I don’t. I know that trying to solve problems with the same reasoning that created them is like trying to cure a bullet wound with another gunshot. I know that many think better than one. I know that not all of us are cut out to change the world, but all can be a part of changing it. I know that if we keep quiet, silent, repeating the same mistakes, and hoping that some solution falls on our laps, we’ll just keep on hiding the shine that this country might still have left. I know how to ask questions and I know how to look for answers. And that’s exactly what I will do and do and do again, until I find them.

João Geada — Portuguese, 46. Designer, adman and anguished father of 5

• • •

The innocent have nothing to fear

“Cheery was aware that Commander Vimes didn’t like the phrase ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’, believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’.”

Terry Pratchett — Snuff

• • •

Home. Or not.

The New York Times’ Doreen Carvajal has written a short piece wondering how Third Culture Kids deal with the concept of “home”, given that they seem to have either none or else a multitude of them, depending on how you look at it. Despite being very charming, the text presents nothing really novel, as it emulates the same format as many others: once again, it lists the multitude of contexts one lives with and presents some anecdotes on how we rationalize the many paradoxes of living, both mentally and physically, in simultaneous worlds which, more often than not, do not overlap. What it does not offer, however, is an answer to the question.

Where is “home”, then?

The article kept coming back to me, always with a very slight seasoning of that bitter and nagging feeling, almost imperceptible, that something was wrong. I couldn’t say what it was; after all, I have never been able to answer the question myself and thought I had made peace with trying to, a long time ago. It only took me a few days to realize that I knew the answer all along. What’s more, I had probably known it from the very moment I stopped looking for it (and I have looked for a very long time) or, in a very zen twist of fate, because I had stopped looking for it. There was no single moment of revelation, but rather the sensation of a giant wave slowly washing over me; only when I was wholly engulfed, did I notice its magnitude.

I am not absolutely certain that I qualify as a Third Culture Kid (for one I’m not a kid, and also am at odds with the expression itself), and have no pretension of having had an epiphany that’s hidden from others like me. The question of “home”, however, is one that has claimed too much of my time and has been the cause of too much hesitation, puzzlement and yes, sadness in my life. Unlike others, only seldom did I see the romantic, quirky side of it, and when I did, it was mostly to use it as leverage. I am not the only one: let he who is with Third Culture cast the first stone.

My life is made (so far) of more than 40 addresses, 4 countries, 5 languages, 10 schools and all the other trivia of which those numbers are significant multipliers: I’ve never, ever lived in the same house for more than 5 years (where the average is 3), “the tube”, “subway” and “métro” still sound to me like foreign words describing the U-bahn, in my world there’s a place in Utah where the cowboys speak French (Hoss Cartwright and everyone at the Bonanza ranch), I’ve tried, without any luck, to explain why, in my mind, the angst of the Sezession is almost exactly the same as Fado or the Blues and I had once to spend thirty minutes at a restaurant in Miami trying to convince the Mexican waiter that I was not from Galicia (he was not convinced). There are literally hundreds of examples like this. They may sound funny, endearing or outrageous to you, but to me, they are like a giant hurdle, an announcement of the moment when I have to start explaining the same thing, one more time, over and over again.

One day, I chose to not subject myself to them anymore, by simply perfecting the proven method of discreetly maneuvering the conversation to places where those kinds of questions don’t exist. With time, I’ve become quite good at it.

Now I know that looking for an answer to the question of where “home” is for me, is fundamentally irrelevant. I know exactly where it is: it’s when you find yourself surrounded by people like you, where you can let your guard down and be all the “yous” that you are, at the same time, speaking that mezcla of a language that includes all the languages, where you can start a sentence as a real Viennese, continue it like an Englishman and finish it like a Frenchman. And I don’t mean the words themselves, but rather who you are at that exact, atomic moment. For me, speaking a language was always a consequence of being of that culture, not the cause of it, to the point of never having been able to answer the simple question: “what is your mother-tongue?”  (I still don’t know).

I am of no place and of all the places, I am of those moments when you’re finally like everyone else, despite being uniquely different. That’s where home is, and unlike many, I can carry it around with me.

 

• • •

The end of the empire

A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually, emotionally and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans and will usher America into a new dark age. It was the economic collapse in Yugoslavia that gave us Slobodan Milosevic. It was the Weimar Republic that vomited up Adolf Hitler. And it was the breakdown in Tsarist Russia that opened the door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to loudmouth talk show hosts, whom we naïvely dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal.

Chris Hedges — American Psychosis

• • •

How virtue goes rancid in the sun

Good intentions, like mother’s milk, are a perishable commodity. As wealth accumulates, men decay, and sooner or later an aristocracy that once might have aspired to an ideal of wisdom and virtue goes rancid in the sun, becomes an oligarchy distinguished by a character that Aristotle likened to that of “the prosperous fool”—its members so besotted by their faith in money that “they therefore imagine there is nothing that it cannot buy.

Lewis H. Lapham — Feast Of Fools

• • •

The hindsight bias

When we attempt to understand past events, we implicitly test the hypotheses or rules we use to both interpret and anticipate the world around us. If, in hindsight, we systematically underestimate the surprises which the past held and holds for us, we are subjecting those hypotheses to inordinately weak tests and, presumably, finding little reason to change them. Thus, the very outcome knowledge which gives us the feeling that we understand what the past was all about may prevent us from learning anything from it.

B. Fischhoff — Hindsight ≠ foresight: the effect of outcome knowledge on judgment under uncertainty

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