A new music-making app uses an intuitive method to let you cut some tracks. Created by Meara O'Reilly and Sam Tarakajian, Rhythm Necklace (for iOS) lets you produce using a pattern-based system of shapes presented in the chained form of its namesake. Geometric shapes can be flipped, rotated, and mapped to each other to build up complex rhythms and explore relationships between them.
The sequencer uses the concept of "rhythm necklaces," which are utilized in multiple disciplines—crystallography, radio astronomy, ethnomusicology, nuclear physics—to visualise repeating patterns. It also adopts the ideas of mathematician Godfried Toussaint, whose explorations into the geometries of rhythms and music show what an important part shapes play in our creation and enjoyment of sounds.
"I was very interested in making a musical interface that made rhythm more accessible," O'Reilly tells The Creators Project. "When I came across Godfried Toussaint's work and saw how the same circular notation method was helpful at parsing data in such a wide range of disciplines (including ethnomusicology), I couldn’t believe this wasn’t more commonly found in modern musical practice. There seemed to me to be a big gap between an innate human ability to perceive complex rhythms and our ability to access and reproduce them through notation. It seemed like an important extension of Toussaint’s work to actually see and hear [his theories] in action as part of people’s musical practice rather than an abstracted concept."
Teaming up with music software developer Sam Tarakajian they created the app. To begin making music, you connect various dots on a circle which can be modified by tapping and dragging, and enhanced with various algorithms (Euclidean and Deep rhythms)—letting a sense of discovery lead the composition as you explore symmetries and connections between shapes and rhythms. "It shifts the focus from making choices to careful listening, which is an invaluable and sometimes neglected part of composition," the pair says.
It makes for a more instinctive method to make music, while also letting exploration be a key factor. "Music representation can have a huge impact on both composition and understanding," O'Reilly and Tarakajian say. "Traditional western notation, (especially in the case of rhythm) can be very unintuitive and context dependent—the symbols that you see mean something different, depending on their surroundings. To decipher rhythmic notation requires a type of specialization that most people don't have time and/or aren't able to master. However, the human grasp of complex rhythms is absolutely demonstrated by our ability to physically do multiple tasks all at once. Even just the act of walking and talking can create a myriad of rhythms that most people don't even notice or think that they're capable of reproducing. We're hoping that our app will help people to experience and create rhythmic patterns they might never encounter otherwise, and to move in new directions creatively."
Screenshots of the app