Pascal’s Triangle, the Golden Ratio, the Koch Curve, the Fibonacci Sequence, Tessellation, Form Constant, and Cellular Automata are all types of patterns. And there are many more as patterns are a key part of humanity’s relationship with nearly everything. We seek to form a stable relationship with the world so that we feel more comfortable with the variety of experiences we encounter on a regular basis. It is quite natural for us to do this as stability and comfort help us to keep a wide range of interests as well as become extremely focused on a particular task at hand. If there were no patterns, we would be lost to irregularity and confusion, and frankly, our Earth wouldn’t have an orbit nor exist and we’d likely be space dust floating variably throughout all time.
Patterns and sequences are also very common in music. They phrase our verses, choruses, bridges and countless other aspects of music so that we may collaborate, harmonize and dance. Most traditional musics rely on the patterns by which their culture identifies them. It is essential to formulating music that can be taught and handed down generation to generation. Pattern in music can also create a hypnotic effect depending on the pitch range and timbres used which could be seen as a form of musical comfort that enables one to engage in other tasks like running, writing, working as well as the not so tasking act of sleep. Repeated rhythms, melodies and all musical structure are the force of music that unites an audience together who semi-often are themselves not all that similar to each other. This is one of its many magics.
Looking beyond the patterns in music something more novel often occurs: unpredictable change. Though we are instinctually drawn to the repetitions, it is when hearing a song that may be following sonic designs we’re already familiar with that then transitions into something altogether unexpected. Our eyes may widen or we may stop whatever else we were doing and listen more closely because our brain and the typically undetectable autonomic activities in our body gain a heightened awareness to this change. It may not always be what we prefer to hear, or prefer to hear in that moment, yet it evidences a vital component of human development. Though patterns are comforting and help us to trust our environment so that we can get along with life, these unanticipated modulations draw us in and free us from getting too caught in the patterns. Little, and sometimes large doses of unpredictability add an edge to experience and will often heighten it into something you remember for the rest of your life. It is because it surfaced above the patterns, the things you often no longer register.
I would say that more often than most things we interact with on a regular basis, music is the form that begs us to be susceptible to this concept. It does not ask yet guides us to open up, to pause and to be present with it so that we can be fresh again and live in that moment. It is one of the main ingredients I seek out in new artists as I love this aspect of music. I often comment that much popular music does not challenge me. This is not a judgement of pop music, simply my personal relationship that I have developed over the years as a lover and composer of music. On occasion pop music will have surprising elements and it may strike me as something to give more attention to. And so it feels that music may be suggesting to us to shake things up a bit, not just our moneymakers to those trustworthy beats, but to rearrange a room in your place or try a different route to work or however we can disrupt the typical in our lives. These sparks keep our imaginations fresh and revitalize the naive youth dwelling somewhere within us. So, let’s get a little lost and stumble through some new territory and ideas, who knows where it may lead us to…
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Some favorite examples of breaking patterns:
“The Snow is Dancing” by Claude Debussy – Solo Marimba
“The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinksy, the first three sections
“Neptune” by Gustav Holst, as played by MIDI instruments