Musical rhythm is often considered a sounding phenomenon experienced through auditory perception and cognition. However, everyday experiences and scientific research indicate that people also see and feel the music and its rhythm while they hear it. Yet little is known about how this multimodal quality of rhythm plays out in the structures and details of practices such as dance, marching, work music, the conducting of symphony orchestras, or pop music concerts.
The DjembeDance project is a comprehensive case study of rhythm in djembe drumming and dance from Mali, contributing to the emerging field of choreomusicology, which examines the integration of music and dance genres under the assumption that they interact and co-evolve. The djembe drum has recently made it onto stages and into classrooms around the globe, but in West Africa is mainly played at public dance events. The project will build on a large set of multimedia recordings of such performances, combining audio, video, and 3D motion data. It will bring together a team of ethnomusicologists, dance scholars, data scientists, and cognitive scientists integrating ethnographic fieldwork methods, scholarly music and dance analysis, artificial intelligence, and psychological experimentation under a unified theoretical framework.
The project’s primary research goal is to examine rhythmic, metrical, and temporal patterns in music, the corresponding dancing, and their interaction and coordination. An overarching theoretical goal is to ask what we may learn about rhythm when we understand it multimodally rather than mainly only through the study of music as sound. The latter perspective is well-researched and rich in insights, but runs the risk of suggesting one-sided views, such as the widespread but short-sighted notion that dance is essentially just an appendage or response to music.
The ambition of DjembeDance is to advance the methodology and demonstrate the relevance of the emerging field of empirical choreomusicology (integrated music and dance studies). The approach is to provide a multi-method case study of rhythm in West African drum ensemble music and dance. The interdisciplinary project will build on a large, technologically advanced, and culturally rich set of multimedia recordings of djembe drumming and dance performances from Mali captured in 2018. DjembeDance will curate this untapped corpus of audio, video, and 3D movement data, analyse it using state-of-the-art computational analysis tools and triangulate the corpus analysis by additional qualitative and quantitative methods, including ethnography, music and dance analysis, and psychological experimentation.
This methodologically innovative project promises to provide new insights into long and hotly debated topics in both the humanities and the sciences, such as the issues of African polymeter and cognitive constraints on rhythm-meter relationships in human expressive behaviour. DjembeDance will challenge the reliance of rhythm research on predominantly auditory/music-based perspectives and the prevailing view that dance is essentially just a response to music; it will advance the understanding of music-dance relationships as bidirectional and interactive and rhythm as a fundamentally multimodal phenomenon.
The behavioural and cognitive sciences suffer from a Eurocentric cultural bias, not least because they rely on laboratory research in the Global North. In this context, the project's anticipated scientific impact would take on a political dimension by demonstrating that technologically advanced methods can be embedded in field research contexts, particularly in an African case study. As the djembe drum has spread worldwide in recent decades, DjembeDance also promises to have a social impact on music and rhythm education.