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Phasing: synchronising and desynchronising

[ Phasing | Beat cells | Moving to percussion | Cell size | An early piece ]


Phasing, is the synchronisation over time of two or more rhythmic ideas repeated continuously.

Beat cells or Rhythmic Cells

Think about beat cells or rhythmic cells. These are small patterns of beats or durations. They can have as many beats as you need for the cell to make sense. Phasing takes shape when you combine multiple cells of different lengths together.


I have six cells. Each cell is a different length and uses different durations including silence in some of them.

Cell 1
Cell 2
Cell 3
Cell 4
Cell 5
Cell 6
When played together
they sound like Example 7:

Notice the obvious picking pattern that has emerged from the combination of these parts as well as the accented notes that pop out from time to time. This is all down to the phasing of the six parts and was not consciously designed. It takes 105 bars before the pattern repeats exactly.

Extending a melodic approach into the purely rhythmic realm of percussion.

I then took these six cells and dropped them onto a Battery kit - Heavy Gothic Drums. This is the result without any mapping except to bring the entire set of pitch down into the area where Battery initially mapped this kit.

The individual rhythms are shown in the grid below

Remapping the notes to notes within the kit would make for even more interesting sounds and phasing possibilities.

What size rhythmic cells to use.

There are a number of different approaches to this. Two obvious ones are:

  1. Prime numbers
    • Use cells of different sizes based on the prime number sequence
    • 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, etc
  2. Fibonacci
    • Use cells based on the Fibonacci sequence
    • 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc

Both approaches provide a structural coherence and will lead to some levels of self symmetry.

An early composition

One of my earliest phasing works that was melodic was based on playing through two frets on the guitar starting at the 12th fret on the A string up to the B string alternating 12th and 14th fret up and back:

  • Guitar 1: A B etc
  • Guitar 2: A B D B etc
  • Guitar 3: A B D E D B etc
  • Guitar 4: A B D E G E D B etc
  • Guitar 5: A B D E G A G E D B etc
  • Guitar 6: A B D E G A B A G E D B etc

All in quavers: short reimplemented example here:

This example has the parts synchronising briefly every 30". Tempo is 240 quavers per minute

Note this has not been mastered. A very light flanging on one track and the same degree of flanging overall on the master with a stereo enhancer set to "wider than wide" on the stereo master track as well.

The original version also had a drum machine part that was written using the synchronisation points of individual parts (whenever more than 1 part was on the starting A) to determine which instrument was played ~ it was based on the idea that the synchronisation provided an intensity/density grid that could be applied to the allocation of any other parameters in the piece. I will have to dig the score out and reimplement the drum part now that I have access to much better sounds.