Steady rhythm comes easily in our time of widely available digital music technology. As a result of that ready availability, rhythm’s purpose — its origin, its impetus — is something whose exploration can distinguish a recording. A steady beat can be as comfortable for a musician as for an audience. Pushing at that sense of comfort — questioning it, pondering its power — can lend a sense of intentionality to recordings that they might lack otherwise. For example, while a lot of music takes a 4/4 beat for granted, other music tests its familiar metrics, toying with the ear’s expectations.
In “I Started Wearing Black” by the Cologne-based musician Sonae, three full minutes, nearly half the track, proceed through rumbly white noise scritchy scratch before a proper beat appears. Her track begins, that is, where many close: with the looped-groove crackle at the end of a vinyl record, albeit here expanded into a kind of sonic installation. And then, fairly suddenly, the track pounds its way quickly into the foreground at 120 bpm, and continues for two minutes. Yet even throughout its extended moment, the beat feels formed from the muted noises that preceded it. For all its mathematical certainty, it is still remote, muffled, cautious. And then, just as suddenly, it gives way to a mix of ringing tone and vinyl crackle. The beat, usually the undergirding of a recording, is here merely a memory.