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Reuven Tsur

Metricalness and Rhythmicalness
What Our Ear Tells Our Mind

This page contains the sound files of the readings discussed in Reuven Tsur's work in progress "Metricalness and Rhythmicalness—What Our Ear Tells Our Mind", and the respective texts.

How does grouping assist the simultaneous perception of the conflicting linguistic and versification sequences? For a brilliant demonstration of the principle of "Proximity" in gestalt grouping in the auditory mode listen to one of Al Bregman's experiment demos. The sequence used in the demonstration consists of three high and three low tones, alternating high and low tones. When the cycle is played slowly, one can clearly hear the alternation of high and low tones. When it is played fast, one experiences two streams of sound, one formed of high tones, the other of low ones, each with its own melody, as if two instruments, a high and a low one, were playing along together. When the sequence is played fast, the tones are in greater proximity, occupy a smaller area in the "auditory space". The Law of Proximity works here in two ways. In the fast sequence the tones are "nearer" together in time than in the slow one; and the higher tones are "nearer" to each other in pitch than to the lower ones. Consequently, they organise themselves into two segregated but concurrent figures, each in its own register. In poetry, perceptual grouping of words may be effected in additional ways too, such as by the overlapping of articulation, or the manipulation of peaking (late or early). It is assumed here that in the rhythmical performance of a deviant sequence the verbal and the nonverbal aspects of the stimulus organise themselves into two segregated but concurrent figures.

Listen to Al Bregman's demonstration:


Listen to The Marlowe Society's Reading of Excerpt 1

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Listen to Callow's Reading of Excerpt 1

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Listen to Gielgud's Reading of Excerpt 1
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And sat as Princes, whom the supreme King
Exalted to such power, and gave to rule,

In this excerpt there are three patent problems for the reciter. 1. In the word supreme the second, stressed, syllable occurs in a weak position, whereas the first, unstressed syllable in a strong position. Many metric theories rule such assignments unmetrical. According to the present conception, the issue at stake is whether the reciter can perform it in a way that both the linguistic stress pattern and the metric pattern can be perceived at the same time. 2. Enjambment: After the word King versification requires discontinuation, syntax—continuation. 3. The two syllables of the word power must be assigned to one metrical position. In the present instance, the recordings discussed here do not stand up to this problem. In the sound excerpts provided here the problem is suppressed, because only readings of one and a half verse lines are reproduced here.

Listen online to Anton Lesser's and Ralph Cosham's readings.

Cosham 2
Cosham 3

Listen to Ralph Cosham's first and second reading in close succession.

Cosham 1 & 2

Lesser takes full advantage of the optional stress-inversion rule, which allows to say 'thirteen 'men instead thir'teen 'men, stressing the first and third syllables in supreme King. In Figure 5, the stress on su- is indicated by the higher pitch. Notice that King is inseparably run into Exalted. Nonetheless, considerable discontinuity is perceived owing to the longish intonation contour on king, and the exceptional prolongation of the nasal vowel. Note the pauses in the middle of words. These are not perceived as pause, but as overarticulation of the adjacent phonemes. Cosham pronounces the syllables -preme King as a spondee. All the available cues indicate greater stress on the second syllable of supreme than on the first: higher initial pitch, longer duration and greater amplitude. He also assigned a longish falling intonation to both -preme and King. Syntax requires here no such falling intonation contours; it is the correspondence of stress and metrical position that requires them. But the genuine reading blurs the line boundary, and is so fast that the vocal manipulations affecting rhythm can barely be discerned. In the doctored version I reduced the tempo (without affecting pitch) by 10%. In Cosham's genuine reading, discontinuation (required by the line boundary) is suppressed, and the word King is run into Exalted, indicating continuation as demanded by the syntax. To indicate discontinuation too, I lengthened the string (K)ing by 40%, and inserted a glottal stop before exalted. In course of these manipulations the machine inserted a small pause between the two lines, which I deleted, leaving no measurable pause. In this way I generated a perceptible enjambment and, by the same token, foregrounded the spondee produced by the reciter. Listen to it.
In an attempt to further increase the overarticulation of the whole phrase supreme King, I reduced its tempo by another 20% (this was perhaps too much).