Sunday, June 13, 2010
The greatest rhythms in dubstep part 2
Last year I started writing about rhythms in dubstep and since then things have been a bit mental. Anyway here's part 2 and I'll try and not and leave it so long for part three, honest.
Mala "Learn" (DMZ, 2007)
Nominally, "Learn" is both a halfstep beat (in where the snare is placed) and "wobble" tune (in so far as it uses an LFO on the sub bassline), but the truth is it's absolutely neither of these things, as far as the words are popularly understood to mean. It is instead, so much more. The genius of "Learn" is revealed as the arrangement flows and that itself is a thing of wonder. Not least because it makes you wonder why more producers don't do it more.
"Learn" begins by throwing you in an echo chamber, a dark and dangerous one, using dub-as-process (not dub-as-sample-source) to bring you as close to dub as dubstep truly gets. The high hats lead the way, suggesting a way out of this dangerous space, a path into the light, but it's a slippy and treacherous one.
To begin with the hats seem fairly traditionally placed - on beat but with a short (probably 16th) delay - and then offbeat 8th hats come in, creating the classic house 8th on-beat/offbeat tension. But as we descend towards the drop the delay on the on beat hats suddenly they change time signature, from 4/4 to 12/8. Naturally these two patterns can be overlayed, by placing three triplet note hats where once were two eighths, so the track can be beatmixed while giving the impression of changing time signature midway through. It's a simple but very rare move, with the only people that spring to mind being Wiley and Zomby who perform 4/4 --> 12/8 switches.
The sub drops in, adding a physical impact, but in truth at this stage "Learn" is still skeletally thin, a body of percussive bones that flesh barely clings to. Mala sees to that: the track progresses and reveals its second moment of rhythmic genius.
While Loefah, in past interviews, has talked about the use of space as rhythmic element ("the way I see it, space is just as much of an instrument as a kick or a snare. You need peaks and troughs"), as the track develops Mala uses a synth stab as percussion. Riding triplets again, it's a completely new element added to the track but proves magical, shocking in its unannounced late arrival. He could have added it in 4/4, but by adding it in 12/8 he respects the understanding that for a track to rhythmically work as a whole (unless you're looking for something deliberately jumbled), each percussive element has to have it's place, not conflict with others and work towards the greater, utterly coherent whole.
Mala is the teacher: why haven't you Learned anything? ;)