Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The SAMMI Shakers at Tech-Ed

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Microsoft Tech-Ed conference as a drum circle facilitator with a team from Samsung Mobile Innovator (SAMMI), to showcase a new application they developed for the Samsung Omnia phone. When I told my drum students at U.C. Santa Cruz that I had to be absent from class, there were groans of disappointment. But when I let them play drums on the Omnia phone, they gave me their full support. In fact, I had to practically pry their curious fingers from the phones so we could get on with our lessons!

When it comes to instruments, I love acoustic ones that tremble and move the air. I don’t like electronics or synthesized drum pads, so I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy playing music on a cell phone. But this application produces the sounds of twenty-seven percussion instruments, triggered by an accelerometer. This makes it possible for people to easily play drum circle music.

My interest is in how different cultures create and drive states of consciousness in groups of people through music toward certain goals. And my practice reaches from teaching traditional music of the African Diaspora to leading large groups of players in rhythmic learning experiences and celebration drum circles. Through drumming, I seek out paths toward learning, healing, and elevating the spirit in myself and others.

Something came full circle for me while preparing for the event. Twenty years ago, I entered the corporate culture of Silicon Valley as a drum circle facilitator. In a task-oriented industry full of technical thinkers from around the world, companies realized that their outcomes were hindered by a lack of relational skills, and teambuilding was the answer. I witnessed that a community gathered in a circle, playing rhythmic parts joined around a common pulse could synchronously engage each member toward a common outcome of creating something expressive.

I was much moved working with the group from Samsung Mobile Innovator, who for our musical purposes, were named the SAMMI Shakers. In the time I spent with them practicing our music for our performance at the conference, I saw that they are working hard and doing wonderful things with a fiery and elevated sense of purpose. They embody the genius and technical savvy of engineers but also the relational skills to navigate across multiple maps of the world. Samsung Mobile Innovator supports developers in writing, testing, marketing, and selling new applications for Samsung smartphones. At the Tech-Ed conference booth, I watched them meet with everyone from old-school engineers to high-level architects and executives. They listened, assessed the language, knowledge, and skill levels, and joined with them in thinking together. Samsung Mobile Innovator creates a world you want to belong to. And when we played music together on the Omnia, they were competent and creative. They had rhythmic expertise and they found joy in it.

And far from feeling my work was archaic, I felt quite inspired. There are many things you can do in an ensemble setting if you have a group of people with Samsung Omnias running this application. I had a vision of being up in the Sierras or on an island, all alone and wanting to connect with somebody. And I imagined dialing up some satellite and connecting with a stranger in Korea and weaving drum beats. I imagined dialing up my siblings, playing some beats while we sang Happy Birthday to my folks and even sending pictures of ourselves standing on the moon while we did it. And I thought maybe I could hook up with Yo-Yo Ma and collaborate on a new ringtone that makes Brian Eno jealous.

Samsung Mobile Innovator has built these tools and is putting out these examples of things you can do. They are motivating and supporting people to do anything they can imagine and helping them code it. This is how a drum circle works! I’ve held in my hand a new tool for learning, healing and elevating the spirit. So now I am right along with them deeply curious to see how the larger community expands the Omnia, this little handheld incarnation of their brainchild.

Most Respectfully and Yours in Rhythm,
Don Davidson


  1. I was there, it was very cool!

    Will you make the application available for download?


  2. Yep, really cool! Is this available for download?



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