Syncopated Rhythms

By | Sunday, September 11, 2011 Leave a Comment
I was doing laps in the pool at the gym this morning; nothing fancy, just one end to the other for some low-impact aerobic exercise. Somewhere in there, I brought my head up for air, as I do with every other stroke, and took in a mouthful of water instead. The guy in the lane next to me had just done something that caused a small wave to crest right in front of my face just as I was coming up for air. Unintentional on his part, I'm sure, but now I have a mouthful of something I can't breathe. Rather than stop, though, I kept swimming and had my face back under the water with the next stroke. Instead of exhaling as I normally would, though, I spit the water out of my mouth, and came back up for air with the next stroke. From the poolside, I'm sure it wasn't at all evident that I had just took in water instead of air; I was just swimming along and didn't miss a beat.

I have a background as a drummer, so I see a lot of things in terms of rhythm. Swimming, for example, can be broken down into the beats of your arms coordinating with your legs, coordinating with your head. Stroke, breathe, stroke, exhale, stroke, breathe, stroke, exhale with kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick running as a double-time backbeat. If you keep everything in sync, then you cruise along pretty smoothly. Running is the same way. You get yourself into a good rhythm, and it smooths out your entire run. The stuff that then winds up causing problems is what breaks your rhythm: the pothole in the sidewalk, or the wave that fills your mouth with water as you're coming up to breathe.

You know how you start tapping your foot to a really good song? The regular rhythm of your tapping with the music is (generally) the beat. That's the predictable cadence of a song. In many cases, it can be counted in a simple four-beat pattern. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. This is often verbalized during military marching drills. If you stay in step with that counting, you will be marching to the beat.

Except, in music, there's this notion of syncopation. It's where you emphasize something off the regular beat. It makes the song less predictable and, by extension, more interesting. One, two, threeandafour, one, two, threeandafour. But to work, the musician can't lose the regular beat in the process of playing something syncopated. It stops being music and becomes chaos if no one can hear the regular beat behind everything. That's why I kept swimming.

The water that washed into my mouth was something off the usual beat of stroke, breathe, stroke, exhale rhythm. But if that's just a moment of syncopation, an interesting accent off the normal beat, then I don't need to lose my ongoing groove. Stroke, drink, stroke, spit, stroke, breath, stroke, exhale.

What does this have to do with comics?

As I said, I see a lot of things in terms of rhythm. Going to your local comic shop every Wednesday on your lunch hour is a rhythm. Reading your favorite webcomics first thing every morning is a rhythm. Sending a complimentary note to your favorite creator right after you read their latest work is a rhythm. Going to the local comic book convention every year is a rhythm. I talked about this some time back in terms of the importance of having those types of rhythms or rituals. What I didn't mention, though, was that keeping precisely on those rituals ALL THE TIME isn't necessary, so long as I keep the rhythm going. The drum beat of New Comic Day is ongoing, but on those weeks when a holiday throws the schedule off a bit, or when I have to work through lunch and can't get to the shop until after work, is not at all a big deal; next week will have a New Comic Day and it's easy to get back in the regular rhythm.

Not that I've heard of anyone actually having any real issues with off-schedule New Comic Days, but the swimming incident prompted the thought that some people might be more thrown off with syncopated comic buying. But if you keep the beat going, it's just what keeps the music interesting.
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