Neil Peart Clockwork Angels Masterclass

neil peart

This is no simple chorus. When Peart hears it played back to him, he chuckles. “That’s what my bandmates give me to work with.” He elaborates, “They drop beats or add beats any place that they think a phrase is too long. A lot of it goes by the vocal phrasing, and that’s what they’re thinking.” Nevertheless, even with a song like this, Peart doesn’t count out bars. He learns these complex passages as musical phrases. “I do really stitch phrases together,” which is why “sometimes it takes me a long time to learn the song because I don’t like to fragment it. I like to learn it as a phrase of music ... I keep note in my head of single, double – you know, the anomalies of the pattern.” That this process takes a bit longer is sometimes quite amusing to Peart’s bandmates. “They laugh at me when I’m working on learning it – shaking my fists at them. Ha ha ha. What’s giving me fits is what they made.”

Clockwork Angels” – Hemiola Effect

The album’s third song and title track, “Clockwork Angels,” repeatedly shifts between bars of four subdivided by triplets, which Peart refers to as “a rolling four.” Then, in what can best be described as a hemiola effect (i.e., three-over-two), the subdivisions of the triplets become the eighth-note pulse for bars of six. That is, a bar of four has the same duration as a bar of six. Peart navigates these rhythmic shifts from four to six while maintaining a powerful groove throughout. How did he come up with the idea to shift from four to six? Peart’s reply, “I think the music demands that response.”

In particular, “Clockwork Angels” is a song Alex Lifeson brought in as a demo with much of the sections already in place. As soon as Peart heard it, he knew, “I want to play to that, because it’s something we had rarely done.” Still, even with Peart’s exceptional ability to play complicated parts, the time shifts in “Clockwork Angels” proved challenging. For this reason, in one transition from four to six, Peart can be heard clicking his sticks on beats 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Peart initially expected the stick clicks would be edited out of the final recording, but they remain because they sound good. Still, even with the song’s rhythmic shifts, Peart’s approach is more about phrasing and “inflection” than counting subdivisions. “I’m thinking lilt, honestly – I’m not conscious of the six and four difference.”

Ex. 2 "Clockwork Angels" [3:05—3:15 (hemiola with stick clicks)]

neil peart

The Dirty Greasy Groove

Rush’s latest album is more than just a bunch of odd-time signatures and groupings. There’s plenty of the 4/4 “dirty greasy groove” that Peart has worked so hard to develop. Two such examples can be found in the album’s fifth and sixth tracks: “Carnies” and “Halo Effect.” Both tracks feature Peart playing heavy rock grooves with a snare backbeat on 2 and 4 supported by syncopated bass drum patterns. We couldn’t resist the cliché bass drum technique question: Heel up or heel down? Peart’s response, “It’s all heel up and a lot of force on the bass drum.”

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