“Alarm Will Sound” – rhythm



I find the phrase “alarm will sound” to be a persistent challenge. I spend days looking for “alarms,” realizations that disrupt my pattern of thinking. Despite my searching I don’t find them every day, but when I do they can be startling, exciting, confusing, joyful, depressing, inspirational… in short emotional and worth the hunt.

I’m usually not the first to have these realizations. Others have probably come across them already but that doesn’t make them any less special or earth-shattering to me.

The ones that I like the most are when I learn something about myself or the way I react to things. One personal, musical “alarm” that has sounded I’ve heard deals with rhythm. So much of the music to which we’re exposed has a consistent beat: everything from Mozart to Kanye West. When I first encountered music that didn’t stick to that consistency I was shaken and confused.


Ligeti - Movement 3
Excerpt from Movement 3 of Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto


Excerpt from Jitterbug Méchanique by Benedict Mason
Excerpt from Jitterbug Méchanique by Benedict Mason

For instance, music like Ligeti’s and Benedict Mason’s were both confusing and intriguing. The parts lined up but not in regular, expected ways: in the case of Ligeti something like 3 against 4 against 5 against 7 and in the case of Mason much of it has no easily describable relationship.

Then I heard the alarm. It came while I was working at Starbucks: taking orders via headset from the drive through, hearing the conversations in the store, listening to the beeps from the coffee brewer. Beautiful cacophony coming together to create the world. Life doesn’t always come together in even, predictable patterns. Even the smoothest working team has individual parts that move at different speeds.

What is beautiful about this music is that the individual parts move at their own rate, then those parts come together to create a breathing world. The relationships that exist in Mozart and elsewhere still exist but they are more complex, not limited to even divisions of 2 and 3.

I go the gym regularly and frequently I find myself thinking about the people exercising. Each with their bodies moving at their own speed, their heart rates moving at a different rate than that and their minds thinking about who know’s what. It’s a complex system.

(More than one or two emotions/more than a few worldviews…)

In the end, what I love about contemporary music is the entirety of contemporary music. The fact that, taken as a whole, it represents the world: a multitude of viewpoints/experiences/perspectives. They all bear similarities even at the most basic level (sound over time) but there’s nearly endless variety despite those similarities.

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