Irrational Time Signatures

Thomas Adès: Traced Overhead (1971)

I came across irrational time signatures for the first time in Part 1 of this course and didn’t know how to interpret them.  I have since had the opportunity to research this, and at my tutor’s suggestion have listened to this piece for piano solo which uses the technique.

I found it an interesting piece to listen to – the texture is unusual, often using the very top of the piano’s register creating a shimmering effect, as well as low notes and chords, sustained with the pedal.  The two effects are used simultaneously, which gives a very resonant sound.  It seems to be mostly atonal and often dissonant, though I think there are occasional hints of tonality.  Despite my preference for tonal music, the overall sound world Ades creates does appeal to me, particularly at the end of the piece.

I can see how the irrational time signatures work now, creating arbitrary subdivisions of the whole note, but it would certainly require some time to get used to reading them!

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