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Rhythm is Just Time Rhyming. (How Can a Delay Help Set the Groove?)

In our last blog post we asked the question: why do we want a delay plug-in, what is it for? We talked a lot about how it adds depth and dimension to your music, and how Recirculate uses a feedback delay with the right mix of processing inside the feedback loop to add do this as effortlessly as possible.

However, we also mentioned that a delay can emphasize the rhythmic qualities of your music, what does that mean?

Rhythmis a fundamental distinguishing characteristic of music, and is defined as a strong regular repeated pattern. I like to think of it as time rhyming with itself. We create rhythm in music by repeating sounds and phrases, and when tuned correctly, the distinct repeats of an echo can reinforce or augment the rhythm of your music.


1. It’s All About Repetition

Unlike a reverb (which also adds depth) the feedback delay creates a repeating pattern. If that pattern lines up with the beats of a song, like an eighth note, quarter, or half note, this pattern will reinforce the backbeat of the music.

However, delay experts have long known that you can use a feedback echo to augment the rhythm of a track by tuning the delay time to something like a dotted eighth note, which is essentially one-and-a-half eighth notes. This works well because a dotted eighth is ¾ of a beat. It adds some sixteenth note syncopation, but every other repeat still lines up on the beat.

Illustration of a Dotted Eighth Note creating 16th Note Syncopation.

You can do a similar trick with triplets, but as you experiment you’ll quickly find that the “funkier” you make the delay time the more “space” the delay takes in your composition.

In the end, there are only a couple really practical choices.

2. Echo…echo…echo…echo...

This is because a feedback echo has only one real mode of functionality. It repeats, repeats, repeats, repeats, repeats, repeats… 

There is a structure called a multi-tap delay, or a tapped delay line, which allows the user an unconstrained set of echoes. This can be used to create arbitrary rhythmic repeats. Multitap delay lines are very cool, however, in the general case they tend toward sound design, and the topology loses the nice features we like about a feedback echo, so…

3. Polyrhythms

…we started experimenting. We realized that we can unroll the first echo from the feedback loop, keeping that feedback sound we love, but giving you control over the first echo time - AND ALSO the echo time of the subsequent repeats.

This simple idea is very powerful. The first echo is fundamental in reinforcing the rhythm of the track. Once that rhythm is established you can select much funkier rhythmic times for the subsequent repeats. For example, if you have a straight up 4:4 song, a quarter note triplet delay can sound quite busy (that’s 3 repeats inside 2 beats, or a 3:2 polyrhythm). However, we find if you use Recirculate, setting the first repeat to a quarter note to reinforce the beat, but setting triplet repeats will add a nice little bounce without sounding nearly as busy. That first echo does the work that allows the repeats to be much more interesting.

Recirculate showing a 1/4 note First Echo and 3:2 and 5:2 polyrhythms for the repeats.

We’ve found that even a 5:4 polyrhythmic delay (that’s 5 repeats inside 4 beats in a 4/4 song), or more works great as long as the first echo emphasizes a beat.

4. A Music Theory Analogy

These are our conclusions based experimentation, so I can’t explain exactly why this sounds so good, but I do have an analogy...

If you play an E and a Bb at the same time it doesn’t sound great. That’s a tritone: “the devil's interval”. But, if you play C, E, G, Bb it sounds great - that a flat-7 chord. The C and G harmonically ground the tritone interval and give it structure. I think we’re doing the same thing here: by setting a strong first echo we give context to the more complicated rhythms.

5. And Back to the One

Rhythm is essential and there are a lot of ways to create it. But, if you're at the mix stage and looking to add a little subtle spice to a track, try a delay instead of a reverb. Try mixing up those echo times a bit. Try out an on beat first echo with some spicier repeats. You don't technically need Recirculate to try that, it just makes life a lot easier. You can also grab a free demo license. Or just read a bit more and hear some audio demos at:

Until next time, Dan

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3 comentários

18 de fev.

On Drumeo Dafnis Prieto said that he always keep the hi hat or something straight during his drum solos. That is the frame he uses so people get it better what he's doing on the drums. I find it to be a very similar idea to the "first echo".

One fun thing could be to hire maybe an Indian konnakol master, or a Saudi/Yemeni drummer, a Brazilian, a Cuban drummer and somebody from maybe Ghana to create presets, or to explore more what other cultures do with rhythm for a next version.


13 de fev.

Nice article!

About 'the devils intervals', Adam Neely made a video prooving it is some kind of myth, going to the root of this and it appears it is some kind of misquote from a music book from the Renaissance, where it was mentionned it was really hard to sing for choir. But it wasn't in fact said as evil, it was even used in sacred music just like some even more dissonant intervals.

so i'm not sure how much the harmonic analogy applied/is needed, but I'll keep a mind than first beat then complex pattern worths experimenting to have a nice combo between clarity and richness😉

16 de fev.
Respondendo a

That’s awesome, thanks for sharing.

I do think idea holds irrespective of the dubious connotations of “The Devil’s interval” phrase. You’d agree that enharmonic intervals can sound better when placed in the proper harmonic context, no?

The reason I consider it so interesting is because I’ve been ruminating on how difference between harmony and rhythm is really just one of timescale. IDM music experiments with this quite a bit, is it a fast rhythm or a low pitch? It’s possible that an alien being whose brain works at a much slower time scale could hear a rock beat as a chord.

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