Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Motown Grooves: Rhythmic and Experiential Reimagination in Collaborative Composition

posted on 2023-03-30, 01:46 authored by Russell Henderson

The recordings produced by Motown Records in the mid-1960s are widely recognised for their compositional influence, and as archetypes of quintessential stylistic R&B performances and exemplary grooves. However, traditional methods of compositional analysis rooted in Western Art Music tend to focus on compositional materials produced by the composer. This risks a failure to acknowledge the collaborative nature of Motown, where a collective, often improvisatory approach captures the input of performer, composer, and producer. Traditional analyses also tend to be based on notation, which fails to articulate the nuances of groove and other performative aspects of recordings.

My thesis investigates the performative—or experiential—elements of Motown and uses these as bases for my compositional practice. These experiential elements owe a great deal to the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, who improvised arrangements and accompaniments for Motown hits to a prolific degree during this period. Groove forms a central theme throughout my practice, and I investigate rhythmic composition methods that evolve from rhythmic approaches found both on Motown recordings, and a range of Motown-influenced music. I employ collaborative compositional approaches in a variety of contexts (chamber, large jazz ensemble, and solo saxophone with electronics), each of which challenge composer-performer hierarchies.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280122 Expanding knowledge in creative arts and writing studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

3 Applied Research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


McKinnon, Dugal; Wilson, Dave; Donlon, Mark