Monkeying Around with Music: Simian Strains Strike a Chord with Monkeys

A cotton-top tamarin eats a peanut.Do monkeys respond emotionally to music? Well, maybe not to human music, but they respond with excitement or relaxation to species specific music  composed  just for them. David Teie, composer and cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra (who sometimes plays with the heavy metal band Metallica), composed  music  based on natural vocalizations of the monkeys in various emotional circumstances. The music, played and recorded on actual instruments, was then transposed 3 octaves higher with the tempo 8 times faster. The monkeys responded to the music physically and emotionally. In fact some of their natural vocalizations are in fact diatonic and in the Key of E flat, according to the composer. Makes one wonder who really invented music, man or monkey!

Listen to this NPR interview, along with some of the monkey-inspired music. Now the flip side of the question is, do humans respond to monkey music? Well, maybe not. But perhaps the bottom line of this experiment is, both humans and monkeys respond emotionally to their own kind of music. There’s just no accounting for musical tastes.

Hear some monkey musical improvisations when Patricia Gray–scientist, musician, and biomusic researcher from the National Academy of Sciences—discusses  music-making apes that have jammed in studio with Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney.

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