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Filling In: Syncopation, Pleasure and Distributed Embodiment in Groove

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  • Maria A G Witek

What is it about groove in music that makes people move? And what explains the physical pleasure listeners and dancers experience as they synchronise their bodies to the beat? In this article, groove is analysed phenomenologically as a triangulation of rhythmic structure, embodiment and pleasure. Following a brief review of groove research, theories of extended mind and affective practice are added to demonstrate how groove is distributed amongst mind, body and music. In this distributed process, pleasure is not caused by some cognitive-physical stimulation, but rather emerges dynamically in the active participation in a cyclical mind-body-music system. The syncopated nature of the music provides the structural premise for the embodied extension. By opening up empty spaces in the rhythm - as illustrated in the house track 'Drum Track', by Helix (2012) - syncopations invite the body to fill in through entrainment and synchronised movement. When filling in the gaps, listeners and dancers enact aspects of the musical structure and thus become part of the groove itself. Rejecting drive-oriented models, this article argues that it is the process in action, rather than the achievement, that makes groove pleasurable, and it makes suggestions for how this process might be socially distributed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMusic Analysis
Pages (from-to)138–160
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017

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