Musical Idea 33: Funky Shadowing

05.24.2014 § 3 Comments

Continued from previous shadowing topic: Shadowing — Introduction

Rather than boringly fading a shadow in while the original rhythm fades out, the unique scenario here allows us to try something really funky to gradually transform from one to the next:

  1. Treat every strike in your rhythm as a di-strike: comprised of two overlapping strikes.
  2. Each di-strikes’ two constituent strikes begin diverging from each other. One starts to hit slightly sooner, one slightly later.
  3. The two strikes diverge further and further apart.
  4. Eventually the strikes are so far apart from each other that they actually closer to the strikes that have been coming at them from the other direction — one each of the two strikes of the original neighbor di-strikes.
  5. Strikes re-converge with these strikes from different parent di-strikes, merging together into new di-strikes.
  6. The locations of the mergers are precisely the midpoints of the original rhythm, thus creating the shadow rhythm.


Within this funky shadowing technique, there is a lot of room for play:

  • Outcome timing. If the desired effect is for all of the mergers to occur sameltimeously, then the rates of divergence must be set proportionally to how far the strikes must travel; more isolated di-strikes in the original rhythm have farther to go. However it is not necessary for the mergers to occur sameltimeously; in fact it may lead to interesting effects to constrain divergence rates to be all the same, so that the closer ones meet proportionally sooner instead.
  • Variable rate aspect. When choosing the rates of the divergences, you do not have to choose constant rates. They can speed up and slow down however you like as long as they end up where you mean them to be when you mean them to reach there. The amount and type of variance in the rate of divergence can itself be an aspect subject to gradual or sudden change.
  • Rate effects. You can carefully control rate variance to suggest certain effects. For example, you could have your strikes speed up as they diverge and approach re-convergence, and when they merge with their neighbors it is only for a split second, and they retain their speed, immediately diverging again, implying that they bounced off each other. To complement this, when they merge next time, they might slow into it, barely touching each other, before falling back away from each other and bouncing again at the next merger. Maybe you spice it up by after establishing this bounce-graze-bounce-graze for a bit, switching the gravity up midway so the grazing layer unexpectedly bounces instead.
  • Switching. If strikes within your rhythm are distinct from each other in pitch or timbre or anything, then you can add an additional level of play by switching up whether the strikes do or do not cross each other when they meet. That is, when they diverge again, does the strike that came from the right return to the right, or does it continue to the left. Note that you could suggest whether your strikes were switching or not using the method in the previous bullet, though continuity of their rates of movement, however, this method will make the effect much clearer, and the methods work especially well when used together. Also, when your strikes are distinct sounding, say, one of your strikes is like a snare and another is like a kick — you can re-order your beat this way, opening a whole realm of complexity.

To imagine how to achieve the gradually changing nature of this process, I would draw it out:

  1. Draw one repetition of your rhythm: di-strikes as points on a horizontal line segment. You can imagine listening to this rhythm over and over by starting at the left, moving through, pronouncing the di-strikes, and when you reach the far right, wrapping back around from the left.
  2. Your rhythm probably begins with a di-strike. Since we understand this line segment to function as a loop, the furthest right point on this line segment is also the furthest left. For purposes of this exercise, it will help later on if you go ahead now and represent this di-strike with a point in both places, on both the beginning and at the end of the last interval.
  3. Draw two vertical lines, placed at the left and right ends of this line segment. This is going to be the column in which we place all of our rhythms, to maintain them in terms of the original.
  4. Draw another horizontal line segment somewhere below the original one, also connecting the left vertical line to the right vertical line. This will represent the duration of the shadow rhythm (the vertical lines they share make clear that their width is the same; a shadow is always precisely as long as its original). We’re going to add this shadow rhythm’s points / di-strikes next.
  5. Find the midpoints of your original rhythm, and from them, draw down dotted lines, until they touch your new horizontal line segment. Then, place points on the new horizontal line segment where the dotted lines touch. These are the shadow rhythm’s di-strikes.
  6. You can play this rhythm just like you did the original, by looping across it left to right, left to right, left to right, over and over. But remember that what our ultimate goal is here is to hear the original gradually, funkily transforming into its shadow. To accomplish this, we need a couple more steps.
  7. For now, let’s keep it simple. From each point in the original rhythm, draw two solid lines, connecting it to the two closest points in the shadow rhythm below. This represents the di-strike diverging into its two constituent strikes.
  8. Remember how we drew the initial di-strike of our rhythm at both the beginning and end? Here’s where that helps. Unlike the other di-strikes, which are somewhere in the middle of the line segment and thus their strikes have room to diverge in both directions when drawn from the same point, this di-strike has to split its two diverging strikes up: its strike which diverges forward comes from the left, and the strike which diverges backward comes from the right, on totally opposite sides of our column.
  9. You will notice after you’ve completed this process that at the same time each of the di-strikes has been split into two strikes, each pair of neighbor di-strikes has sent one strike over to merge together into one of the di-strikes in the shadow.
  10. We’re almost there. At this point, look at what you’ve got, and realize that the vertical space between your two horizontal line segments represents the gradual changing of your rhythm into its shadow. You could draw a new horizontal line segment anywhere you like in that vertical area of our rhythm column, and if you put points at the intersections between that line and the diagonal strike lines, you’d have a rhythm in-between the original and its shadow (with twice as many strikes, since none are doubled-up as di-strikes).
  11. Next, realize that if instead of drawing a new horizontal line segment in that area, you drew a slightly diagonal line segment, you’d create one repetition of a rhythm which changes slightly from less to more shadowed as it goes.
  12. Finally, if you realize that this diagonal loops back to the left not at the same point it started, but at a point at the same vertical as where it went out on the right, thereby continuing a little further downward each time, you’ve found the way to transform gradually from the rhythm to its shadow.

Once this drawing scheme is grasped, more can be done:

  • You can angle your diagonal so that it reaches the shadow right as the shadow starts. Or it might make more sense for you for it to reach the shadow at its centerpoint. Fine-tuning, really, but up to you.
  • If you like, you can add further shadows of your shadow, stacked deeper down.
  • The distance between the layers represents how long it should take to transform from that one to the next. You can make some layers very close together and others very far.
  • If varying the distances between your shadows isn’t enough to achieve interesting variances in timing of reaching them, you could also vary the rate of your path through this column, so that sometimes you’re going diagonally downwards more, other times straight across, sometimes back up slowly, etc.
  • You could either keep horizontal speed constant, so it doesn’t matter how much you’re angled downward, or — you could take the vertical distance in the same scale and treat it the same way as the looping horizontal one, so if you nose-dove inside a space where there were no strikes in any layer, you’d still be in silence until you starting angling horizontal again, even if you were crossing hundreds of shadow layers.

In this drawing scheme, the four funky shadowing techniques above would take clear visual form, as well:

  1. The exercise, for simplicity’s sake, assumed that mergers occurred simultaneously, and divergence rates were constant, and thus that divergence rates were proportional to the distance a strike had to travel to its new di-strike; therefore this will look like straight lines with varied slopes. Had we set all divergence rates equal, so that some strikes reached their new spot sooner, we’d see all of our diagonal lines with the same slope (well, same angle with the above line, one way or the other), and the earlier ones would stop moving diagonally and just descend from there in their spot along vertical lines.
  2. If rates are varied continuously, the result will be curved lines. Discontinuous variance in rates will lead to zig-zaggy strike lines. Adjusting the variable rate aspect will affect the proportion of smooth turns to sharp corners you create.
  3. This drawing style makes bouncing and trajectory preservation apparent.
  4. Drawing your shadow layers out this way may be the only way to plot the paths of your distinct strikes, weaving them through each other in cool designs. Look to Chord Braiding for inspiration here.

Next shadowing topic: Unshadowing

See also: More Shadowing Techniques


§ 3 Responses to Musical Idea 33: Funky Shadowing

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