Terminology for low-level content of a pattern

What do people think about terminology used to describe the low-level content of a pattern?

By this I mean the actual things that are being patterned. Is it possible (and desirable?) to describe these in a domain independent way (rather than referring to specific shapes, threads, notes, etc)?

Possible terms (used in a phrase like “the _ that make up the pattern” or “this pattern composes together multiple _”):

  • Motifs
  • Components
  • Elements
  • Units
  • Atoms

Interested to hear from the community!

Hm I think I prefer ‘element’ or maybe ‘unit’. ‘Motif’ sounds decorative, not a bad thing but might not always apply (or is pattern always associated with decoration?)… Component feels a bit techy.

There’s a problem though that when we talk about pattern we often talk about some abstraction of it, and in reality the ‘unit’ probably will break down further. For example in weaving the unit is the thread, but that is made up of further threads/strands twisted together which will have their own (possibly patterned) properties affecting the overall pattern in potentially fundamental ways. (Also in weaving designs we think of the unit as not being the threads but the crossing points… Or the tie-ups… There are several domains at work on a weavers drafts with different units.)

Also on terminology there’s something I’ve been thinking about about using ‘pattern’ in the singular… I often explain the tidalcycles software as something for “live coding pattern”, but people often correct this to “live coding patterns”. I can see where they are coming from but still prefer singular and I’m not sure why. The best I can come up with is that it’s the same difference between software for “live coding dance” vs “live coding dances”. The former seems more ‘serious’.

Somehow saying “I’m interested in patterns” suggests I’m interested in looking at nice patterns whereas “I’m interested in pattern” is more about an interest in the fundamental structures behind them… Would love to hear what other people think about this?

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I can definitely see motif as decorative. But in musical analysis terms it’s a main theme which is employed as a structural element throughout a piece. They can be short, gestural phrases, or longer, self-contained melodies. And they subsequently undergo typical pattern transformations like squashing, stretching, reflecting, harmonising, ornamenting (decorating), etc.

At the moment however I am using the term motif to describe physical pieces of clay in a crafting activity, perhaps because they are quite continuous and gestural and thematic, and sometimes almost painterly like a brush stroke.

I really like this idea that “it’s patterns all the way down” and describing something as the unit of the pattern is more a matter of perspective.

I remember correcting this in my head long ago, but I feel like I get it now. Perhaps if it continues to be used in this way over time then it will stick. I think it’s a good distinction to make (…and it sounds cool too :relieved:).

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In dance we also say motif for a series of gesture or a main element that is then repeated and developed into composition. Our pattern transformations include doing the movement motif on different body parts, different dynamics or efforts, locomotion, etc. I am currently working on training a robot to do motif and development of a dance phrase and we are actually trying to create a data set of just one motif that is repeated with many developments.

The distinction between “live coding dance” and “live coding dances” - I think about dance as a field or genre of performance and dances would be many different works. Maybe no one else thinks that way though.


I’m not sure if it fits really, but I wonder if it’s possible to subvert gcode to describe these kinds of movements eg. subprograms are considered (as far as I can tell) as a super advanced technique for CNC etc.


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