I am always looking for new ways of producing sound and music. As part of my recent search I stumbled upon a fun and powerful program called TidalCycles. It is a text based program that runs alongside a Supercollider quark called SuperDirt an is made for live coding. This means that the sounds and effects are processed with SCsynth but the programming is done elsewhere. TidalCycles uses Haskell as its main language, however, it is very easy to pick up the basics and get started.

TidalCycles works via loops. This can be thought of as 1 cycle per second is one loop per second. The loop is always the same duration so as more sounds get put in the sequence they happen faster. Here is a little code that shows the basics of making a sound.

d1 sound “bd”

This code plays a bass drum sound once per cycle on d1 (dirt 1). d1 is kind of In TidalCycles the d stands for dirt but it is really like saying play a sound on voice 1. There are 9 possible voices.

To double the beat the code would change to

d1 sound “bd*2”

and says play the bass drum sample twice per cycle.

d1 sound “bd/2”

will play the bass drum sound once every 2 cycles or twice as slow. This is all very easy little 1 liners. The following example shows something a little more complex.

d1 $ every (irand 4) (fast 10) $ every (irand 10) (fast (irand 2)) $ sound
“[808bd*2 bd*9 [808bd*10 bd*17 ]] [808bd*5 [sn sn*6 [bd*3 bd*6] sn*134 ] sn cp*9]”

To break down this example

Every random amount of cycles will trigger the rhythm to be played 10 times faster. In this case it will randomly select between 1 cycle and 4 cycles. Every random 10 times the rhythm will be played either at normal speed or twice as fast.

For this sequence there are 2 steps. The first one is [808bd*2 bd*9 [808bd*10 bd*17 ]] while the second is [808bd*5 [sn sn*6 [bd*3 bd*6] sn*134 ] sn cp*9].

The first step can be broken down into 3 smaller steps and on the third step there are 2 smaller steps because of the []. If we disregard the *n part of the sounds and turn it into [808bd bd [808bd bd]] The rhythm is kind of like a triplet with [8th 8th [16th 16th]].

In the second main step “[808bd*5 [sn sn*6 [bd*3 bd*6] sn*134 ] sn cp*9]” disregarding the *n again there are 4 steps with the second step having a nested rhythm. In terms of rhythmical notation this collection would be kind of like 16th [32nd 32nd [64th 64th] 32nd] 16th 16th.

When we add the *n after the sample the rhythm technical remains the same in terms of sound groupings, however, because of the fast repetition of the samples, the timbre changes. On top of that the randomized speed quickly changes the overall speed of the cycle adding more unpredictability.

Note: While I tried to write what the rhythmical duration is, the way that TidalCycles makes all the samples fit into one cycle makes the rhythm when trying to dictate a little wobbly. The main point is that TidalCycle scales the sounds faster and slower to make everything fit. As someone who likes finding odd ways of generating rhythm TidalCycles approach to rhythm opens up some possibilities that I have not thought about before.

If you want me to write about something involving TidalCycles please email me and I will try my best. Also, if you enjoy reading my posts, reading my research, looking and listening to my music and photography please consider donating to my gofundme on my main bio page.

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