Wonky Theory

This post is meant to begin a discussion regarding unquantized music

A brief note on quantized music: quantization is beautiful; the whole is perfectly divisible by its parts, mathematical perfection exists in this structure, and is immediately identified by the human brain’s propensity for recognizing repetition, recurrence, and order. The experience of quantization is similar to the recognition of symmetry in nature, the order is apparent. The mind is pleased by objects which exhibit flowering complexity rooted in their underlying simplicity. Quantized music is reducible to the “quanta”, or shortest audible constituent.

Note: any digitally sequenced music is necessarily “quantized”, but follow this scenario:
Renoise - 120 Beats Per Minute - 8 Lines Per Beat - 256 Ticks Per Line.
Examine one second of a song with these parameters.
There are 16 Lines in one second.
16 Lines * 256 Ticks = 4,096 ticks in one second.
1 second / 4,096 ticks = 0.000244140625 seconds per tick.

Even the most virtuosic musicians cannot detect a change of 2 ten-thousandths of a second (If you believe otherwise, attempt to land a stopwatch on a predetermined hundredth of second). For all practical consideration, the “quanta” of this scenario goes “beyond” or “behind” what is detectible to the human hear. A digital sequencer that is capable of creating an audio sequence at sub-detectible resolution is, with respect to the listener’s experience, completely indistinguishable from an analog sequence. Consider this tipping point in the evolution of the digital sequencer, when digital sequences become indistinguishable from analog sequences, as the sequencer’s metaphorical equivalent of passing a Turing test.

Now onto “wonky” or unquantized electronic music. (excuse the genre title if you find it silly). By some set of circumstances, there has been a massive resurgence of unquantized beat music beginning in the mid to late 2000’s. This is most apparent in the L.A. beat scene, “post-dubstep”, and extends to many other arbitrarily repeated genre-titles. It is deeply appealing to some, and utterly repulsive to others.


Richie Offbeats approves unquantized music and quantized music.
(but weirdly, lots of people dont)

This discussion is now going to be about “why do we care about actually knowing if others care or not care”. Eventually, a book will be written.

Does the rules of wonkiness allow you to program a wonky beat and then repeat it? Because to me, exact reproduction is a ‘machine thing’

Also: “Equate machines with funkiness” - Cristian Vogel

i think we need some examples here. i am not that familiar with ‘wonky’ music.

Wonk music is just hiphop that goes more smoothly than smoothly, it’s slow, it has basses, it kinda floooooows more than usual hiphop, maybe it has a lil lounge side but it’s only a lil, it can be skweeezing the skweee. Also, it can have synth bleeps and bunch of sidechaining.
I disagree it couldn’t be repeated. The most important in these kind of subgenres coming from funk and hiphop is that it must have recorded in real time parts and it must have some awkward moments.

Apart from that, it should/could/would need MOAR YOU. It always needs MOAR YOU and less blablabla on boards.

This could be skweee, this could be wonk, this is offbeat:


Debateable. They can notice this when the difference is between them playing some and hearing something in almost this magnitude (3-4mS anyway I have known people clearly notice and complain about the difference.) But they are also used to and adjust for a little delay and none at all can supposedly be a little strange (hammer action of a piano adds a few Ms latency, as does standing a few feet away from your guitar amp if playing electric guitar.

Obviously I don’t think any would notice the difference in timing between parts if listening and that kind of thing though.

But as 0.0002 = 0.2mS, so 1/10th of what you quoted, that doesn’t matter. The value is even smaller than you quoted and unlikely anybody would notice it in any kind of test you could perform. (Maybe something vision related, like delayed images to each eye, but I personally doubt even though…)

I was going to bring this up. I actually believe that the exact reproduction of unquantized measures (i.e. repeating an unquantized percussive measure) is what gives the entirety of “wonky” its attractive appeal. The human brain is a natural pattern seeker. If a measure has a particularly unconventional yet attractive kick pattern (in which the temporal ratios between adjacent notes are unique, irrational numbers) the listener experiences something that sounds uniquely human, and difficult to explicitly quantify. However, when you hear the measure a second, third, and fourth time, the listener becomes familiar with the measure (i.e. “learns” the measure), and could even closely reproduce the pattern. This, I truly believe, is the appeal of wonky beats; it’s a “challenging” music that tickles the brain, and stimulates the brain in a novel way. Some people like to be challenged by the music they enjoy; each song is like a puzzle, its novelty lasting until it’s “solved” or sufficiently predicted throughout. This would explain why it’s a niche phenomenon, as the masses are more comfortable with music that they’re quickly able to predict.

I and many others can notice latency changes approaching 3-5ms, but 0.2ms is much lower than the JND (just noticeable difference) for any human. Our brains simply have no utility for intuiting 1/5th of a millisecond in our “medium-sized” world, therefore no selective pressures have directed the evolution of our audio-temporal perception to so fine a level.

Yes I agreed with but you initially said 2 thousandths of a second, which is 2ms, which is pretty close ;)

oops! it’s 2 ten-thousandths. I’ve forgotten my places it seems.

edit: fixed above

i won’t argue how well a human can feel slight timing changes but reading this i kind of doubt that it’s that precise

“What such conduction speeds mean is that while consciousness might be fast, it cannot be instant. It takes a minimum of 10 to 20 milliseconds (thousandths of a second) for any sensory message to reach the brain. After that, the brain must spend yet more time in evolving a response.”


of course, everything when hear will be about equally “lagged” but somehow it feels unlikely that the brain could be so exact.

interesting topic. i like slightly off-beat stuff but more when it’s actually exaggerated syncopation. it must line up somewhere to the downbeat for me to enjoy it.

I was being facetious and not very concise. I should of pointed out the slight error in the first place rather than rambling on.

well then, i suppose this qualifies as wonky?


if not, it doesn’t matter, i’m still enjoying it immensely!

The ~20 millisecond gap between stimulus and perception does indeed exist, but this exists only as a lag between the stimuli (as a physical cause) and its consequent experience of perception. The lag does not distort how one would audibly perceive a stimulus, as this lag is applied uniformly upon the entire input stimulus. Much like a one-way cellphone conversation lagging by roughly one second, the pitch and meter of the message will be experienced as if unaltered. Furthermore, the brain compensates for perceptual lag, creating the illusion that conscious awareness is completely in sync with reality, when in fact reality proceeds conscious awareness by as much as an entire second. (V.S. Ramachandran covers this in A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness).

I’m happier corrected than wrong :)

yes. hudmo is one of the original wonky artists. i love it

wonky is like fluoro post-Dilla music.


Saying the nonsense I’ve said i’m very glad this music exists.
Thank you LA & UK.

wonky shit is cool i guess, i like playing something manually like a bassline over a quantized or semi-quantized beat or vice versa. for the most part it sounds kind of gimmicky to me though

I think mix of quanta beats, and wonky beat can give nice effects.


Here at 1:40 i added element of beat without quanta. Its in backroud like repeating hits in side of bongo perc.

something like 2562’s Unbalance?


another good one from 2562 Unbalance is Flashback


I can’t tell if it’s on time or not,
it sounds like the programming is pushed just a little off, and it’s soo good.
Wish both those tunes were 5 hours long.

I love that track :walkman: