*Percussion and Guitar*

"Without music life would be a mistake." - Friedrich Nietzsche

"Music is a secret arithmetical exercise and the person who
indulges in it does not realize that he is manipulating numbers." - Gottfried Liebniz

That's me playing a Senegalese Djembe with Michel Seguin's percussion group in front of the Leacock Building at McGill University during Freshman Week in September of 1994. That's Marc Seguin's face just over my hand.
(Photo: David Avis)

I began studying African percussion under the Senegalese master drummer David Thiaw at the Jazz Bar on Ontario Street near St. Denis street in Montreal in 1978. The workshops were held there on Sunday afternoons. During the summers on warm sunny days we started holding the workshops in Park Mont Royal on the benches by the big statue on Park Avenue. I believe that the previous summer Don Hill had already started drumming there with a small group. We would usually attract a crowd of dancers and spectators. This scene continued for about ten years without much change except for a slowly increasing crowd of spectators. And this is how Tam Tam Mont Royal accidentally took root and grew to the massive gathering it is today. When David Thiaw moved to Vancouver several people began to lead the drumming: Jeremy Dunlap and Michel Seguin were often conducting. The music was of a very high caliber. We played one song soft, another loud, a variety of different rhythms, some slow, some fast and with a variety of different textures. One summer all of a sudden thousands of people showed up. Most of them came to watch, hundreds to dance and dozens along with their instruments to join in the frenzy of drumming. It is still quite an impressive event and I have not seen its equivalent anywhere in the world. However, with the arrival of many beginners in the late 1980's, the quality of the music progressively deteriorated until it became unbearable noise by about 1994. Then there were 6 hours of only one rhythm, a fast and loud 4/4 that left your ears ringing until the following Tuesday! The best drummers stopped coming. They started putting out CDs and performing at the Francofolies and Jazz Festivals; and who can blame them. The summer of '98 was off to a good start and it has been steadily improving ever since. The drummers are starting to leave their ego's at home, listen to each other, and show interest in collaborating to produce nice music. It is a happening worth attending (but don't forget your ear-plugs!). Since the summer of 2002 there have been Sundays of exceptionally good drumming. The Montreal Magazine has recently published an article about the Tam-Tams on Mount Royal: "Turn the Beat Around".

When David Thiaw moved to Vancouver (he is now in Calgary) I continued studying African percussion with Dido, Jeremy Dunlap and Michel Seguin. I also took some master classes from Babatunde Olatunji during my frequent visits to Simon Fraser University to drum with my computer scientist drumming colleague Art Liestman . More recently I have also become interested in Latin Percussion and during my sabbatical year 1996 in Spain I studied Latin percussion under Pere Gomez at the Taller de Musics in Barcelona. I have also become interested in frame drums after discovering Glen Velez and I am now exploring his favourite rhythms with odd counts of 5,7 and 9.

I have a secondary interest in the guitar although it was my passion in the 1960's when I accompanied folk singers who sang songs mostly by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Joan Baez. I also studied classical guitar for four years under Warren Thorngate in Vancouver. I gave up the guitar when I started drumming but now I am rekindling my love for the guitar.

In March 1997 I was invited to join the Montreal group Yoro-Sou who specialized in West-African percussion, song and dance. The group broke up in the year 2001.

In 2002 I became interested in the drum-set and in 2003 a group of us co-founded The Algorhythmics (old web page), a band composed of computer scientists. David Avis plays guitar, David Eu is the lead singer and lead guitar player, Gena Hahn plays the bass, Jorg Kienzle plays the keyboard and flute,  and Godfried Toussaint plays the drum-set. We play mainly rockabilly, rock, blues and jazz. Our first public performance was November 21, 2003 at Casino Night in the Lorne Trottier Building at McGill University. Our second public performance was April 5, 2004 at the Spring Fling in Thomson House, McGill University. Our third public performance was August 10, 2004 at Le Nouvel Hotel, Montreal, for the banquet of the Sixteenth Canadian Conference on Computational Geometry organized by Concordia University. Take a look at Mirela Damian's photos.

In February 2005 I became a Researcher in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) of the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. So now the boundary between this hobby and my academic work has vanished. Indeed, in March 2009 I was awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University to carry out a project on the phylogenetic analysis of world rhythms, and I started my appointment at Harvard September 1st, 2009. I am also developing a geometric theory of musical rhythm, and you can find the one-hour lecture on this topic that I recently gave at Jilin University in Changchun, China, on YouKu here.

"It is only through music that we have become human" - Ian Cross

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