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Circular Rhythm

This image…

…informs much of my research. It’s pretty, but what does it mean?

Visual template

Essentially, it’s a template for visualizing metric and rhythmic tension. The outer circle shows four bars of the pulse in 4/4; each black dot is the ‘1’.


Moving towards the centre, the next circle represents the South Indian karnatic system (konokol) in 1/16 notes; each coloured circle indicates an accented note. More on the karnatic system in later posts.

1/4 Note triplets

The next circle is 1/4 note triplets (blue circles) against the pulse, and then 1/4 note triplets (red circles) superimposed against each two notes of the blue 1/4 note triplets. To do this, the blue 1/4 note triplets are conceptualized as a 1/4 note pulse then the red 1/4 note triplets are mapped onto that pulse in the same way that the blue are mapped onto the primary pulse (outer circle). Note that where the red circles line up with the blue layer, and you’ll see the 3:2 relationship.


The inner circle is a Turkish usul. Usuller (plural for usul), are rhythmic modes in Turkish makam music. The one that I’m using here is in 11/8. There are two ways to use this usul: as 11 against 4 (as used here) or as 1/8 notes against the primary pulse.

Each circle, then, holds a specific rhythmic personality. Different personalities can be inserted by using different konokol patterns, different usurer, etc. I leave it to your imagination to find these personalities.

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