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The Computer Polyrhythmicon
a compositional instrument/toolbox for polyrhythmic development

Matthew Burtner


The Polyrhythmicon

Selected Works

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" Burtner's polyrhythmicon expands the possibilities for the listener who now can hear music that no one had been able to play before."

Dale Keiger, Hopkins Review


The polyrhythmicon is an original computer hyper-instrument / compositional toolkit developed (since 1994) to realize compositional ideas concerning extended computer-generated polymetric structures.

Extensive historical and analalytical work on the music of the American Rhythmicists (Burtner, 1997), and an interest in West African drumming led to the creation of the polyrhythmicon. The name of the project is taken from the Rhythmicon (1931), an early electronic instrument designed by Leon Theremin for Henry Cowell. The compositional theories discussed here arose from studies of the music of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Conlon Nancarrow, and James Tenney. Following the important work of these composers, the polyrhythmicon represents one further step towards forming a comprehensive understanding of polyrhythmic complexities and their broader musical function.

This site contains an overview of the polyrhythmicon and examples of ways it has evolved through practical musical applications/compositions. The music is discussed in terms of its polyrhythmic theoretical basis.

Societal philosophies of time typify a cultural methodology because time is the medium through which we pass through being. Music, being a time-based art, reflects the crucial philosophy of a culture through its treatment of rhythm (Attali 1985, Burtner 1996). When philosophical concepts of a culture are brought into the musical domain, rhythm reflects important ideals of that culture.

The way in which American composers have used rhythm as a musical element is arguably the most characteristic aspect distinguishing its classical music from that of Europe (Amirkanian 1981, 1997, Carlsen 1988, Gann 1995, Karkoshka 1993, Tenney 1988). The pluralistic approach to rhythm, that is as polyrhythm and polymetrics, may point to the multicultural and pluralistic culture from which the music emerges.


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©Matthew Burtner 1997-2000, All rights reserved