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? ;)


awnein said...

dont forget bassline/niche with all the 4/4- 12/8 time switches, which is definilty where i reckon zomby gets it from. nice article.

Rory said...

'Learn' is still my favourite Mala track, for those precise reasons - the constant tension set up between a group of elements that sound as though they ought to clash with one another but never do. Nice post, thoroughly agree with the sentiment!

Anonymous said...

keep it up!

these are a real pleasure to read!

Anonymous said...

The neighbours love this one

Anonymous said...

stop looking at music the way you write about it, especially the dmz bits. comes across demeaning.

just enjoy the sound :)

Tony said...

"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")"

come on guys get with the program... King Tubby taught that ages ago... it's what dub is all about, nothing new going on :D

still, nothing but respect for Mala

Blackdown said...

"stop looking at music the way you write about it"

Does anyone know what this even means?

just enjoy the sound

Great music holds up to deeper inspection. If it's only great music when you just lie back and "enjoy the sound" it's probably not truly great.