Anne Danielsen

Structure and Flexibility: Microrhythm in Groove-based Music

In groove-based music, a repetitive rhythmic pattern of one or two bars is typically repeated almost verbatim across significant stretches of a given song. The term groove therefore refers to both the basic pattern that is repeated (sometimes specified as a swing groove, funk groove, etc.) and the movement-inducing feel that is produced by the actual sounds when such a pattern is performed (either by instruments or by computers). Given the obvious significance of the groove, how can we theorize and analyze rhythm in groove-based music in order to shed light on the relevance of microrhythmic aspects to the experience of dancing and listening to it?

In this paper, I will present a framework for understanding microrhythm in groove-based music that engages with rhythm specifically as an interaction between two analytically separable levels — virtual reference structures and actual sounds. It is an approach that evokes, in turn, the much-theorized interaction between syntax and actual speech or writing in linguistics. I will then apply this framework to a selection of funk grooves from the 1960s and 1970s. A core theme in the paper is how rhythm often represents a play with structural expectations, and how new structures may in fact emerge as part of the musical process. Musical structure, in turn, is perhaps best thought of not as a given but as a dynamic aspect that can change over time, both in a phenomenological and a historical sense.