Rock Around the Croc: Time to Get Medieval on your Ears

For today’s lesson we move past the ancient world and into the Middle Ages, defined musically as about 600 AD to about 1400 AD. That period gets further subdivided, and we’re going to cover three musical styles: plainchant, ars antigua and ars nova.

Plainchant is also known as Gregorian chant. That latter term is sometimes disfavored because Pope Gregory had nothing to do with the composition of any plainchant, but it refers to the fact that the Church codified the rules for sacred music during Gregory’s reign, and I have no problem with the word Gregorian because it means it follows Gregory’s rules, not because of who wrote it, but whatever. The plainchant repertoire was developed over hundreds of years, but it all sounds very, very similar because of its purpose. Plainchant is unaccompanied by any instrument, has a monophonic texture (meaning a single melodic line), and is structured based on the words rather than a beat. It comes in three flavors: monotones (in which the words are chanted on one note, sometimes ending a phrase by dropping down one note), plainchant masses, and plainchant hymns. The hymns are compact, simple, and repeat their melodies. Here’s an example of a monotone:

And here’s a plainchant hymn:

This is beautiful music that holds up even after a 1200 years. Why does it lend itself so well to quiet contemplation? Because it is very simple, plain, unadorned, straightforward. You don’t need to think about it, you just feel it. So it doesn’t intrude on your thoughts. A while back Car In noted that people like bands like Radiohead or Tool because the music is complicated. That’s true of those bands, and complexity is certainly something that draws some listeners, but one thing I’ve noted in my studies is that the pendulum likes to swing between simplicity and complexity in the popular opinion.

The popularity of plainchant comes and goes, even today. When I was finishing up high school and starting college, many of my friends got into Gregorian Chant and bought the CDs. You can look up The Dark Side of Chant, which I don’t much care for, and which is chant-remakes of popular songs like REM’s Losing My Religion. By far my favorite modern borrowing of plainchant is Sadeness Part 1, by Enigma:

Beautiful. Definitely not plainchant.

Starting around the 1150s, a French composer named Leonin became the master of a new style which he called florid organum. This is the earliest form of polyphony, which means music with more than one melodic line. In florid organum, there is still a simple line of chant, but stretched out to incredible lengths due to the melismatic nature of Latin – you can drag those vowels out as long as you want in Latin, and Leonin made the most of it. The lower voice is called the tenore, from the word to hold or carry, and that’s where we get our modern word tenor. That voice is then decorated with the higher, florid part, which sings the same vocal line but in an extremely flowery or decorative way. Check it out:

The first 58 seconds of that piece is the single word “alleluia.” You can also expect to hear an instrumental accompaniment in florid organum, because the Church prohibition on musical instruments was enforced with much less rigor at the time. That makes sense, I think: in the year 1150 there was simply no rival – no more pagans or barbarians to threaten the purity of faith by sneaking in subtle messages – to the Church’s authority, so no real need to freak out about putting in a line of organ music to help people stay on key. That becomes increasingly important as the music becomes increasingly complex.

The music of Leonin’s age is now called the ars antigua – something Leonin would not have called his own music, and more than the Monkees would have described their music as Golden Oldies. Their successors called their music the ars nova. In the 1300s, as the Church’s authority continued to wane in the face of the Babylonian exile, the Black Death, and local princes and kings increasingly asserting their authority, musicians wrong increasingly complex music based on a technique called isorhythm. The great composer of isorhythm was Guillaume de Machaut, a French composer based at Notre Dame Cathedral from circa 1300 to 1377. Isorhythm is defined as the repetition of a rhythmic pattern in at least one voice part throughout a composition, and the rhythm and pitch are manipulated separately from one another. Frankly, it sounds super weird. Proof, in my view, that something can become increasingly complex without becoming better. The following piece, Quant en moi, is a great example of this kind of complexity. Not only is there a complicated isorythmic structure, but Machaut uses for his vocal lines two separate love poems that he wrote, in two separate voices, singing simultaneously.

Another element of the complexity of this piece is something called a hocket, defined in music as a single melody shared between two or more voices such that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests. It’s a musical zipper, in which two voices take turns exchanging notes. You can hear it in the Machaut at around 42 seconds, and you can see it in the printed text that alternates from the lower voice to the higher twice in a row.

For a modern hocket, allegedly, if you synch up the Tool songs 10,000 Days, Wings for Marie and Viginti Tres in just the right way, then it creates a new hidden track, and that the vocals from 10,000 and Wings will line up in such a way that you get a hocket effect. I’ve also heard that’s just a myth, so I don’t know. Whatever.

Here’s a fun thing called Hockets from the Medieval Jazz Suite for Bassoon Quartet. I know what each of those words mean individually, but not all together like that:

More modern hockets, just to show that musical ideas all come back around, even if in a completely new form. From the album Hockets for Two Voices, by Meara O’Reilly. I can’t say I recommend this:

Next week is Renaissance music, and no hockets whatsoever, I promise. Go out and enjoy some plainchant or some florid organum.


  1. A new post, better than a Hot Pocket!

  2. Your mom can’t get enough of my florid organum

    something something making her hocket have polyphony


  4. Awards self a bachelors of music history.

    Thanks again, Sobek.

  5. It’s cool to learn stuff like this. I’ll never use a bit of it but it’s still cool.

  6. Nice job Sobek.

    Thanks for posting Jimbro.

    Imgur video, kind of long but well put together.

  7. Everything woke turns to shit.

    The spell is cast.

  8. J’brony – did you kick the balls off of publish first?
    If you didn’t then teh hump is gonna get testie wit you.

  9. Henri drifted east and is hitting Rhode Island instead.

    We go from the windy side of the storm to the wet side.
    3-6 inches of rain.

  10. 15% chance of rain this afternoon. Should still be able to get some poop hauled and more plants tamed/cut if it holds off.

  11. Just occurred to me…

    Democrats are running the same playbook they used in the 60s and 70s to keep black in their place but with conservatives.

    No access to banking or redlining has evolved to no access to payment processing, technology etc.

    The old stuff is in place they’re just doing more and more.

  12. did you kick the balls off of publish first?
    I read comments from last night as I sipped my first cup of coffee and read blah-blah-blah-i-made-a-post-can-someone-publish-blahbidee-blah-blah and thought, hey I can hit publish!

  13. We are the new black.

  14. Storm must have killed everyone.

  15. Weekend roundup so far:

    Yesterday a mish mash. Went to “lapeer days” at night – which is just your typical small town fesitival (maybe a tad on the bigger side). Very crowded and hot. Full of carnies and … I just don’t know how to describe much of what I saw. Erin said she saw a few furries. Just … everything to be honest. You wouldn’t know you were in a pretty conservative small town.

    Up and a quick trip to Menards this morning. Hot as heck right now. I’m hiding indoors.

  16. We lost power and my cell phone sucks for reception despite having 4 bars and saying LTE on the display. I took advantage of the downtime to sort through mail, organize a little stuff, weeded through my t-shirt drawer to cull some of the old, never-worn ones and finally sat down with a dead tree book when the power came back on.

  17. network is overloaded. connection reads 4 bars but it’s switching a lot. that’s expensive.

  18. It’s blowing like stink here. Too windy to sail, too windy to fish.

  19. Power company was expecting 600,000 outages.

    Currently at 31,000 and it’s about over.

  20. not even 80 here. reading up on colonoscopy prep. Mrs Jay’s didn’t have to fast the day before and I do. guess they know I’m full of shit

  21. and hell yes I’m tracking how much weight I’ll lose

  22. Half-ass front porch rail repair is underway, a carpenter I ain’t. I’ve been fighting a sinus infection all week, a lot of the work is at ground level and I get dizzy bending over. Fun. Still have all my fingers so that’s nice.

    Just … everything to be honest.

    Like at a Tool concert?

    Preppies, greasers, goths, furries, metalheads, punks, karens, sluts, hotspurs, dad-bods, rednecks, bikers, farmers, hippies, hipsters, social-justice-warriors, girls/boys next door, moms, your moms, cross-fitters, slackers, meth-heads, tweekers, stoners, chicks, guns, fire trucks.

  23. The small mountain town where I went to high school was a mix of old ranching families, illegal messican workers, aging hippies, yuppies, and young liberal weirdos who moved up there to work in the ski industry. The yearly Mountain Fair was a fun time.

  24. Got the flunky weeds in the horse pen knocked down, hauled about 5 loads of manure from the shelter to the compost heap. By then I was soaked through my second set of clothes for the day and worried about heat stroke, so I’m on the couch until further notice.

  25. Dallas pd pulled over and arrested his wife for dui, didn’t blow anything on breathalyzer, so they forced a blood test. wrong person there! he’s going after the cop and demanded a public apology.

    his grandson was left in the car. pulled over for not signaling a lane change

  26. hmm what happened to the first part. Allen west in texas

  27. I use to listen to Enigma all the time.

  28. Funky not flunky you stupid tablet.

  29. Holy crap, I hope Allen West owns them all.

  30. I want to share Sobek with a CoW, but just the posts and not the comments.

  31. Comments here are an acquired taste


    Mississippi is reporting calls to poison control, which I assume are people taking enough ivermectin for a 1,250 lb. horse. I thought this was helpful for those who have *cough* new horses. I like the idea of marking the tube so the math is correct.

    I should probably look for it on Rumble, because YT is sure to yank it.

  33. Remember when they laughed at Trump for asking about using UV light within the body?

  34. I liked the first four songs but can’t say I like the hockets or the isorhythm. TIL where tenor comes from, so where do we get soprano, alto, baritone, and bass from? (Yes, I could google it, would rather have Sobek answer.)

  35. Indeed I do. That was my foremost thought as I posted it.

  36. He would love the Sobek posts, he’s easily shocked by my foul mouth.

  37. I should stockpile ivermectin before they restrict it.

  38. ment by osoloco11 on August 22, 2021 5:24 pm
    I want to share Sobek with a CoW, but just the posts and not the comments


    This isn’t effing IB.

  39. The vet who was pegging our cattle said they are going to make ivermectin prescription only. This was last year, before they were really pushing it for covid.

  40. *things they don’t tell you about in veterinary school*


    (Imgur video)

  42. Mare, IKR! He’s a converso. Latin Mass. I’m going all in. Warning him away from the comments.

  43. Hahahaha

    Both pups and Oso.

  44. Happy Birthday, Michael. We are Hostages!!! Imagine the 300 Gif.

  45. Dan’s mask covered his sutures. He was making jokes about my height with his boss. National news is all about flooding. No 46.

  46. I too am a student of Robert Greenberg’s “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music”. Highly recommend his stuff.

    If you like Enigma, you’ll probably like Amethystium too. They also incorporate Gregorian chants from time to time:

  47. What the fuck is wrong with these comments? MJ usually posts some some vapid filthy bullshit, and Mare hollers COCK a lot, but otherwise we’re pretty awesome people.

    Maybe they’re a liberal in which case fuck ‘em, BIMTIANW.

  48. I’m trying to comfort people on FB and my legs are RLS out of control. I was cut off from alcohol a week ago due to my screaming at people. And by people, I mean Dan. I have bruises from sleep walking. Dan decided he could no longer watch me sleep walk. Sleep talk. He wakes me up. He carries me back to bed. He’s done with popular knowledge. He just doesn’t care. Sleep eating…also history

  49. Trying to be silly enough to save lives. Pray for oso

  50. At least I got my big box of Wolf before the Resident issued another unlawful edict.

  51. Had Dan tried a crate yet?

  52. Weighted blanket isn’t heavy enough.

  53. Good idea. Try 4 or 5 more of those.

  54. This isn’t effing IB.

    Ah, the pride of the guttersnipe…

  55. Joe is done.

    No good options left.

  56. 9/10 MJ would smash

  57. I had no idea there was a post.

    8/10 would listen.

  58. Guttersnipe?? Lol I haven’t heard that since the Nun in grade school went after Molly Hunt.

  59. And I yell CAULK, it’s so different.

  60. Thanks, Mitch!!

    You’re not the douche Hotspur says you are in his secret emails.

  61. Sunday Funnies:

  62. Over an hour talking with Mini-me. She is settling in to the new apartment, and I met 3 of her roommates. (Met the 4th last summer after the wedding.) She is so happy to have a good kitchen. Classes start tomorrow.

  63. Coworker talking to me tonight about how dangerous it is that there are educated people out there who blog and sound bright but are actually delusional and are leading feeble-minded followers to disaster.

    I’m actually in total agreement, but swap blogs for MSM.

  64. That edx site I linked a couple days ago is really a goldmine. I found a course on Japanese architecture that looks like a really entertaining diversion.

  65. Danielle expedited Ron’s parcels.

  66. wakey wakey

  67. Joe is done.
    No good options left.
    Joe is reelected 60-40 in order to counter the claim that he cheated in 2020, which actually undermines the position cuz the margin of cheat in 2024 is too much.

  68. Coworker talking to me tonight about how dangerous it is that there are educated people out there who blog and sound bright but are actually delusional and are leading feeble-minded followers to disaster.
    I’m actually in total agreement, but swap blogs for MSM.
    You should check out Revolt of the Public.

    Pretty good read – basic thesis is what we talk about all the time.

    Gatekeepers of info are gone, therefore the message is less controlled. We see behind the curtain and realize the wizard isn’t wearing pants and has a tiny gentlemen’s sausage. Elites, regardless of system hoard wealth and power. Etspeterspa.

  69. MMM 458

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