A selection from Will Calhoun’s Rhythm Art/AZA Collection at the National Museum of Mathematics, ongoing through July – Our Time Press

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What do science, mathematics and visual arts have to do with music?
Plenty says Grammy-winning drummer Will Calhoun, whose performance artwork combines his love of sound and science at an exhibit with selections from his revolutionary Rhythm Art/AZA collection at the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in Manhattan through July 31 . (The museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m..
When OTP heard about Calhoun’s new “gig” at MoMath, we wanted to know more. So we thought we’d also ask about the custodians of cellphone-absorbed Tik-Tok followers. Question: The fundamental relationship between math and music is obvious to young beat lovers, but how do you get them to feel as inspired to learn math as they are inspired by the call of a new dance move, beat or song.

Calhoun, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music with a BA in music production and engineering, responded via email:
“A student can feel metrics and numbers in many ways. Dancing to a drumbeat is the first example that comes to mind. When you hear each beat, take a step or make a movement. Then sway or move your arms to counter beats based on the original beat. Your feet can physically play 1, 2, 3, 4. Your arms are only allowed to move on beats 2 and 4.

Last month, Sistas Place musical director Ahmed Abdullah, top row, far left, and Grammy Award-winning drummer Will Calhoun, bottom row, far left, took a break between sets with Calhoun’s quintet musicians, clockwise from top Row, left, pianist Hector Martingon; saxophonist Jay Rodriguez; Bass Rachiim Ausar-Sahu; and trumpeter JS Williams. “Incredible performance,” bro. Abdullah said OTP. “The Will Calhoun Quintet will definitely be back.” For more information: sistasplace.org or call 718.398.1766.

“This process can also be described as subdivision. Both arms and feet respond to the same time signature—although the arms only move in half the actual time. Together they create a rhythmic pattern of 4 beats. Alternating beats between your left and right limbs will also help balance your patterns. Example: 1,2,3,4…Left, Right, Left, Right.”

To fully understand where Calhoun came from, it’s probably best to travel to see visual/photographic interpretations by the artist/teacher: at MoMath (11 East 26th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, across from Madison Square Park) or live and in person, this fall (date TBA), at Sistas’ Place (456 Nostrand Avenue, at the corner of Jefferson Avenue & Frederick Douglass Square) in Brooklyn.

Speaking of his MoMath exhibit, the Brooklyn-born, Bronx-raised drummer said in a press release, “I was thinking about sight and sound versus an immersive experience. So in my drum solos, I took off the African loops, jumped back on the drums, turned off the lights in the venue, and then used lighted drumsticks. Not only did people hear the African drum solos… they also saw the streaks of light.”

Calhoun brought his concept to SceneFour, Inc., a Los Angeles-based fine arts company. They photographed him drumming with slow shutter cameras and translated his powerful polyrhythms into multicolored abstract art. “They removed me, the [Studio lights], the drumsticks and the drum set from the photo,” says Calhoun, “and they had these stripes that were roadmaps of my hand movements. That’s where the concept came from, and that’s what caught the museum’s attention.”

Calhoun’s selection at MoMath, which has dubbed his audiovisual concept Rhythm Art and named his collection AZA—which means “powerful” in Swahili—reveals the relationship between improvisation and mathematical forms. “I play different time signatures,” says Calhoun. “My arms move in geometric shapes like a triangle, a square, or a hexagon, and tracking my arm movements creates the mathematical angles and shapes.”

Calhoun developed his audiovisual concept five years ago, playing with Living Color and aiming to create a visual experience with his drum solos, combining African-inspired dance, history, culture and rhythms with the latest visual technology.

Will Calhoun hopes his imaginative and groundbreaking art will inspire others to create their own musical mathematical designs. “I hope musicians will be inspired to look at improvisation visually as that physical movement that creates lines, shapes and angles.”
A founding member of Living Color, Calhoun won two Grammys with the group: one for Best Hard Rock Performance by a Group for the song “Cult of Personality” in 1989 and another for Best Hard Rock Performance by a Group in 1990. Calhoun recorded and/or performed with Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, Pharoah Sanders, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Santi DeBriano, Herb Alpert, Mos Def, Oumou Sangaré and Charnett Moffett. His six albums as a leader, released from 1995 to 2016, include Housework, Drumwave, Live at the Blue Note, Life in this World and Celebrating Elvin Jones.

He has taught at Brown University’s Watson Institute, Columbia Teachers College, Berklee College of Music, Haverford College, New York University, Brooklyn Academy of Music, The New School, Head-Royce School in Oakland and at the Sup’imax Institute in Dakar, Senegal. He has also studied with folk drummers in Australia, Mali, Morocco, Senegal, Belize and northern Brazil.

For more information about the MoMath exhibit, visit www.momath.org or call (212) 542-0566.

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