COMPARATIVE MUSICOLOGY REVISITED: THE PROBLEM OF CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISON AS REFLECTED IN SACHS' THEORY OF ADDITIVE VS. DIVISIVE RHYTHM
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Since the first decades of the 20th century, when cross-cultural comparison constituted a central method through which Comparative Musicology sought to achieve its main goals, the comparative approach has gradually lost the researchers' interest to the extent of an almost total disappearance from the Ethnomusicological scene. The main question discussed in the present article is: to what extent cross-cultural comparison as conducted by Comparative Musicology is relevant to our research today? This question is dealt with through an examination of a particular case, the theory of additive vs. divisive rhythm as defined and used for cross-cultural comparison by Curt Sachs, one of the prominent figures of Comparative Musicology, in his book 'Rhythm and Tempo' (1953). It is argued that the notions of additive and divisive rhythm as defined by Sachs are applicable to Western rhythmic organizations because their definitions were based on these structures, but their application to other musical cultures is often problematic. The article concentrates on one of the non-Western rhythmic organizations analyzed by Sachs, the Arabic iqa' (a cycle of beats whose structure is based on a sequence of drum strokes), and shows that: (a) the notions of additive and divisive are applicable to the Arabic iqa' only when their definitions (as presented by Sachs) are broadened; (b) the notions are inadequate for characterizing the iqa' because they refer only to the durational aspect of a temporal organization and ignore its accentual aspect, which in the case of the iqa' constitutes a basic constituent. Comparison between the iqa' and other temporal organizations, Western meter for instance, should take into account the nature of accents on which they are based not less than their durational structure. On the basis of the analysis of the iqa', as well as the analyses of other temporal organizations that can not be presented in this article, it is suggested that cross-cultural comparison will be constructed in a direction opposite to the one taken by Comparative Musicology. Rather than using supposedly universal criteria and try to apply them to every musical culture, comparison may start with two or three musical cultures, and after establishing analytical notions that are valid in these cultures try to broaden the scope of the compared styles and include additional cultures, but only after checking again the validity of the notions, and extending their meaning or adding other notions if needed.
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