Volume 8, January 2017
Revolution in Action: A Motivic Analysis of "Ghosts: First Variation" As Performed by Gary Peacock

by Robert Sabin, Ph.D.

4. Tempo Motives

Ayler and Peacock begin their improvisations at 0:44 at the tempo of ♩≈ 184, only slightly slower than the original ♩≈ 188 used for the melody at letter A (Figure 5). This tempo, as an explicit connection to the theme, will reappear sporadically throughout the performance as a significant rhythmic characteristic. With this tempo connecting moments of Peacock's improvisation to the melodic presentation, the tempo of a given phrase (apart from its melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, interactive, and timbral characteristics) becomes a point of improvised expression, allowing direct or remote connections to the theme, another musician, and various instances of rhythmic dissonance via changing amounts of phrase-to-phrase congruency.  These tempo shifts provide a means of tracing a type of "tempo crescendo" throughout the performance.

Figure 5

Figure 5. Solo transition

Peacock's rhythmic dissonance then begins to intensify as his phrases begin to sequentially slow in tempo. This begins at 0:44 with ♩≈184, followed by a short gesture at ♩≈ 162, a longer phrase slower still at ♩=153, and then reversing direction and accelerating to a slightly slower version of the original tempo, ♩=179 at 0:54. Peacock's line here is divergent in tempo, creating an obscured perception of meter between the bass and saxophone. The rallentando in Peacock's lines diverges in number of pulses, with two less beats notated when compared to Ayler. Their tempos converge again however for the interactive realignment of call and response at 0:54.  Here Peacock extends the end of Ayler's phrase, finishing it and momentarily joining the two improvisations into a single gesture; Peacock essentially "finishes" Albert's phrase. Peacock furthers this connection by returning to Ayler's tempo and resolving to a tonic unison albeit via contrary motion, from below rather than from above.

In these phrases Peacock can be heard slowing down the tempo of his improvisation, but doing so at the phrase level (i.e., phrase by phrase) rather than gradually changing velocity within the lines themselves, as in the extreme form of rubato Ayler frequently employs above. In these cases, various recurrent tempos can be heard as motivic characteristics, potentially independent of other gestural attributes within the phrase. This is evident when examining Peacock's 56 individual phrases that occur underneath Ayler's solo, the individual tempos that range from ♩≈ 94 to ♩≈ 301 appearing in Figure 6. While these tempos can often shift dramatically, a steady overall acceleration in the median tempo of his playing is observable.  This increase in velocity mirrors the steady intensification of Ayler's improvisation.

Figure 6

Figure 6. Tempo fluctuations 0:44-2:54

Figure 7

Figure 7. Best-fit line, median tempo acceleration

While the specific sequencing of tempos varies, the overall acceleration of Peacock's lines is evident when plotting a best-fit line through the entirety of the solo (Figure 7). This line shows that throughout Ayler's improvisation Peacock increases his overall phrase tempo in parallel to the increases in Ayler's dynamics and density, with both musicians peaking at the conclusion of the saxophone solo. Further, Peacock's tempo employs increasingly large distances between neighboring tempos, between 0:55 and 2:50 (Figure 8. A-E). These boundary tempos increase in distance as Ayler's solo progresses, beginning with ≈100 bpm (A) then widening to a 179 bpm at the climax of the improvisation (F).

Peacock seems to be mirroring layers of complexity, as well as timbral and dynamic dissonance produced by Ayler, but doing so through an acceleration of, and unpredictably dissonant shifts in speed. Yet simultaneously within these abrupt shifts is a gradual acceleration of the performance's original tempo, which can be heard by plotting an additional best-fit line for the upper tempo boundary from the onset of the section. By examining the upper tempos one can observe a gradual acceleration of the performance's original tempo (♩≈184) to the Ayler's climax (♩≈291), with the majority of tempo variety occurring below the original.

Figure 8

Figure 8.  Boundary Tempos

The detailed nature of individual tempo recurrence can be seen in Figure 9 (0:55-1:18).  Peacock begins this section roughly a tempo, (♩=196) with the half note triplet gesture recalling Ayler's cut time melody. While Ayler maintains a loose and expressive rubato rooted in the pulse of the melody, Peacock's utilizes a few specific and repeating pulse streams. The first (♩=196, a1) incorporates a slight accelerando up to ♩≈ 210, before simultaneously dropping into a half time feel, ♩≈ 105 (a2) and labeled due to this transformational relationship.10  A variation of the original again returns at 1:06, with ♩≈ 192 (a3).11 A second slower tempo stream then begins at 1:02 (♩≈ 170, b1), and will return again at 1:12 with a short phrase at ♩≈ 172 (b2). The third tempo motive, slower still, occurs at 1:04 (♩≈ 137, labeled c1), and returns at 1:13 (c2, ♩≈ 130), which is immediately followed by an additional phrase at 1:15 (c3, ♩≈ 136). Within these twenty seconds of music, a great variety of textures are created through these changes in tempo, the shifts in velocity between phrases becoming a predominant characteristic of Peacock's texture. As the accompaniment progresses, certain tempos (♩≈ 196, ♩≈ 170, ♩≈ 136, and ♩≈ 154 in particular) will recur throughout the tenor solo.

Figure 9

Figure 9. Tempo motives, 0:55-1:18