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Book Chapter

Tempo, meter, and form: An analysis of "Dansa" from Mali


Polak,  Rainer
Department of Music, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Polak, R., & London, J. (2022). Tempo, meter, and form: An analysis of "Dansa" from Mali. In L. B. Shuster, S. Mukherji, & N. Dinnerstein (Eds.), Trends in world music analysis: New directions in world music analysis (pp. 143-158). London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781003033080-9.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-17FB-2
Traditionally, meters are distinguished by the number of beats per measure (duple versus triple) and the organization of the subdivision of the beat (simple versus compound). London (2012) introduced the concept of tempo-metrical types, which are distinguished by the number of metrical layers present, the organization of each metrical layer (which may or may not be isochronous), and by the absolute timing of events on each metrical layer (London 2012). For example, temporal intervals in the range of 100–300 ms are perceived and produced differently from intervals in the range of 500–1000 ms. Thus two instances of the “same” meter in the traditional sense (e.g., 9/8 or 4/4) at different tempos may have very different perceptual properties and motional affordances, and thus will have distinct gestural and affective qualities (London 2012, Epstein 1995). “Dansa” is the single most popular standard piece in the Khasonka dundunba drumming tradition from western Mali. Its beats are isochronous, but their subdivisions are not (Polak 2010; Polak and London 2014). That is, Dansa’s subdivisions are not a succession of even duplets or triplets, but based on a stable timing ratio (≈60:40) that consistently falls between duple and triple subdivision. This timing ratio is a metrical subdivision category unto itself (Polak, et al. 2018). Moreover, Dansa, like many Malian percussion pieces, involves a large-scale accelerando, and thus it necessarily undergoes a series of TMT transformations. Our chapter will (a) present an introduction to Khasonka dundunba drumming, (b) introduce the rhythms used in Dansa, (c) present timing analyses from an original corpus of Dansa performances, and (d) relate the timing data to specific TMTs, leading to (e) a discussion of the broader implications of Dansa for theories of rhythm and meter, especially in terms of its hierarchical structure.