The idea of social dance first appeared in ancient Greek texts:
[Homer Iliad X. 5. 635, quoted by Herodotus VI. 39. 4, in Ovid Tristo xxxvi. 35]
This ancient poet mentions “circled lines” in his description of warfare, which are a kind of “social rhythms” or “bounded rhythms” in musical music (cf. Dionysius the Areopagite Fragments I.1). But what exactly is a “circled line?”
A circular rhythm is a group of notes that is the same in every measure, but is always the same when the notes from the previous measure are repeated in order. Circles are not fixed rhythms by convention, that’s the idea of intervals—a variation of one basic pitch, but at a different pace.
There is only one kind of circle in music, and that is the circle of fifths, a basic musical interval that defines all other intervals.
It’s not the easiest thing to describe, but let’s look at an example:
A C D E F G A B D
This sequence of notes is exactly the same in 12 measures, every time, whether you play D, F, G, A or C, without changing one beat.
But what’s the purpose of a circle? A circle is simply a way to avoid repetition. This is why it was used to avoid the “harmonics”, (rhythms that are all the same) in classical music.
Now, why would you want to avoid repeating the same note? A circular rhythm is a way to avoid repetition, while leaving the musical feeling intact.
The second important application is to create a rhythmic pattern. In most examples, we’re not going to use a circular pattern, but an uni-tempo pattern, where you play 2 beats once and then play them twice. For our example, the pattern is the same each time.
Let’s take this pattern as the starting point, since it’s the one with the most beats, and try to work from there. Here we’re using the “circled-pitch” technique to create a series of circles of notes (not notes) in 6-beat steps.
Now it is easy to see how these 7 notes create this 12-beat pattern.
1. 1 2 . 2 3 4. 4 5 6
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