Euclidian Rhythms – Polyrhythms in Ableton Live

Have you ever found yourself endlessly tapping away on the Drum Rack loaded in your MIDI controller, staring at your DAW for hours in an attempt to spark the inspiration for a new sound? Most of us have been there before, wishing for a quick solution to keep us in the flow of composition. Today I’m going to give you exactly that- a quick and easy way to create new, interesting and complex beats using what’s known as the Euclidean Algorithm.

Euclid was a Greek mathematician and one of the most instrumental figures in creating the branch of mathematics known as geometry. He formulated a way to calculate the greatest common denominator (divisor) of two numbers. This means of calculating even distributions, now known as the Euclidean Algorithm, doesn’t just apply to mathematics. It’s a universal law that has been able to transcend the hard sciences and find its way into the creative arts, specifically music.

Very simply, when put into a musical context, the Euclidean Algorithm will always render a balanced beat. Whatever numbers you choose to work with, the formula will evenly distribute the sounds correctly every time. Not only that, but by layering these sounds using different sets of numbers, that’s when it gets really interesting. This is allows for the easy creation of complex beats while allowing you as a producer the freedom to explore the possibility of these patterns. 

If we use the same means of even distribution across multiple combinations of numbers, we begin the formation of polyrhythms. Polyrhythm is the simultaneous occurrence of two or more sharply contrasting rhythms within a composition. It’s the layering of these rhythms that helps to turn a basic pattern into something extraordinary.

Polyrhythms are everywhere. They can be found across cultures and continents from tribal rituals to the pop charts and they are the very essence of Jazz music. These rhythms are so prevalent that you have most likely heard one and not even have known.

A very basic example that showcases this technique in popular culture is the familiar opening keyboard in Van Halen’s “Jump.”

Below is a link to a Euclidian Sequencer that can be used right in your browser. Let’s take a quick look at how it’s used and how it can easily help to transform your sound.

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Moving across the columns from left to right will change the corresponding pattern from the outermost ring to the center. “Steps” represents the total possible amount of beats and “Pulse” represents where the beats will actually land. You can even offset these beats adding layer after layer of complex sound to your pattern.

The Euclidian sequencer will easily generate brilliant sounds that can be applied to nearly every genre and style of music. You can tweak any value and even change the tempo to a BPM you frequently work with, adding a limitless supply of sounds to help further your creative process.

Check out these links below for further demonstrations and for more details of Euclidian Rhythms, polyrhythms and some Ableton templates to get you started.

What are Euclidean Rhythms from Joe Computo at Voltage Control Lab

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Check out this cool free tool: Euclidean Sequencer in Your browser

Click to download Euclidean Rhythms Template for Ableton Live

Polyrhythm explanation

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Lastly check out this free Max for Live device to easlity allow you to create polyrhythms in Ableton Live using your own sounds Polyrhytmus.

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