Final Idea- Genealogy of Rhythmic Patterns

My objective is to tell an ethnomusicological story using modern tools. My idea is to map out Afro-Latin rhythms to African Rhythms based on rhythmic similarities to tell the story of the Slave Trade and the roots of American culture.  I realized how ambitious this project was as soon as I started making a data base of Afro-Latin rhythms. Brazil alone has 50+. So I had to scale down.

I chose three rhythms to start working with from different regions in Latin America. Samba from Brazil, Cumbia from Colombia, and Candombe from Uruguay.

As a musician with a Sociology background, I am interested in various topics that surround the analysis of these rhythms. First is the blatantly musical side. These are three rhythms I hold dearly to my heart, three rhythms that reflect my vision of what it means to be American. Beyond the syncretism that is deeply embedded in these rhythms, I am also taking a Pan American approach to the presentation of the information as I attempt to avoid political borders.


Since I am using rhythm to tell the story, I thought to make the interface for the interaction an instrument of sorts, although it is essentially a disguised database. I wanted to make a drum machine that lets the user interact with the different rhythmic patterns while being able to dissect the rhythms themselves. Each drum has a story, both in the pattern it plays, as well as its construction. For instance, Cuban conga drums were originally made of rum barrels, modified into different sizes. Similarly, Uruguayan Candombe drums were constructed of tobacco barrels that went through the same fate. The claves for both Cuban rhythms and Candombe are also identical, employing a 3/2 approach on 4/4 beat. It is this kind of information that turns speculation into fact, when it is safe to say that Cuban and Uruguayan rhythms are cousins. They share not only a musical language, but if you dig deeper, there is religion, language, and ultimately geographical origin in common. Most slaves during the slave trade came from Angola and Congo. In this case, the word conga can be etymologically traced to the word KONGO. In Congo, the Bantu language was spoken, and thus we can create the bridge that the word Candombe is also of Bantu origin, meaning “of the black man.”

It is especially imperative, that while I take this approach in making a sort of rhythmic salad, in the face of appropriation, the engagement of the user must also be presented with historical facts about what they are listening to and the material they’re creating with. In the sampling age, where pop music has blatant musical influence from these and many other rhythms that aren’t “white,” the attempt is to give a platform to these and other exploited musical forms via information other than the audio files.

My medium for this piece will be a drum machine.

My first job in making the machine was to consider the interaction. I want the user to experience the sounds, but also to be able to experience the geographical location. I am taking an Interactive Music project a few steps further,  and making a P5.js sketch physical. The design of the piece is an abstract representation of Latin America.


P5 sketch.

The red dots are buttons that play the rhythm from each location.



I went through a few iterations on how to make it less abstract. I finally landed on this design, which is the first physical prototype of the machine.



Illustrator drawing


Foam cut on the CNC machine.




My next job was to record all three rhythms in a studio and stem out each drum so I can create 4 bar loops of each drum within the pattern. I employed three master percussionists, Martin Vejarano recorded Cumbia, Arturo Prendez recorded Candombe, and Lisette Santiago recorded Samba at G Studios, in Brooklyn.  After some BPM experimentation, we (Gary Atturio, sound engineer) and I decided to make the common BPM for all three rhythms 95 bpm.

Here is a clip of Martin recording Cumbia maracas at G Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The sounds will be running through a Max/MSP patch, connected to a Mega Arduino.

I also want to connect a screen that connects to the buttons. On the screen I want to display short descriptions and history of the instruments being played.


During this time I have also been interviewing different people in different areas of expertise.

  1. Fernando Nunez (Uruguayan percussionist)
  2. Yunior Terry Cabrera (Cuban percussionist and NYU professor, department of Musicology)
  3. David Samuels (chair, Ethnomusicology department- NYU)
  4. Diana Castro (UX/UI designer, NIME)
  5. Timothy V. Johnson (Professor, Africana Studies- NYU
  6. Jaime Rosas (Professor, Musicology, specializing in digital musical interfaces -NYU)





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