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Rhythm perception

We were discussing rhythm patterns the other day and the question came
up about how one determined the start of a pattern.  If there is a
heavy emphasis on one beat of the sequence then I can understand that
that is taken as the first beat.
  But if the sequence is unemphasised how does one decide?  Or do
people decide differently, or is it cultural?

I am not sure where to start to look -- as ever this is outside my
general field of study -- but I though this list might be the place
to ask for clues.

I hope I have explained the question sufficiently!

==John ffitch