Posted in Music

Ooooo, That 5/4 Rhythm

A great skullbuster for the musically inclined comes from a vintage Fred Astaire film—“Yolanda and the Thief.” Now, this isn’t much of a movie, let alone one of the top tier Fred Astaire flicks. It’s based on a Ludwig Bemelmans story which may have been charming whimsy in its day, but doesn’t translate all that well to the screen. Even the extraordinary talents of Mr. Astaire and Vincent Minnelli, who directed it, aren’t enough to overcome a heroine who can only be described as dumber than dirt simple.

What the film does have is a surreal dream sequence that’s actually worth watching and a tremendous dance number, “Coffee Time,” that will turn your brain into a pretzel. While the music is in 4/4 time, the dancers move and clap in 5/4 rhythm. And before this can resolve, your head explodes, not to mention your eyeballs pinwheeling from that Op-Art dance floor.

Playing or listening to 5/4 makes your brain hop to keep up. And it’s not a new invention. Long before “Yolanda” and Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five,” Tchaikovsky used the same time signature for the second movement of his Sixth Symphony, the “Pathetique.” With its sweeping strings it sounds like one of his best waltzes—“Sleeping Beauty” perhaps, or the waltz from “Eugene Onegin.” Only it isn’t and you can’t dance to it unless you’ve got five legs. Or if you’re a centipede.

Skullbusters will be a regular selection at Betty’s Brownies.