Polyrhythms and polymeters.
No, don’t close the page! I promise this is more fun than it sounds!
Two often confused and conflated concepts in music. They aren’t so hard to understand though – really. They are also incredibly valuable to learn. If you get these down the complexity of your percussion will be leveled up, practically overnight. Once you understand what these concepts are, and most importantly, what is the difference between them, you’ll be ready for this month’s Patchable. Best of all, there are lots of ways to achieve them in Eurorack.
Create a track which liberally uses polymeters, polyrhythms, or both to seriously spice up your percussion! Learn all about both using the resources below, and avoid conflating the two concepts like many teachers, musicians, and even some manufacturers (lookin’ at you, Arturia!) have over time.
Now, on with the cheat sheet!
When you have two tracks in your modular playing at two separate time signatures. They share a tempo, but the length of each phrase varies. Or, even simpler put: the number of beats in your loops are each different, but the BPM is the same.
Some Well Known Examples:
- Kashmir – Led Zepplin
- 5/4 – Gorillaz
- Touch & Go – The Cars
- Tool (OK, yes, of course they use polyrhythms too)
Polymeters are best used to…
- To create more interesting drum patterns
- To extend a loop or make a loop feel less repetitive
- To give your kick and snare (or any two drum tracks) a seemingly different beat
Getting started in Eurorack:
To get you polymetric groove going you’ll need a minimum of two sequencing lanes. Either across 2+ sequencers, or a single sequencer with multiple tracks. Simply change the number of steps in each track you’re off to the races!
Example: Set one sequencing lane or track to 16 steps and another for 12 steps. Have them both work off the same clock. Boom! You have a 4/4 & 3/4 polymeter going. E-Z!
Some common hardware examples which can help you achieve this include
- A single sequencer with multiple tracks (SQ-1, Performer, Five12, etc)
- Any 2+ single track sequencers
- A clock divider with multiple outputs (Doepfer A160-2)
- Beatstep Pro with 2.0 firmware installed (though they called it Polyrhythms in the release notes…)
Two tracks with the same phrase length and time signature, but the number of beats in each are different. Each group takes the same amount of time to play, and the “1’s” always align, but the number of steps in between the 1’s will vary.
Some Well Known Examples:
- Halloween theme – John Carpenter
- Light My Fire (during the solo breakdown) – The Doors
- Chariots of Fire – Vangelis
- Like, any track from the 1980’s iteration of King Crimson (the best iteration – fight me!)
Polyrhythms are best used to…
- Intertwine different tempos in your music
- Have the listener feel a “push & pull”, almost dizzying, effect of your rhythms
- Show off
Getting Started in Eurorack:
In this case reset functionality and clock dividers/multipliers are your friend. Again, the trick is to vary your rhythms, but have your “1’s” align. Programming one sequencer to play triplets, and the other to play standard 8th or 16th notes is a path to success assuming you send a simultaneous reset into both tracks.
A clock divider / multiplier with multiple channels of outputs and a single reset in will also do the trick (PNW, Doepfer A-160-2, etc). Try this out to start:
- Main clock rate = 120
- Reset in = /8
- /4 in sequencer A
- /5 in sequencer B
TL;DR: Use PNW for this one. Or maybe a Subharmonicon.
HOW TO PLAY
THIS PATCHABLE RUNS FOR THE MONTH OF MARCH.
- Create an original piece of music using the framework above. For normal Patchable submissions, please detail about what times in the performance you implement each step, and what they are.
- Include the suffix PATCHABLE-0024 in the track title and the number of the patchable you chose. A completed track title would look like this: PolyWantASnareDrum-0024
- Upload your track to Soundcloud.
- Include a link to your track and patch notes in the comments below.
PLAY YOUR PATCH LIVE
If you would like to play a performance on Patchable Performers using polyrhythms, polymeters, or a sample of a polymeter playing polyrhythmic (…), please contact @saddleuptherobots on Discord to apply for a time slot.
Don’t forget to press record (!) and then post your set after the show.