Risset Rhythm

In this audio high, you will hear a looped audio pattern. What’s weird is that this looped pattern will sound as though it is constantly speeding up, faster and faster, and yet never really increasing in beat. We know: that doesn’t make any sense. That’s why Risset Rhythms remains one of the most jaw-droppingly confusing and totally maddening audio highs HighLab has ever heard.

How It Works

French electronic music experimenter Jean-Claude Risset based this audio high on the Shepard Tones, the looped notes that sound as if they are constantly increasing or decreasing in pitch even though they are just repeating. Risset duplicated Shepard Tones in rhythmic form. The result is a drum-based track that sounds as though it gets faster and faster when, in actuality, it is playing the same steady beat.

The following is a detailed explanation only for the most dedicated of audio heads out there. You’ve been warned. Here goes: To get an idea of how Risset Rhythm works we’ll need to review how our brains process sound. Consider the brain as a famously impulsive file clerk who can’t stand to have information just sitting around, clogging up its synapses. As such, when information comes in, the brain quickly places it in what it considers to be the most appropriate “file” to make room for new input. When the brain gets bits of information that don’t fit exactly into a prescribed file, it makes an assumption, throwing this information into a file that it considers “close enough.” Sometimes the brain misplaces information into the wrong file. These wrong assumptions, or “file” placements, are why we mistake visual, audio, or other sensory details: why we think a mirage in the desert is a watering hole, a prick of needle on a couch is an insect bite, the voice on the other end of phone line is your current girlfriend not your ex girlfriend.

The brain can make these same wrong assumptions with rhythms as well. When we hear any repeated pattern of sounds the brain will immediately try to place the pattern into a rhythm file, even if this pattern is random and doesn’t perfectly fit. In this rhythm file the brain will attempt to put the pattern in a logical sequence of beats. Risset Rhythm takes advantage of these incorrect assumptions. It subtly merges a loop of increasing beats and sounds over and over. The brain doesn’t notice these subtle transitions between the beginning and ending of the loop, it assumes that the rhythm is constantly speeding up. As a result, we hear the Risset Rhythm loop as a continuous pattern, one that is constantly getting faster and faster.

The above Risset Rhythm clip was created by Dan Stowell. Learn more at http://www.mcld.co.uk