I often use syncopation as a way to not only make rhythm intense and jagged, but also to find out how far away musicians can get from each other rhythmically while still staying connected to the beat. When I began writing Four Kings Fight Five
in 1988, I was thinking about how most music of the world is clearly connected to a pulse. But there also exists music that is extremely complex rhythmically and not pulse based at all. These were two approaches that I wanted to meld.
What I did in Four Kings Fight Five
is to have a common pulse among the nine musicians, so that the music is always pulse based, but, at the same time, to make the rhythmic connections very distant. I did this by forming a chain of simple rhythmic syncopations that spread out in sub-divisions of both 2 and 3, so that over the course of a 9-beat measure the rhythm is subdivided into 6, 8, 9, 12, 13.5, 24, and 27. Although it sounds complicated and builds up a frenetic texture, the instrumentalist playing 27 beats per measure is subdividing against 13.5 beats per measure, which are quarter-note triplets against 9 beats per measure.
I thought of he nine instruments as the scene of a battleground, although it is unclear who is fighting whom. I like the biblical reference of Abraham going to battle against four kings who have triumphed over five kings. The battle of the four kings against five is unimportant in itself –– it is related in Genesis only to let you know how strong the four kings are that Abraham defeats, that is, they are strong enough to have beaten five others.
Perhaps at the same time that these nine insruments are battling it out, they are also working together to create a texture that is more mysterious then all of these numbers I mention here.
––Michael GordonFour Kings Fight Five
was commissioned by The Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust and is dedicated to Glenn Branca.