Asymmetrical Meter, Ostinati, and Cycles in the Music of Tigran Hamasyan

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Scott Charles Schumann


Tigran Hamasyan is an Armenian jazz pianist and composer whose music has been described as “grounded in serious reinterpretations of Armenian culture via his take on Bach, French romantics, jazz, dubstep, metal, and modern electronic music” (Manukian 2018, 637). Hamasyan has recorded thirteen studio albums between the years of 2006–2020, and analyzing these recordings suggests that asymmetrical meter, ostinati, and cycles are not a random occurrence in Hamasyan’s music but rather a crucial component of his compositional language. This article defines three types of cycles––phrasal, structural, and developmental––each of which has a unique compositional function. Another important distinction made in this article is the difference between “complete” and “incomplete” cycles. Complete cycles are those that repeat both metrical layers without disruption until they return to a shared point of alignment, while incomplete cycles are those in which the meter used in one or more of the layers is disrupted before returning to a shared point of alignment. Several of my own transcriptions of Hamasyan’s music are analyzed to discuss how asymmetrical meter, ostinati, and cycles are used to create various formal processes in Hamasyan’s compositions.

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