Music hath charms that soothe the savage breast, but according to an American researcher, human tunes don’t cut it for all other primates. For our hairier brethren, it’s got to be “Monkey Music” or nothing.
According to a report by Charles Snowdon, a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Psychology Department, other primates do not appear to be affected at all by the majority of music made for humans. Indeed, the researcher found they preferred silence to even soft, gentle music.
When Snowden teamed up with University of Maryland musician, David Teie, however, they managed to come up with songs the apes reacted emotionally to, on an observable scale.
In order to create music more to the taste of a non-human primate, Teie listened to the various shouts, cries and other verbalizations of Tamarin apes from Snowden’s primate collection at the university. Teie, who is also a cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra, then produced two thirty-second “monkey songs” (as opposed to Monkee songs). One instrumental was based on the various elongated sounds the apes used for calming effect. The other piece used shorter notes to mimic the tamarins anxious or “on alert” vocal patterns.
“We use legato (long tones) with babies to calm them," explained Snowdon in the report published in the science journal, Biology Letters. "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."
By measuring the reaction to the music using recognized indicators of primate emotion such as appetite, grooming diligence and rate of movement, Snowden affirmed the two pieces of music did, indeed demonstrably convey the emotions they’d hoped to relay. What they found surprising, however, is that their “calming” sounds seemed opposite to what a human would interpret them as. In fact, according Snowden, they played numerous samples of human music to the tamarins and the only song that had any affect was a calming reaction to the “heavy-metal” band, Metallica.
"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," Snowden stated.