Rainer Polak

I am a music and dance researcher specializing in djembe drumming and dance from Mali. 

I hold a researcher position at the RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion (University of Oslo), where I direct the project DjembeDance – Multimodal rhythm in music and dance from West Africa. The project has received a "groundbreaking research" grant from the Research Council of Norway. 

Previously, I served as Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music at Carleton College (spring term 2023), worked as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (2017-2022) and at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln (2011-2016), and held postdoctoral fellowships at Durham University and the University of Bayreuth.

In the 1990s, I studied social anthropology, African languages, and African history at the University of Bayreuth (Germany), where I received an MA degree in 1996 and a PhD degree in 2002. Since then, I have also taken sociological, ethnomusicological, music-theoretical, empirical-musicological, cognitive science, and ethnochoreological perspectives. My current research interests include:

  • Rhythm, timing, meter, and entrainment in music and dance;
  • Cultural variation in music perception;
  • Multimodality in rhythm performance and perception;
  • Performance situations and audiencing practices;
  • Situated learning in vernacular music/dance practices.

I am associate editor of the journal Music Perception and a member of the Editorial Board of the forthcoming journal, Analytical Approaches to African Music. Parallel to my career as a researcher, I have also worked as a musician and taught djembe drumming, mostly as a freelancer throughout Germany, but also at University of Music and Dance Cologne and Codarts University for the Arts Rotterdam.

Contact:  polak [at] mail [dot] de