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How rhythm functions


vkxwz
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  • 4 weeks later...

I feel like this thread may need some examples but my thoughts on how a very small segment of music feels fall apart when out of context. I also realise this isn't really too different from asking how melody works. This also seems like the sort of thing where the closer you look the less you see, like trying to understand how an image on your screen makes you feel a certain way by using a magnifying glass on the pixels. as for sad drum loops, I can think of some but only using drum sounds that basically act as notes in a melody. Maybe it is all just a mystery and the best composers do not understand how their own music really works and it is all just intuitive without explanation, but there is something unsatisfying about that to me.

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On 9/7/2021 at 11:12 AM, flacid said:

On a mission to find a sad drum loop. Sure there must be a sad, drum only, hip hop instrumental 🙂

It'll be like the "yeah! Woo!" drum loop, but slower and going "no! boohoo!"

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6 hours ago, vkxwz said:

I feel like this thread may need some examples but my thoughts on how a very small segment of music feels fall apart when out of context. I also realise this isn't really too different from asking how melody works. This also seems like the sort of thing where the closer you look the less you see, like trying to understand how an image on your screen makes you feel a certain way by using a magnifying glass on the pixels. as for sad drum loops, I can think of some but only using drum sounds that basically act as notes in a melody. Maybe it is all just a mystery and the best composers do not understand how their own music really works and it is all just intuitive without explanation, but there is something unsatisfying about that to me.

It's a nice thread if you want people to be philosophical and share their theories, and it's always cool to read others' perspective in this forum (then steal their best ideas to use in your music). I am saying this because even if I knew all the psychoacoustic theory to answer "why" I don't think it's really possible to explain "how rhythm works".

My take is this: in any given piece of music you will always have the three components: rhythm (WHEN does the sound happen in time), pitch (WHAT note-pitch-root frequency), timbre (HOW does it sound like). For example if you take the Amen break in MIDI, but replace the drum machine sounds with a melodic synth, it's still the same rhythm but it will sound like absolute shit unless you mess around with the pitch (make the notes correspond to a melody) and also tinker with the timbre.

This leads me to think that you can't really separate rhythm from the other two components if you want to analyze "which rhythms work and which ones don't".

 

2nd thing I think maybe some posters mentioned here already is that modern electronic music is super heavy on repetitive patterns and ostinato - i.e. the basic point is that if you loop any kind of random garbage and your audience is in the right headspace, it *will* work. I am a huge fan of krautrock and that style super heavily uses monotonic drum and bass parts where nothing really changes in terms of rhythm, but some subtle and less subtle effects in timbre (i.e. LFO on filter cutoff, delays) create a changing atmosphere, and that works as well even though on the rhythm side of things, it's the same loop.

I definitely notice that if I start building a track by looping 4 bars of just smashing the keyboard with my fist (gently so I don't fuck my gear up), it takes like 5-6 repeats and I get into the headspace of that loop. It's like your brain starts extracting order from the chaos, making sense of this weird thing. And then if it gets really good you get some instincts on like "Ok lets add a bass note here, set up some pads there" and a few hours later I have had lots of fun.

My tracks are still shit though.

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14 hours ago, iococoi said:

antonio sanchez (birdman and get shorty soundtrack)

 

These are cool, especially the last one

7 hours ago, thawkins said:

This leads me to think that you can't really separate rhythm from the other two components if you want to analyze "which rhythms work and which ones don't".

I definitely notice that if I start building a track by looping 4 bars of just smashing the keyboard with my fist (gently so I don't fuck my gear up), it takes like 5-6 repeats and I get into the headspace of that loop. It's like your brain starts extracting order from the chaos, making sense of this weird thing. And then if it gets really good you get some instincts on like "Ok lets add a bass note here, set up some pads there" and a few hours later I have had lots of fun.

I do agree it's not something you can just look at in a vacuum, I realise the inital premise of the thread is a bit flawed as it implies I want to do that but you're right, rhythm isn't anything on it's own.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2629434/?fbclid=IwAR2aMJrI_cFf7LumZ2KEtZzNlnJpPtktdMgy9LjR7IWtFtLSJZKBB7s6TNw

I don't know how people here feel about academic papers about music but I found this cool paper, something that stands out to me is these sentences about contour: "One of the most salient aspects of relative pitch is the direction of change (up or down) from one note to the next, known as the contour" & "Recent evidence indicates that contours can also be perceived in dimensions other than pitch, such as loudness and brightness"

They go on to compare perception of intervals to contour, saying that contour is more robust and easier for most people to remember / discern. It seems to me that it is something more fundamental than our perception intervals (which our response to seems mostly cultural, considering how music from other cultures expresses emotions in completely different ways using intervals that westerners are likely misinterpret). Given that contour is more robust, applies to more than just pitch(volume, timbre), and to me seems the more relevant in terms of evolution(recognising general up down differences in nature vs exact musical ratios), I'm inclined to think it's a significant part of "how rhythm functions". It's gotta be what you are experiencing when you loop any bit of disorganised sound and start perceiving a more structured rhythm in it like you are talking about thawkins.

I could be just speaking out of my arse here but I feel like this is somewhat relevant to this thread at least ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

EDIT: also pitch intervals and contour are supposedly processed in different parts of the brain

Edited by vkxwz
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5 hours ago, vkxwz said:

It's gotta be what you are experiencing when you loop any bit of disorganised sound and start perceiving a more structured rhythm in it like you are talking about thawkins.

I am pretty sure it's apophenia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia), i.e. your brain starts matching the mess to things it already knows. I definitely consciously feel it sometimes that whatever calls out to me in a bunch of random notes is some reference or similarity to an existing track or melody or something like that.

Probably it makes some sense within the context of that article but my first impression is that the research is looking at a much lower level than rhythm. I mean of course I am also super skeptical that some boffins can tell me how to optimize my drum loops for maximum coolness.

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This article may be of interest:

The formation of rhythmic categories and metric priming

Also: I know eff-all about neuroscience, but the Mismatch Negativity component (MMN for short) has come up a few times when reading articles about Music Perception & Cognition. Think of this: you listen to an audio stimulus like a metronome i.e., a beep sound at a constant rate:

b b b b b b b b

and suddenly one of the beeps is different (quieter in level, or just silent)

b b b b b q b b

... you perceive this as unexpected (aka a mismatch), and if you were hooked up to an EEG machine, about 400ms after the trigger (the different beep), the EEG would show a 'dip' in its graph. This is of course related to unexpected twists in music, syncopation etc.

Now, here's the awesome thing - this study

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29720932/

apparently (aka "if I understand this right") says that people exposed to typical western music show MORE MMN, i.e., they perceive sudden irregularities in music as unexpected, whereas people exposed to non-western music are more chilled with syncopation and their EEGs show less MMN activity (the subjects in that study were sub-saharan Africans that grew up listening to African music).

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16 hours ago, thawkins said:

I am pretty sure it's apophenia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia), i.e. your brain starts matching the mess to things it already knows. I definitely consciously feel it sometimes that whatever calls out to me in a bunch of random notes is some reference or similarity to an existing track or melody or something like that.

Probably it makes some sense within the context of that article but my first impression is that the research is looking at a much lower level than rhythm. I mean of course I am also super skeptical that some boffins can tell me how to optimize my drum loops for maximum coolness.

I dont see why it has to be caused by your brain matching the mess to something it already knows, seems like all that needs to happen is to have an idea of the "shape" of the sound over time, built up by listening and having your expectation constantly adjusted to match what you are hearing. After reading that wikipedia page I do agree that Apophenia is somehow related though, I have noticed that with this sort of thing I hear different parts of some looped "random" noise as connected when logically they aren't, but I don't think that means contour isn't the way that you are perceiving the shape of the sound, just means that your mind is trying to explain the shape. This bit from a more recent Autechre interview relates I think: "Suppose you are looking at a turned acrylic vase on a lamp stand. You might see loads of different layers, but it’s been on a lathe and it’s been curved and you’ll see a silhouette, and you’ll see light travel through it. You’ll get ideas about what its construction is or what its materials are but you still see one surface, one curve" I think contour is perception of the shape of the surface, and Apophenia comes into play when getting ideas about it's construction.

13 hours ago, IOS said:

I found that paper a bit of a pain to read but I think their whole rhythmic categories thing is interesting, turning continous sound into an abstraction that would fit into sheet music / daw? if I understand that correctly.

And the MMN stuff is really cool, never heard of it before but seems really important, It's strange to know there is a measurable signal that corresponds to that feeling when a kick comes half a beat early, I wonder if the MMN is treated as another dimension of content like pitch, and how quickly it disapears when syncopation remains constant, for example looping a | kik - snare - | - kick snare - | beat.

11 hours ago, brian trageskin said:

while we're on the topic of neuroscience and syncopation, some researchers think that humans instinctively dance in order to make sense of syncopated rhythms (turn on the english subtitles)

Makes sense, I do think dancing helps keep time for heavily syncopated music, otherwise I personally lose track of where the beat is sometimes with really dense stuff (noob I know)

Edited by vkxwz
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Just wanted so say this too: if you all think rhythm means only drums and percussion, then I think you're super wrong. You know there is a term called 'rhythm section' and 'rhythm guitar' etc etc.

6 hours ago, vkxwz said:

I dont see why it has to be caused by your brain matching the mess to something it already knows, seems like all that needs to happen is to have an idea of the "shape" of the sound over time, built up by listening and having your expectation constantly adjusted to match what you are hearing. After reading that wikipedia page I do agree that Apophenia is somehow related though, I have noticed that with this sort of thing I hear different parts of some looped "random" noise as connected when logically they aren't, but I don't think that means contour isn't the way that you are perceiving the shape of the sound, just means that your mind is trying to explain the shape. This bit from a more recent Autechre interview relates I think: "Suppose you are looking at a turned acrylic vase on a lamp stand. You might see loads of different layers, but it’s been on a lathe and it’s been curved and you’ll see a silhouette, and you’ll see light travel through it. You’ll get ideas about what its construction is or what its materials are but you still see one surface, one curve" I think contour is perception of the shape of the surface, and Apophenia comes into play when getting ideas about it's construction.

It does not have to be like how I described. But I am pretty sure that this is how my head operates. And your contour and shape theory makes sense too, but I don't think it is related to rhythm - it's more like how people identify whatever is going on in the track - what are the dominant elements etc. I basically agree with that last point that apophenia is the next step after shape/contour and then your head is in the mode of "well ok these are bleeps and bloops, do they remind me of AFX or Autechre".

 

You can't really do a real scientific experiment with those things because in order to do it correctly with control groups and all, you would have to kidnap a bunch of newborns and force them to live in silence or at least without music at all (this is illegal, don't do this). Because I feel it's pretty much established that people grow their likes and tastes in music and sound throughout all their lives, and I am not sure how you would switch all that off during the experiment that you do for research.

 

For all this evolutionary psychological stuff like "ah yeah the human brain has obviously evolved to focus on the mid-low frequencies because the stone age sabertooth tiger's farts were exactly on the same fundamental and so you see this gave an evolutionary advantage and also explains why the original Roland TB-303 was so successful" please kindly fuck off. 😄 

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Rhythms are patterns, patterns have rhythm, and our brains are pattern recognition engines, so they tend to find patterns everywhere, and strain themselves trying to do so. Rhythms are sequential and parallel patterns of time slices, both repeating and non-repeating, perception artifacts. Everything is a clock. Rhythms are universal and specific, but what all rhythms have in common is time. When you observe (hear, see, touch, smell, taste) a rhythm, your brain builds expectations on how it will continue - it's not apophenia per se, pattern anticipation generates participatory futures, tension and release. This is a bit wishy-washy, abstract, and conceptual, but I've been thinking about this a lot for a long while, and to digress a bit more I'll suggest checking out pace layering.

Edited by dcom
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4 hours ago, thawkins said:

For all this evolutionary psychological stuff like "ah yeah the human brain has obviously evolved to focus on the mid-low frequencies because the stone age sabertooth tiger's farts were exactly on the same fundamental and so you see this gave an evolutionary advantage and also explains why the original Roland TB-303 was so successful" please kindly fuck off. 😄 

New AFX collaboration with Novation: TigerFarts. 1 subosc producing only sabertooth waves. No filter. AI driven but it's not clever. Custom microfartuning patches by RDJ.

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

In terms of enjoyment, it's just intuition and what you have grown up listening to, and what you chose to listen to in teens/adulthood. Like someone said it's like looking at individual pixels on a screen and trying to piece together the picture it's making.

I think it's just like another language. Why do words sound the way they do, and why do two words that can definitionally mean exactly the same thing, but have two different connotations to where one word is positive and the other is negative? Or how the same sentence using the same words can mean entirely different things when you hear HOW it is said?

You can go into how the language is formed and all it's patterns (music theory), but why do some words feel comforting, or some feel nasty and apparently lots of people hate said word (moist). IDK if studying the structure of english language can give you the answer to that, however you would still have to understand the structure of english language on some level to begin getting into it as well. You just have to 'feel it' when it comes. I am sure there is an explanation for it, like if we could see our brain activity. But it is only tangentially related to the mathematical structure of the english language.

A really broad way of thinking of it is 'context'. What is the context of the notes and rhythms in the whole of the song? In the placement of the song in the album? Of the album in the discography of the artist? What was the artist's life like at the time? Is the artist the type to put their life into their music or do they prefer to keep them separate and more abstract?

What is the context of the way a sentence is said? You can't fully understand something until you see it in context. Same with enjoyment in the rhythm.

I could go on and on but you get what I mean at this point. It's a great question which maybe we will one day be able to understand on some level. Beyond just "I like those fast bits".

Edited by Brisbot
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