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Alternative Culture Magazine

Old meets New: Generate Random Rhythms!

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Recently I met with an old friend who found out about my interest in drumming for the first time. He knew virtually nothing about it, except that he supposed it was our oldest art. When we got to talking about the actual rhythms involved in traditional African drumming, I mentioned that threes and fours predominate. Still, he wondered if there might be an "infinite" number of possible combinations of beats. Checking out the math later, I came up with a finite number for a sixteen beat pattern: 4,294,967. This assumes three possible kinds of note--bass, tone, slap--for each beat, plus the choice of a rest (-). Thus four possibilities, raised to the sixteenth power. Oh, but the end result is really one less, or 4,294, 966: because the one possibilty that doesn't count, has a rest for all sixteen beats (- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -).

Enough esoterica. Now the computer can do in seconds what it took humans 50,000 years or more to refine. We already have "found" poetry, a pastiche of grocery list, newspaper blowing in the street, TV news and snippet from tonight's book. Now let's find some new rhythms, using what comes our way...

--Nowick Gray


Left hand lead -- or go to: Right hand lead









Order ROOTS JAM: Collected Rhythms for Hand Drum & Percussion

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