Die äffischen Ursprünge der Musik…

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From The Times
September 2, 2009

Monkey-friendly tunes shed new light on evolutionary role of music

Mark Henderson, Science Editor

Simian songs specifically designed to appeal to monkeys have been composed by scientists, in an experiment that sheds new light on the evolutionary origins of Man’s taste for music.

Cotton-top tamarin monkeys, who normally turn a deaf ear to music, show marked changes in mood when they are played tunes composed with their voices and hearing in mind, research has shown.

The findings suggest that the historical roots of human appreciation of music may stretch deep into our evolutionary past, to the common ancestors we share with monkeys.

The way in which different types of music invoke different emotional responses, such as calming people down or psyching them up, could be related to the way other primates react to the calls of other group members.

Charles Snowdon, Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the study, said: “The emotional components of music and animal calls might be very similar, and from an evolutionary perspective, we are finding that the note patterns, dissonance and timing are important for communicating affective states in both animals and people.”

Cotton Top Tamarin monkey

The idea that human musical appreciation stems from the same evolutionary root as the vocalisations that primates use to bond and alert others to danger is not new, but it has always been hard to test because monkeys do not generally respond to music.

When monkeys have been played music, from classical to hard rock, they generally prefer silence. The sole exception has come from one experiment in which monkeys appeared to be calmed down by listening to the heavy metal band Metallica.

Professor Snowdon has taken a new experimental approach to the subject, at the suggestion of David Teie, a professional cellist with the US National Symphony Orchestra, who also works at the University of Maryland. The results are published in the journal Biology Letters.

When Mr Teie listened to the calls made by the cotton-top tamarin colony kept at the Wisconsin-Madison psychology department, he immediately recognised emotional states. “He said, ‘This is a call from an animal that is upset, this is from an animal that is more relaxed’,” Professor Snowdon said.

Mr Teie then used these insights to compose music using features he had noticed in the monkeys’ calls, such as rising and falling pitch and the typical length of particular sounds. His aim was to produce 30-second “songs” that were tuned to the tamarins’ musical sense, rather than to the human ear.

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The first piece Mr Teie wrote contained rhythmic, staccato beats, based on the type of calls tamarins use to indicate a threat or stress. The second piece featured long, melodic tones, with a descending pitch, that was more like the calming, “affective” calls the monkeys use during bonding behaviour. All were recorded using the cello and the human voice.

When the monkeys were played the “threat” song, they moved around more and showed more anxious and social behaviour, all of which are signs of heightened alertness. The monkeys were also more likely to face towards the hidden speaker from which the music was played.

The “affective” song, by contrast, led to less movement and social behaviour, calmer reactions, and increased feeding — all of which suggest the animals were less stressed and on their guard. Human music that was designed to be calming or threatening produced few reactions among the monkeys.

Professor Snowdon said humans also used pitch and tone to influence other people’s emotional state, as when talking to babies.

“We use legato [long tones] with babies to calm them,” he said. “We use staccato to order them to stop. Approval has a rising tone, and soothing has a decreasing tone. We add musical features to speech so it will influence the affective state of a baby. If you bark out, ‘Play with it!’ a baby will freeze. The voice, the intonation pattern, the musicality can matter more than the words.”

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Monkeys interpret changes in pitch and tone in different ways to humans, but the new research suggests they also use musicality to communicate.

Professor Snowdon said: “People have looked at animal communication in terms of conveying information — ‘I am hungry’ or ‘I am afraid’. But it’s much more than that.

He said that monkeys did more than simply convey information. “I am not calling just to let you know how I am feeling, but my call can also stimulate a similar state in you,” he said.

“That would be valuable if a group was threatened. In that situation, you don’t want everybody being calm, you want them alert.”

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~ von Panther Ray - September 8, 2009.

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