Posts Tagged ‘experimental music’

REPOST: Monkey Music

December 15, 2010

A few years ago, perceptual scientist Josh McDermott of MIT and Harvard evolutionary psychologist Marc D. Hauser published a study (and here’s a laymen’s report on the report – YO DAWG I HERD U LIKE REPORTS) which dealt with the origins of music. From the abstract:

We claim that theories of the origins of music will be usefully constrained if we can determine which aspects of music perception are innate, and, of those, which are uniquely human and specific to music… Our research suggests that many rudimentary acoustic preferences, such as those for consonant over dissonant intervals, may be unique to humans.

And, of course, being scientists, they tested this hypothesis by trapping marmoset monkeys in a maze and blaring music at them. First the two ends of the maze were set up so that speakers were playing a Russian lullaby at one end and “German techno” (I heard it, it was actually jungle/drum n’ bass) at the other. And this time, the monkeys congregated near the Russian lullaby.

The next time, a control group of sorts was set up so that the German techno was replaced with no music at all. And given that choice between the Russian lullaby and nothing, the monkeys gathered near the silent speaker. So the tenative conclusion was that music is more innately a human phenomenon and that we could be uniquely hard-wired towards liking music in a way that other primates are not. This made me sad for some irrational reason. It would be cool if monkeys liked music.

But this study, like most good ones, really raised more new questions than it did answer old ones. So, for example, the monkeys used in the experiment were marmosets, or “New World monkeys,” which are more distantly related to us than, say, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. The common ancestor we share with marmosets lived around 44 million years ago, and the common ancestor we share with both chimpanzees and bonobos lived only around 5-7 million years ago. So it could be that a predisposition to music is something which arose after our branch of the evolutionary tree forked away from the marmosets- somewhere between 44 and 5 million years ago. Or, it could be that (and this is where we finally get to something new) McDermott and Hauser just weren’t using the right kind of music in their studies.

In a study in the new issue of Biology Letters, which just came out yesterday and is not yet online (although you can read reports on the study from Science News, Science Daily, and Scientific American), University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Charles Snowdon teamed up with composer/cellist David Teie of the University of Maryland to run an experiment similar to the 2006 McDermott/Hauser study with an important twist. Instead of playing ordinary music, Teie created a musical composition for cello and vocals based on the tamarin calls, which is the animal on which they were experimenting. For the sake of being pedantic, the common ancestor we share with tamarins lived around the same time as the one we share with marmoset monkeys (38-49 million years ago), so this is pretty close to being a standardized test relative to the earlier one.

And the tamarins liked their custom-made music. They apparently were much calmer and groomed each other more. Snowdon says this kind of music should be used in zoos to give the monkeys a better quality of life in captivity. But that could be bad for business for the zoos, since said music is incredibly annoying to us. Don’t take my word for it though, you can listen to it at the Science News link in the above paragraph.

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Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales (2010)

February 23, 2010

This is a great new album. I’m not a huge fan of their older stuff, but as someone who’s into this kind of music I felt compelled to check it out. So yeah, listen to it. You can download it by clicking on the artwork above.

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More bird music

January 19, 2010

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is a French artist who’s latest work uses zebra finches who are just hanging around guitars and other instruments. Just by flying around and perching on the guitar strings they make this “captivating, live soundscape.” Finches. First they made Darwin discover evolution, and now it looks like they’re going to be signed to Constellation Records. Is there anything they can’t do?

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AM Architect

January 5, 2010

AM Architect is a guitar/beats duo. The guitarist is in a terrible band called The Panic Division which sounds nothing at all like what he does here.

OK, maybe that’s not quite fair. I’m sure The Panic Division is talented in some objective sense, and they try very hard. It’s just that listening to a few seconds of the songs that come up from a quick google search make me feel like I’m going to projectile vomit all over the place.

But that doesn’t matter because, like I said, whatever their guitarist does in that band is very different from what he does here, which is some kind of weird, tripped-out improv over these programmed beats. I am liking this album a lot right now because it fits well with the time of year – but only when it’s calm and there isn’t crazy wind in your face all the time.

There’s really nothing to watch in this video except for the album artwork to gradually change color for no reason. I’m just putting it here for the music.

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Monday Music Recommendation

October 5, 2009

Do Make Say Think – Other Truths (2009)

This one doesn’t actually come out until October 20, but you can still download it by clicking on the artwork above. Do Make Say Think is a “post rock” band from Toronto. I really don’t like that term to describe the genre, but it just kind of stuck. They are on Contellation Records, which was the home of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and all 10 trillion side projects they spawned.

This album has four tracks. One’s called Do, another Make, another Say, and I’m not telling you the name of the last one. Figure it out.

Apparently they got their name from the words written on the four walls in the rec center in which they practiced when they started. Fun fact.

Here is a video of them playing live.

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Birds make music

September 9, 2009

So there’s this musician in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He’s reading his newspaper and sees this picture of birds sitting on a series of 5 wires. He notates the positions of the birds and runs it through a music program called Logic. Then he makes this video, crediting the birds for having ‘written’ the music.

Monkey Music

September 2, 2009

A few years ago, perceptual scientist Josh McDermott of MIT and Harvard evolutionary psychologist Marc D. Hauser published a study (and here’s a laymen’s report on the report – YO DAWG I HERD U LIKE REPORTS) which dealt with the origins of music. From the abstract:

We claim that theories of the origins of music will be usefully constrained if we can determine which aspects of music perception are innate, and, of those, which are uniquely human and specific to music… Our research suggests that many rudimentary acoustic preferences, such as those for consonant over dissonant intervals, may be unique to humans.

And, of course, being scientists, they tested this hypothesis by trapping marmoset monkeys in a maze and blaring music at them. First the two ends of the maze were set up so that speakers were playing a Russian lullaby at one end and “German techno” (I heard it, it was actually jungle/drum n’ bass) at the other. And this time, the monkeys congregated near the Russian lullaby.

The next time, a control group of sorts was set up so that the German techno was replaced with no music at all. And given that choice between the Russian lullaby and nothing, the monkeys gathered near the silent speaker. So the tenative conclusion was that music is more innately a human phenomenon and that we could be uniquely hard-wired towards liking music in a way that other primates are not. This made me sad for some irrational reason. It would be cool if monkeys liked music.

But this study, like most good ones, really raised more new questions than it did answer old ones. So, for example, the monkeys used in the experiment were marmosets, or “New World monkeys,” which are more distantly related to us than, say, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. The common ancestor we share with marmosets lived around 44 million years ago, and the common ancestor we share with both chimpanzees and bonobos lived only around 5-7 million years ago. So it could be that a predisposition to music is something which arose after our branch of the evolutionary tree forked away from the marmosets- somewhere between 44 and 5 million years ago. Or, it could be that (and this is where we finally get to something new) McDermott and Hauser just weren’t using the right kind of music in their studies.

In a study in the new issue of Biology Letters, which just came out yesterday and is not yet online (although you can read reports on the study from Science News, Science Daily, and Scientific American), University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Charles Snowdon teamed up with composer/cellist David Teie of the University of Maryland to run an experiment similar to the 2006 McDermott/Hauser study with an important twist. Instead of playing ordinary music, Teie created a musical composition for cello and vocals based on the tamarin calls, which is the animal on which they were experimenting. For the sake of being pedantic, the common ancestor we share with tamarins lived around the same time as the one we share with marmoset monkeys (38-49 million years ago), so this is pretty close to being a standardized test relative to the earlier one.

And the tamarins liked their custom-made music. They apparently were much calmer and groomed each other more. Snowdon says this kind of music should be used in zoos to give the monkeys a better quality of life in captivity. But that could be bad for business for the zoos, since said music is incredibly annoying to us. Don’t take my word for it though, you can listen to it at the Science News link in the above paragraph.