Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Contratiempo Embodiment Rhythm: Pregón Troubleshooting

There are times when even the best lesson plans get deferred when unexpected-yet-important things pop up. Last night was such a time. I'd put the music on, and was playing martillo on bongó (I've been doing the latter for the past month to help participants acclimatise to the rhythm and how the instrument sounds) while participants warmed up using last week's exercise two as a recap...

Warm Up: Switching between 'coro-pregón' and 'pregón' phrasing in Caribbean sway, maracas, and vocalisation
Solo practice. Caribbean sway performed contratiempoMaracas playing pregón: "tok" (beat 4) with the hembra and "tik" with the handles. Full vocalisation "tok-tik-tuk-tik" on beats 4-1-2-3 respectively. Participants alternated between 'coro-pregón' (i.e. full Caribbean sway) and 'pregón' (i.e. side step only), switching at their own choosing.

I looked up and was initially dismayed to see that, although some participants where vocalising and playing maracas correctly, their embodiment rhythm had frame-shifted such that their pregón was where the coro should have been and vice versa! I signalled a correction, which was made, and while the rest of the warm-up continued I thought on how to make use of this opportunity.

By the time the song ended, I'd decided that the best course was to adopt a masterclass approach and dissect the phenomenon.

Briefing: "Why did the error occur?"
The process began by asking participants, "why did the error occur?" to get them fully engaged. In typical form they freely chipped in, objectively, with their thoughts. It made me proud - there is no blame culture in Solares.

Then I began slicing away at the phenomenon:
  • Observation #1: the vocalisation was correct to the music and the martillo played by me.
  • Observation #2: the maracas pregón tones were correct to the vocalisation and hence to the music and martillo played by me.
Therefore, every participant's reference points of synchrony had to be correct.
  • Observation #3: the embodiment rhythm was initially incorrectly frame-shifted relative to the percussion rhythm-stream.
  • Observation #4: the embodiment rhythm was correctable upon notification of error.
Therefore, there was nothing inherently wrong with the embodiment rhythm. It had to be that the embodiment rhythm was initiated independently, without taking its cues from the vocalisation and pregón tones. The logical course to overcome this was to set up a sequence of execution.

Exercise One: The Sequence, martillo only
Solo, to bongó martillo only.
  1. Listen for the martillo, or super-impose it if not present;
  2. Vocalise "tok-tik-tuk-tik" to the martillo;
  3. Play the pregón using the maracas: "tok" (beat 4) with the hembra and "tik" (beat 1) with the handles; and,
  4. Perform the Caribbean sway: initiating the side-step on "tok" and completing with relaxation after "tik".
Participants were asked to make each successive step of the sequence conditional upon the step preceding. They were encouraged to stop and start repeatedly until they were comfortable with the sequence.

Exercise Two: The Sequence, to music
As Exercise One (above) but to music.

The error in the execution of the warm-up was used as a serendipitous event (crucial to building a collaborative, supportive culture). The frame-shift of the embodiment rhythm came about because it was not contingent upon the vocalisation nor the maracas.

It made some participants realise that they had been using the dance rhythm (what they were most accustomed to using) as their entry-point to music, their vocals and instruments were entrained to it i.e. the dancing was their portal to the music, and the vocals+instruments followed. Their cognitive capacity was only sufficient for the maintenance of the vocalisation and maracas, which allowed their embodiment rhythm to drift. Customary behaviour was exposed as being susceptible to error.

The solution was to establish vocalisation as the entry-point to music, and entrain the maracas pregón, then the embodiment rhythm, as conditional steps. At the close of the session, participants acknowledged a need for 're-programming' (as one put it) and how the new sequence made for a musically immersive experience.


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