; Feel the Beat Come Down
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Feel the Beat Come Down


  • pg 1
									             Stan Hawkins (2003). Feel The Beat Come Down : House music as Rhetoric

Context of the article

         s                                 s
Hawkin’ article appears in Allan Moore’ book, Analyzing Popular Music (2003, Cambridge
University Press). The main idea of the book is to present the writings of a range of authors on the
musical object rather than on the theoretical ideas underpinning much popular music studies. Allan
Moore is professor of music at Surry University. His previous contributions have been Rock: the
primary text which was an entry into the musicology of rock. The main thread here is that Moore sees
the primary text as being the music itself. He has contributed analytical pieces on the Beatles and also,
as he does in this book, on the music of Jethro Tull.


1. Introduction Allan F. Moore; 2. Popular music analysis: ten apothegms and four instances Rob
Walser; 3. From lyric to anti-lyric: analysing the words in pop songs Dai Griffiths; 4. The sound is out
there: score, sound design and exoticism in The X-Files Robynn J. Stilwell; 5. Feel the beat come
down: House music as rhetoric Stan Hawkins; 6. The determining role of performance in the
articulation of meaning: the case of ‘ a Little Tenderness’Rob Bowman; 7. Marxist Music analysis
without Adorno: popular music and urban geography Adam Krims; 8. Jethro Tull and the case for
modernism in mass culture Allan F. Moore; 9. Coming of age: pangs of history in late 1970s rock John
Covach; 10. Is anybody listening? Chris Kennett; 11. Talk and text: popular music and
ethnomusicology Martin Stokes

It is Hawkin’ chapter that I will concentrate on in this presentation. ‘House Music as Rhetoric’is an
analysis of the 1987 mix, French Kiss. Unusually for house music, French Kiss was released in 1989
and reached number 3 in the UK charts despite a ban by the BBC because of its unusual vocal content.
According to Bidder1 (no date), French Kiss was a major landmark in that it was the first House 12” to
vary the speed of its bpm, immediately extending the parameters of creativity within the confines of a
4/4 rhythm.


One of the central ideas of this book is to place the musical object, the sounds themselves, at the centre
of any study. I would now like to examine Hawkins’analytical approach in some detail followed by a
discussion of some of the main points of the approach.

      1.   Hawkins’states that his approach is largely musicological. His aim is to find ways of
           evaluating the track by ‘identifying some of the organizing structures and processes that are
           relevant to understanding its aesthetic’ The central part of his approach is to examine the style
           of the piece by examining compositional features which ‘                .
                                                                      systemize it’ To do this, he employs
           a range of reductive techniques which will:

                ‘expose the details of structure and processing through which various parameters of
               rhythmic construction are presented as a basis for framing questions relating to musical
               composition and its communicative scope for expression’   .

           Hawkins’primary concern then, is to reveal the structure of the piece as outlined by the
           rhythmic patterns that organise it.

      2.   Hawkins spends a considerable time in his introduction outlining his methodology and
           ideology. This allows him the opportunity to situate any interpretation of house music, and its
           meaning, in the social space it relates to. If we understand the piece to be organised musically,
           then we should be able to utilise musicological techniques to make sense of its effect in that

    House: the rough guide (no date) published by Rough Guides (Penguin).
    3.   In addition, Hawkins also seeks to understand something of the technologies that affect the
         compositional processes of the piece. The production skills used in mixing and editing
         musical sound by the DJ are an important part of this process.

    4.   Finally, Hawkins takes the view that the complex social circumstances involved in House
         music and expresses an interest in the relationship between creation and reception of these
         sounds. This is an interesting perspective where dancing, in response to house music, is
         examined as the relationship between DJ, evolving technologies and socio-cultural

Structural considerations.

Once the preliminary musicological considerations are dealt with, Hawkins divides the rest of his
article into the following sections:

    ?    French Kiss: on the wave off the Chicago phenomenon
    ?    Editing and mechanizing the beat
    ?    Stripping it down! Beats, hypermetric units, CGPs, and processes in ‘French Kiss’
    ?    Jacking, desire and house aesthetics
    ?    Conclusion: deep means of expressing ideas or a just ‘cheesy’cliché?

The main part of his discussion is in the ‘  Stripping it down!’section where the musical elements he
identifies through his analysis are discussed in some detail. This is the major area I will concentrate on
in this paper. Prior to this, there is some preliminary contextualization of the Chicago house scene as a
descendant of disco. His contextual history draws on research by a number of writers including
Thornton, (1995); Kempster, (1996); Rietveld, (1997, 1998); and Reynolds, (1998). Within this
contextual setting, French Kiss is presented as a ‘ track’phenomenon which ‘        encapsulated the
sexual explicitness of Chicago house music in the late eighties’(p. 84).

Having set the particular context for the music, the discussion develops an idea that the aesthetic of
house is to be found in the ‘creative application of music technology’(p. 85). In spite of the machine
based technology used to generate the sounds of French Kiss, there is a strong sense of ‘  feel’in the
music. Drawing on interview material with Louis and academic work by Keil and Feld (1994),
Hawkins raises questions about the way that this music is received and evaluated by suggesting that a
strong ideology of authenticity emerges from the ‘  imaginative control of obsolete equipment’  .

Having established an historical and technological context, Hawkins discusses the music of French
Kiss in considerable detail in the section entitled, ‘Stripping it down! Beats, hypermetric units, CGPs
and processes in French Kiss’ This is a substantial section which makes a number of points.

    1.   Hawkins, drawing on Chernoff (1979) and Small (1987), likens the role of the DJ to the
         ‘master drummer’found in certain African cultures whose responsibility it is to control the
         music for the event. The looping of grooves into polyrhythmic patterns is part of the appeal of
         the music. It is these rhythmic processes and metric structures that become a focal point for

    2.   The beat is understood to be a unit of temporal measurement that can both release and regulate
         energy. Hawkins is clear that the beat is not just a matter of allocating time but an important
         expressive quality of the music.

    3.   Hawkins analysis is essentially structural. The internal logic of the piece is understood in
         terms of ‘                .
                    hypermetricity’ In a later discussion of this idea he discusses the tension between
         vertical and horizontal aspects of the rhythmic texture. Hypermetricity could also imply the
         breaking down of the kinetic flow through repetition, variation and transformation. Hawkins
         is interested in understanding how repetition works as a process as well as understanding its
         function as a compositional process.

    4.   Hawkins sees the structure as being in three main divisions, A, B and C along with an
         introduction and a coda.
      Phase A                                                Phase B            Phase C

Within this overall structure, Hawkins identifies ‘approximately seventy units of repetition’(p. 90) of
what he terms hypermetric units. Hypermetric units are essentially 4 bar phrases (16 quarter beats)
which are organized into groups called CGPs or Cellular Group Patterns. The CGPs (eleven in all) are
outlined in tabular form. For Hawkins this method of looking at the music provides evidence of the
music’ symmetrical and asymmetrical structural properties.

Time             Hypermetric     Groove      Form          Dominant Musical Features
Duration         Units           CGP
0.0-0.4                                      Intro         Strings/space sound
0.5-0.59         1-7             CGP         Phase A       Synth/kick/hi-hats
1.0 –1.30        8-11            a                         Synth/kick/hi-hats/shakers
1.31- 2.02       12-15           b                         Brass stabs (panned and filtered)
2.03-2.42        16-20           c                         Reverb hand claps on 2 and 4
2.43-4.26        21-34           d                         Four-pitch melodic synth motif
4.27-5.28        35-41           e                         Modulation down a maj. second/sustained
                                                           string note
5.21-6.09        42-45           f                         Slowing down of tempo/entry of female
                                                           vocal moans and grunts
6.10-6.22        46-47           none        Phase B       No drums sounds/vocal utterances
                                                           accompanied by slowed down brass motif
6.23-7.09        48-53           g                         Entry of groove gradually speeding up
7.10-7.17        54              fermata                   No kit, filtered brass sounds and vocal
7.18-8.13        55-61           h           Phase C       Return of main beat/increase in tempo/vocal
                                                           moans/pitch modulation in brass motif
8.14-8.41        62-65           i                         Snare drum rolls mixed in
8.42-9.19        66-71           j                         Full arrangement of all parts/long string note
9.27-9.53                        none        Coda          No rhythm/string note exposed/entry of ring
                                                           modulated phasing effects in fade out

The musical logic of the piece is, in this way, governed by the beats, CGPs and the hypermetric units.
Grooves and riffs in his analysis have been “categorized according to the musical data that determines
their transformations” (p. 90). Hawkins suggests that ‘ while we might easily perceive one main groove
running throughout the track, there are also grooves within grooves; it is this aspect of musical
organization that ultimately provides the alternating levels of intensity that define the track’ syntax’
(p. 90).

Beat/s:                    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 1 2 3 4 5 … ..16 1 2 3… .16…

Hypermetric units
(16 beats or 4 bars)         1 ....16        1 … .16         1 ....16       1 ..16

Cellular groove              Hypermetric patterns       Hypermetric       Hypermetric
patterns (groups of          1-7                        patterns 8-11     patterns 12-
hypermetric units)                                                        15
                                                                    French Kiss. Organizational Structure

Cellular Groove Patterns

Central to Hawkins’view of the internal structure of the piece are the CGPs. These are capable of a
number of transformations through 4 main compositional processes including:

    ?    Entries of musical ideas
    ?    Effects processing
    ?    Tempo regulation
    ?    Textural manipulation

These musical ideas found as the Cellular Groove Patterns, ‘ never identical, a certain sense of
expectancy results through the anticipation of changing affects in the CGPs’progression (pp. 91-92).
This ‘                                                                                        feel
      cross rhythmic metric tension’becomes a central aesthetic of House and this is how we ‘ the
rhythm’ .

Looking at the groove patterns from a different perspective, Hawkins utilizes a sonogram to analyse the
‘distribution of energy’at the micro level. Looking at the sonogram, Hawkins concludes that energy is
concentrated in specific frequency layers. The most concentrated energy is to be found below 1000 Hz
in the bass drum and riff. The second concentration is between 1400 and 5000 Hz with the hi-hat
intensity filling most of the audible spectrum between 6000 and 17000 Hz. In addition, the sonogram
indicates clear ‘                           .
                  gaps in the sonic texture’ This type of analysis may, Hawkins suggests, hold the ‘clue
to the chemistry of the groove’  .

On a bigger scale, the alterations of tempo, from the virtual standstill to the ‘outburst of blissful charge’
in the final part, demonstrates the gradual manipulation of tempo and the aesthetic of variation which
Hawkins’feels is important to the aesthetic of house music. The entry of new sounds, the sense of
progression (p. 95) and the constant transformation are held together by the ‘   predominance of the beat’
(p. 95). His point in theorizing beat, rhythm and structure is that the regularity of the beat is combined
with a ‘ multi-dimensionality’(p. 96) which creates a rhythmic fluidity. In other words, the rhythmic
layers created by Louis, can be interpreted in a number of ways by the listener. However, Hawkins is
keen to emphasize the intentionality of the beat in his discussion. At phase C he suggests:

              That the functionalism of repetition triggers off all those physical reflexes which create
              the sensations of an imaginary space and an urgency to dance (P. 96).

In the final few pages, Hawkins brings together a number of issues and ideas which, if nothing else,
reflect his particular context, or his way of understanding not only the music but the way some readers
might read this music. Hawkins locates this music in the ‘  house’where the interaction of DJ, clubbers
and technology results in musical exertion, exhilaration and abandonment as individuals respond to the
beat and ‘                            .
           Cellular groove patterns’ For Hawkins:

         The symbolic exchange of the beat always equates with the cyclical flow of erogenous
         material. And here, it seems as if our personal notions of time are dependent on instinctive
         responses to the dispersion of rhythmic pulsations (97-8).

In these ‘hyper-sexual tracks’jacking would occur at an appropriate point in the build up of energy
such as occurs in phase C, the final section, of the piece.

         The stomping of the beat is the sexualised trademark of the track, its intention being to ‘jack’
         the crowd into a state of excitement.

This heady mix of beat, rhythm, sexual excitement, hedonism, transcendence and thrill occurs in
through the interactive process which unites the human body with its sonic environment.
           The felt qualities of volume, mix, timbre, sound-system and groove produce the simuli for
           dance, so the affective force of energy flows through the beat into the body, eliciting powerful
           emotional responses’(p. 101).

Hawkins uses the words ‘    hedonistic’and ‘  spontaneous’in his description fo the aesthetic of the dance
floor. The responses of the dancers is based on an ‘  intrinsic awareness’of structure, rhythm and
musical energy. [crit 12] ‘                   ,                                  is
                            What is at stake’ Hawkins would have us believe, ‘ the simultaneous
                   s                              .
mapping of one’ erotic identity onto the beat’ That said, Hawkins emphasizes the humorous quality of
this track, its ironic ‘edge’and its ‘fun-like...musical rhetoric’(p. 102). For Hawkins, house music’  s
survival in the 21st century is assured.

Comments and critique

      1.   The structural analytical context seems rather narrow. However, Walser (2003) suggests that:

                    analysis maps, [are] like any map, it reduces and abstracts in order to show particular
                    relationships more clearly. Two dimensional maps cannot accurately represent three-
                    dimensional surfaces; so too with prose mappings of music… All maps are drawn to
                    serve specific purposes, to show relationships at a particular scale. Seemingly passive
                    descriptions can be usefully understood as examples of analyses that conceal their
                    purposes and goals. (2003:25)

           However, in a much different context, Umberto Eco points out that in the 12th century, maps
           made over 300 years before were still being used by some schools of thought.2 My point is
           that the map used may be clear, but it may be an old one and therefore of limited use.

      2.   There are arguments surrounding the difficulties of repetition which appear to belong to the
           1980s (see Middleton on repetition). The concern, as I understand it, was as part of a
           discussion to justify the importance of repetition in popular music against dominant methods
           of analysis. Langlois suggests that house is not intended for repeated listening because of the
           internal logic of the piece creating a redundancy by which the meanings of a first hearing soon
           become exhausted. But, is this not true of much music and isn’ this the point of this style. The
           potency of the piece is not necessarily in the listening process. Perhaps Hawkins is too quick
           to bring a general (theoretical) conclusion to the piece without perhaps considering the
           music’ effect on him? We do not necessarily have a fully worked out aesthetic for this type of
           music. (See Keil and Feld, 1984).

      3.   My main question would be Does the structural analytic system (structure, hypermetric beats,
           Cellular Groove Patterns) work? Yes to serve the purpose Hawkins has created. However, is
           this what you hear? Grooves and riffs in his analysis have been “categorized according to the
           musical data that determines their transformations” (p. 90). Hawkins suggests that ‘    while we
           might easily perceive one main groove running throughout the track, there are also grooves
           within grooves; it is this aspect of musical organization that ultimately provides the alternating
           levels of intensity that define the track’ syntax’(p. 90). All that is fine, but perhaps Hawkins
           misses the point because of his initial desire to seek an internal logic. There are other ways to
           understand the logic of the groove and the structure of the piece.3 (See Middleton 2000).

               ?                            t
                    What happens if you don’ hear the CGP
               ?                            t
                    What happens if you don’ hear the hypermetric units
               ?    Should you hear them?
               ?    What happens if you simply dance to the music?

      4.   My other concern in Hawkins is his use of sonograms to examine aspects of energy in the
           piece. (see comparative material) Waveforms, frequencies and blocks of sound are perhaps
           more complex.
                     ?   What do we hear?

    Eco, U. 1988. Foucault’ Pendulum. p. 456.
    See Middleton 2000 ‘Popular Music Analysis and Musicology: Bridging the Gap’.
              ?   When you hear the string sounds, do you hear what you see?
              ?   Can you hear the gaps?
              ?   Does the sonogram show the chemistry of the groove?

5.   The final point, and there were many I missed, would be around the discussion of the sexual,
     erotic or emotional identity which is a key reference point for his discussion. His view that
     ‘ onset of dance is primarily a spontaneous response to rhythmic gestures, based upon an
     intrinsic awareness of structure and processing’(p. 101) point towards an essentialization he
     wishes to critique as a ‘                        .
                              discerning musicologist’ Why does,

     The symbolic exchange of the beat always equates with the cyclical flow of erogenous
     material. And here, it seems as if our personal notions of time are dependent on instinctive
     responses to the dispersion of rhythmic pulsations (97-8).

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