2-15-09: Sunday Ostinato

2-15-09: Sunday Ostinato

Ostinato is the Italian word for obstinate, obdurate, persistent, pig-headed and the like. But in a musical context it refers to a sometimes relentlessly repeated rhythmic or melodic pattern—which I suppose does indicate a certain obstinacy on the part of the musician or composer playing/writing such a thing. In any case, ostinati show up in all sorts of genres from classical to hip-hop,  and are often used as a structural underpinning of the composition in question.

To my mind, the most effective use of an ostinato is to have another musical voice doing something rather non-repetitive over the top of it.  A modern example would be a rapper spewing out rhythmically complex poetry over a steady, repetitive drum machine groove. To do otherwise—to have something equally repetitive over something already repetitive—is to mess with various natural artistic laws, like the golden section. This is the reason I don’t like most electronic dance music, or minimalism—it sounds unnatural, mechanical, like a machine. I realize, in the case of both of those genres, that that is precisely the point. But I don’t get the point.

The ostinato technique, as may be evident by its frequent appearance on this album, is actually an ideal format for improvisation, particularly solo piano, because it allows you to essentially have one part more or less on automatic while the other can noodle around to it’s heart’s content. As long as the repetitive part agrees to be kind of like a dumb-ass metronome, you have the basis for an interesting piece of music. In this case, my left hand agrees for the most part: it plays a repeated five note figure, but occasionally, not wanting to be a mere shill for my right hand, speaks up by sneaking in a few six note figures. Good for my left hand.

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