Monday, 15 April 2013

Some time related things

Hello all, A couple of things sprang to mind when I was going over the Odyssey this weekend. As you will be able to tell, I haven't thought at all hard about them, but they might make useful food for thought over the coming days...

1) Meter: The epics were all written in dactylic hexameter, which means that they had a basic pulse in six that could be broken up in a number of ways. Each of the six segments could either be made up of a long syllable and two shorts (a dactyl) or two longs (a spondee). The first four could be either; the penultimate is usually a dactyl, the last always a spondee.

Obviously, the straightest musical response to this is to take the scheme as a metric rhythmical template. On the other hand, I tend to prefer things a bit more wobbly; the pulses could instead be interpreted more fluidly as gestures with greater latitude over length (something like Wadada Leo Smith's rhythm units?), or longer, more structural chunks of time.

 2) Improvising Poets: I was greatly tickled to read in the introduction to my translation that the evidence seems to be that recitations of the epics were, at least for some period, improvised (albeit in a very structured way).

In the Odyssey each character has associated with them so-called 'epithets' that often accompany any invocation of their name (so, e.g, Odysseus is varyingly "much-enduring" or "a man of many schemes" among things). It seems to be the case that the deployment of any particular epithet is at the service of the meter - whatever was required to ensure scansion in an improvised telling.

This brings to mind piece's like Cage's Four-Six, where it is up to performers (to an extent) to find a right time to play out certain bits of preselected material.

3) Recurrence: One thing my translation makes quite clear is how much structural repetition there is in the poem. For example, in the early books, while Telemachus is getting set to go sailing, each time he mentions it he repeats almost exactly the words spoken to him by Athena when she suggested the trip. Such points could serve as possibly useful markers if we were to do anything with an audio rendition of the poem.   

On which note, I'm off to rip the sound tracks from episodes of Ulysses 31 (which are neither in meter, nor improvised, nor particularly recurrent, but do have great DX7-prog music)



Looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow!

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