Rhythmic Experimentation

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by The Omega Cluster, Apr 19, 2018.

  1. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    We talk a lot about harmony, melody, chord progressions and so on and so forth, but we rarely talk about rhythm. It's one of the grey areas of music.

    Beyond simple questions of odd-time signatures and polyrhythms / polymetres, I think one of the most interesting and new concepts in rhythm theory is "microtime". It's a confusing term, since many use it to refer to a metronome practice, but this is not what I want to discuss here. Instead, I'm referring to Malcolm Braff's concept, which is, simply put, rhythm between rhythms.

    Similarly to how microtonal music is "the notes between the notes" vertically (harmonically or melodically), microtime music can be seen as the notes between the notes horizontally (rhythmically).

    Here is an example of microtime notation:

    [​IMG]


    How to read that? The basic rhythm is on the regular staff. It's simply 3 straight eighth notes. On top of it, you see the phrased version of the same notes. On the left of that there is 50%, which means that what you are meant to play is half-way between the straight notation at the bottom and the phrased notation above it.

    It's quite easy to understand, but it's pretty tough to actually play yourself. In the case of microtonal music, fretted instruments are the vehicles of microtonality, but here the player needs to convey the microtime themself. That can be quite difficult, especially for more complex compositions.

    Here is an actual composition in microtime that is already much more complex:

    [​IMG]

    You can hear the song here:



    So what's happening here? Everything is in 7/8 time signature, with 7 straight eights grouped in patterns of either 5 or 4 notes (don't read them as 5-tolets, this is indeed confusing). The phrased version is a syncopated beat of seven 11:7 notes of unequal length. Unfortunately, the percentage is not written here, so I believe that this is the basic pattern for the whole song but the microtime feel varies throughout.

    That's a super interesting rhythmic theory. I know there are more than this one, and I want this thread to explore many different rhythmic theories, not just this one, so feel free to comment with a new and different rhythmic concept.

    I want to use this theory in a metal music context, so I should work on this relatively soon, but I really have no idea what sort of sound will emanate from this. Wish me luck! And please if you wish to experiment with this concept yourself go ahead!

    All the pictures and examples are taken from Malcolm Braff's website: http://general-theory-of-rhythm.org/
     
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  2. Andrew Lloyd Webber

    Andrew Lloyd Webber Pussy Melter

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    http://www.vai.com/tempo-mental/

    As as aside: Jan Rivera’s Advanced Rhythmic Concepts for Guitar belongs next to every copy of Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns.
     
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  3. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    That's exceptionally difficult to count out. I love how the rhythm changes so subtly in the solo and bridge sections.

    I think Adam Neely had just done a video about "Irrational Time Signatures," which was a lot more straighforward, theoretically, than I thought it sounded like it was going to be in the title. But now, it seems that there is a fairly acceptable way to write stuff in N/3 time.

    The other thing I want to bring up, is a rather simple idea that I came across years ago, that struck me as a bit of a paradigm shift - from a booklet I had in the late 1990's talking about using the rhythm of a bouncing ball as the pulse of the song. The example quoted was from Aphex Twin (starting at 3:04 - I tried to embed to start there, but something in my browser is blocking it):
    Very simple idea, and I felt like it was a little bit oversold in the booklet, but the idea of a rhythm that, at it's core, follows a trend rather than a static pulse, has always intrigued me.
     
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  4. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    As with microtonality, microtime can be about anything. Like you mentioned, this bouncing ball rhythm is very cool and is a sort of exponentially-faster tempo map that resets every bar, just before the exponent's limit. This would be quite amazing in a band setting.
     
  5. Winspear

    Winspear Tom Winspear

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    Wow I'm thoroughly confused. I can't quite get my head around the idea and I think it's because the notation on top is as wide as the notation on the bottom even though it's an 8th shorter.

    I like the Neely vid mentioned above.

    It was my first glimpse into anything like this, and very clear to understand and I like the result.

    Apart from that, the most complex rhythm stuff I have looked into and understood is just the Indian stuff, odd tuplets and nested tuplets etc.

    I'm going to have to get my head around this :)
     
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  6. Winspear

    Winspear Tom Winspear

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  7. Winspear

    Winspear Tom Winspear

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    Massive into the whole quintuplet/septuplet swing thing recently (where you swing in 3:2 or 4:3 ratios rather than the usual 2:1 triplet). Very groovy.
    Higher odd tuplets are fun in general.
     
  8. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    Karnatic music is so interesting rhythmically. I need to study this a bit.

    Yes, light swing is my jam! If you know Anomalie, check this he made some pretty nice tunes with that sort of feel.

    https://anomaliebeats.bandcamp.com/track/velours
     
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  9. jagraal

    jagraal SS.org Regular

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  10. jagraal

    jagraal SS.org Regular

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    This thread is full of awesomeness. Thanks for sharing. And that Braff tune kicked my ass! Love it.
     
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  11. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    I found a thesis on Brunel University's website, written by Rafael Reina titled "Karnatic Rhythmical Structures as a Source for New Thinking in Western Music" and it's super interesting and very detailed.

    You can download it for free here: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/8204
     
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  12. Winspear

    Winspear Tom Winspear

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    Oh awesome! That's the same author as the book I linked above, so I'll definitely check this out
     
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  13. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    Yeah, it's probably mostly the same information, but perhaps the book version is more player-friendly, while the paper is more academic, technical. I suppose if you can't afford the book you can get most if not all the same information from the original paper.
     
  14. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    I'd like to talk about polyrhythms a bit, and how quickly it can evolve into something almost incomprehensible.

    3:2 polyrhythm is probably the most common one. On paper, it would be 6 quarter notes in triplets in a 4/4 bar. Technically this is 6:4, but it's just two 3:2 sets.

    [​IMG]

    You can do the same using any number you can think of, but only so many can be played by humans. An 11:7 polyrhythm is indeed playable but it would require a lot of practice and concentration to pull off. On top of that, you can layer more than two different polyrhythms together, but you increase the difficulty exponentially as it goes. A 2:3:5 polyrhythm would be the easiest one to play even if it requires three independent limbs. In a band setting, it's not too bad, and it creates interesting "interferences patterns", or rhythmic patterns.

    On the topic of polymetres. Polymetres differ from polyrhythms in one simple concept. Many people seem to struggle to tell the difference, but it's not too hard. While polyrhythms consist of notes of different lengths that are played in the same duration (three triplet notes are played in the same time as two straight ones), polymetres consist of notes of the same length, but in different time signatures (example below).

    [​IMG]

    This can be more subtle, and it's more noticeable when cyclic patterns are used; say one melody that repeats every 5 notes at the same time as one repeating every 4 notes. Once again, you can stack as many different time signatures as you want, and it's much easier to play since everyone is at the same tempo, feel, and beat, even if the metronome clicks are different.

    Beyond that, you can create polytempic music, where different voices play at different tempos. This is much like a polyrhythm because the tempo ratios behave just like polyrhythms. If you have a 3:2 polytempic composition, one voice would play in 120 bpm while the other would play at 180. Although, playing 120 and 121 bpm together would be like playing, well, a 121:120 polyrhythm... Good luck with that!

    [​IMG]

    In the above example, the treble voice plays in 100 bpm and the bass one in 90 bpm, which results in a similar feel to a 10:9 polyrhythm. This means that after 10 beats on the treble voice and 9 beats on the bass voice, the next notes will happen at exactly the same time (red rectangle). This can be very interesting and, like in the example, used in conjunction with polyrhythms and (not shown) polymetres.

    Many musicians use these techniques, but none so extensively as experimental black metal one-man band Jute Gyte and progressive instrumental death metal band Bisbâyé.

    Jute Gyte:


    Bisbâyé
    https://bisbaye.bandcamp.com/album/synkronyk

    I feel like I need to talk about non-dyadic time signatures, too, since it's somewhat overlapping the polyrhythm discussion. Non-dyadic (often mistakenly referred to as irrational time signatures) are time signatures whose denominator is not a power of 2 (e.g. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32...). It has limited use, but can be very useful. For example, if you write a riff in 180 bpm 6/6 all the way through, then it might be easier to just write it in triplets of 120 bpm 4/4.

    Where non-dyadic time signatures become useful is in comparison to normal non-tuplet notes. For example, if you've got a regular riff in straight notes, but then want to add just 8 triplet notes (instead of 9, which is 3 sets of triplet notes), what would you do? It would be very cumbersome to reconcile the incomplete triplet with dyadic, regular time signatures and straight time feel. You would either need to add a lot of linked notes in triplet feel (in order to make non-triplet feel), or change the tempo to a 3:2 ratio (for example from 120 to 180 bpm for triplet feel) just for that 8-note passage so that it fits in a dyadic time signature.

    If you use one 8/6 time signature, then it becomes much easier to work with (but not with current music notation softwares, because they don't even support this :( ). The player will immediately relate the denominator (6) as meaning that 6 eighth notes fit in 4 times, meaning they're worth as much as a triplet eighth each. You just play 8 of those, and don't worry whether or not it fits correctly in a dyadic measure or about a silly and short-lived tempo change.

    [​IMG]

    In the above example, the 5/8 time signature represents 5 notes (plus a few appoggiatures and intervals) that result in two beats and a half, or the same length as 5 eighth notes. The second bar, the 5/6 one, also represents 5 notes, but it results in three beats and one third instead, or the same length as 5 quarter notes in triplet feel.

    Like I said, it's not for every and all circumstances. If you're playing a new and long-lived section of a composition then it might be better to change the tempo entirely. If you intend to make many nested n-tuplet feels (example below), then it might just be more intelligible (not easier) to use nested tuplets than, say, a bar of 273/127.

    [​IMG]

    So, yeah, rhythms are awesome, so why not play as much of them as possible at once?
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2018
  15. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    On swing feel.

    Swing feel, in its most basic expression, is when you take two notes of equal length and then change the length ratio between the two. The most simple and common feel of it is to give two notes a triplet feel. I think most everyone has seen the following symbols somewhere:

    [​IMG]

    (This picture is way too big, sorry.)

    There is also a mirror form for every swing feel imaginable, where the shorter note is the first one instead of the second one. This gives a different feel to the swing, and for 1:3 feel it's often called Scottish. But 1:2 instead of 2:1 exists, and everything here can be reversed and rearranged, but for the sake of simplicity I will always put the longest note first, and the shortest last.

    Other forms of swing exist. They're usually divided into "light" and "hard" swing. Regular swing gives a 2:1 ratio to the two notes. Light swing is anything that is closer to straight feel than 2:1, or triplet feel, and hard swing is anything that is farther.

    One of the most common light swings is the quintuplet feel, where you will aim for a 3:2 ratio. You can also have a quintuplets hard swing if you instead aim for a 4:1 ratio, but we'll stay on light swings for now. I've made the following picture to show what a 3:2 swing looks like on notation.

    [​IMG]

    (This picture is way too small, sorry.)

    Here's a little wrap-up by Adam Neely and audio example:



    Other sorts of light swing exist, and it's basically an infinite set. However, only so many of those will be noticeably different to our ears. Some DAWs (digital audio workstations) have a swing slider, or feel slider, where you can move the slider to decide a certain swing feel that isn't necessarily exactly 2:1 or 3:2 or 4:3 or 5:4, etc., and you can get some really light swing feels that would be almost impossible to play correctly and consistently by live musicians, but that can give electronic music a super special feel.



    In the above example, musician Anomalie uses an almost imperceptible swing feel in his song "Velours", and I think it's absolutely badass. It's close to septuplet feel (4:3) without being exactly it, but I love the feel it gives.

    On the other hand, you have hard swings. The most common example of this is 3:1.

    [​IMG]

    In the image above, you see the straight feel on the left, the regular 2:1 swing in the middle, and the hard 3:1 swing on the right. Let's hear this hard swing.



    Just as with light swing, you can have many (infinitely many) other ways of creating hard swing, so long as it's different and has a bigger difference between the two notes as 2:1 has. I mentioned quintuplet hard swing earlier, with a 4:1 ratio, but I have a hard time finding real-life examples of hard swing music. If you have any, please do provide it. Another example of hard swing could be made using septuplets, with a 5:2 ratio, or using sextuplets with a 5:1 ratio. As I've said, infinitely many possibilities, but only so much will be different to our ears.

    Experimentation/Speculation

    Now, swing feel usually takes two notes and attributes them different length ratios, but I don't think there's any theoretical reason why this couldn't be applied to sets of 3, 4, 5, (and so on) notes. Although I have yet to see this musically myself, I don't see why it couldn't exist, and it could lead to some really interesting feels. I think I should call these compound swing, or complex swing.

    Let's take an example where the straight feel is in 12/8 instead of 4/4, and so the notes are in groups of 3. There is a myriad ways of altering the length ratios, but one of the simplest would be using 5:3 quintuplet feel, where 5 notes are played in the length of 3. The complex swing resulting would be something like 2:2:1, where the last note is half the length of the two prior ones. Let me try to image this.

    [​IMG]

    I think it gives a really cool feel. I wouldn't say it feels "swing", since groups of 3 notes and more are felt differently by us than groups of 2, apparently, but certainly a "complex swing" label would be appropriate. On top of that, once you get a hang of this complex swing, it would be much simpler to write notation to give a quintuplet feel to a series of 3 notes, as in the example shown above, or any other amalgamation of notes and feels.

    Moreover, there is nothing stopping us from imagining a complex swing feel where every note of the grouping has a different ratio. But you would have to choose carefully, not to take a complex feel that sounds exactly like a regular swing feel. For example, the 3:2:1 ratio sounds just like regular swing using one quarter note and then two swung eighth notes (the typical jazz drum beat, usually on the ride cymbal).

    A new feel would be, instead, 4:3:2, in 9-tolet time. This gives a whole new feel to your boring group of 3 eighth notes, but it's also quite difficult to count and play. I suppose it could be useful in electronic music, or with a lot of practice to truly feel it.

    [​IMG]

    It's also a bit strange since you also have a certain 4:5 feel going on, dividing the first note and the last two into two groups. This is how I feel it, and the last swung note somehow feels less part of the swing than the other two. That is, obviously, because we are so accustomed to hearing 2-note swings and not 3-note ones, or any other number of notes, for that matter. However, I think that we could achieve some really interesting feels using complex swing and other light and hard swings.

    Coupled with non-dyadic time signatures, as mentioned above, you could have some truly crazy swing feels. Like a 2-note swing in 3:2 sextuplet feel, using only 5 of the 6 required sextuplets, thus requiring a 5/6 time signature. Once again, this perhaps will be more useful to electronic music composers, since it's something that's really hard to produce consistently and accurately on any instrument.

    [​IMG]

    I would like to start a sort of friendly competition here where everyone is invited to put concepts described in this thread to use in a composition. Whether it be carnatic rhythm theory, polyrhythms, or complex swing feels. It would be really interesting for all of us, and also very useful as experience for the composer itself. So, good luck to everyone!
     
  16. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    The old MIDI application I had (circa 1994) had a swing feel slider. I spent hours trying to find nodal position that sounded "good," but the swing setting was marked in percent (%), rather than as a ratio. I'm guessing 0% was 1:1, 50% was 3:2, 100% was 2:1 and so on, but I'm not certain.
     
  17. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    That's pretty cool, I didn't know it was such an old feature! It would be more useful if you could write the exact ratio you want, however, but I guess modern DAWs have that option. Reaper doesn't, not that I know. Also, most DAWs and notation softwares are pretty hostile towards most of what I'm writing about here. While most support n-tuplets, some are quite restrictive. None that I know support different time signatures at once. You can forget entirely about any software supporting microrhythm (microtime), non-dyadic time signatures, or multitempo compositions. If you know any, please let me know, because I'm in the dark here.

    Anyways, I think rhythmic experimentation is relly interesting, and I'll keep posting about new concepts when I stumble upon them and gather my thoughts on them. Please feel free to join and contribute a post on a rhythmic concept you like!
     
  18. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    A few years ago, I bought a BOSS Micro BR-8. It's a little multitrack recorder the size of a deck of cards. It had a nifty feature that you could import MIDI drum patterns and it would play them, for jamming or recording demos or whatever. I plopped a bunch of my drum patterns on an SD card and imported them into the recorder and started trying to jam along, but everything was really weirdly timed. I came to find out that importing anything with a time signature other than 4/4 (yes, even 3/4 and 2/4) would cause weird rhythm artifacts in the drum patterns. Oh well, what do you expect for a couple hundred bucks out of a recorder that fits in your shirt pocket?

    But I did use it to come up with one riff that kept changing time signatures. I was trying to make a song in 13/8, and the recorder kept dropping random amounts off of the measures, so I ended up with something I thought was a nifty little rhythm, but when I showed it to the drummer, he told me to get bent, since the way I scored it was to write each measure in a different time signature, but the song eventually ended up on our album...

    So, the old dictation program, it was called Microsoft Session. The input was really kind of odd, especially for the era: your mouse cursor was whichever note you had quantized (z. B. an eighth note/quaver), but the annoying thing was that the cursor position was snapped to that note's beats on the staff, which meant that:
    1. If you wanted a quarter note to start on an off beat, you had to place two non-quarter notes and tie them together to make up for the time.
    2. If your mouse moved a little whilst clicking, you'd end up with the note on the wrong beat, since the cursor would jump from one position to the other.
    3. It was frustrating.

    Anyway, I think DAW software still has a lot of room for improvement with how rhythms are laid out and input. Since (so I've heard) >90% of music is in common time, and 99% of what's not is in either 3/4 or 2/4 time, there might be little motivation to develop a DAW that can parse arbitrarily odd time signatures, but I think that since it's just a computer making a computation, then trying to code it into MIDI, it might not be that difficult to do.
     
  19. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    I found a pretty easy way to program midi music to fit microtime, or microrhythm. Although it's a lot of work, the basics of it are quite easy and reliable so there's something to make out of it. I therefore went on and tried to microtime-ify a Meshuggah riff. You can hear it here, this is exactly 50% between the original pattern of notes and the equal division of the same riff.

    https://soundcloud.com/user-78104662/meshuggah-this-spiteful-snake-opening-riff-in-microrhythm
     
  20. Bobro

    Bobro SS.org Regular

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    Hm, my music theory knowledge and skills are very highly developed, but I still can't quite figure out exactly what this microrhythm thing is supposed to be. Listening to the example, I'm guessing it pretty much boils down to trying to quantify "swing" by thinking of it in terms of polyrhythm.
     

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