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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Beasts That Keep the Beat

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More on animal dance and music perception, reported in Quanta by Ferris Jabr:

There are moments when we witness an animal do something so far outside its presumed repertoire of behavior — something so uncannily human — that we can never look at that animal, or ourselves, the same way again. For Irena Schulz, one of those moments happened on an otherwise ordinary day in August, 2007. Schulz lived in Schererville, Ind., where she managed a sanctuary for abandoned parrots. A man named Dane Spudic came by with a young male Eleonora cockatoo called Snowball — a striking creature with milk-white plumage and a sweep of lemon feathers on his nape that fanned into a mohawk when he was excited. Spudic explained that his family could no longer give the increasingly cantankerous Snowball the attention and care he needed.

Oh, and by the way, he added, this bird is an incredible dancer. You should see what he can do. Spudic left behind a burned CD of Snowball’s favorite music.

Schulz was someone who already had a deep appreciation for the intelligence and myriad talents of birds. She had even seen some parrots sway and bob to music. But Spudic’s claims seemed a bit hyperbolic. “We were humoring him, saying, ‘Sure, sure,’” Schulz recalls. Later that evening, she and her husband popped Spudic’s CD into the computer in their living room. Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by The Backstreet Boys started playing. Immediately, Snowball, who was perched on Schulz’s arm, began kicking up his feet and bouncing his head with great zeal — and precision. His movements were synced with the beat. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Schulz said. “This bird was like a choreographed phenomenon. He wasn’t just picking up his leg and gingerly putting it down. He was literally foot stomping. I thought, ‘My god — the bird is enjoying this.’”

In time, the whole world would delight in Snowball’s exuberant jig. Schulz posted a video of the dancing parrot on the shelter’s blog, which someone else — possibly someone in Russia — copied to YouTube. It went viral, earning more than 200,000 views in one week. (Today, the video, which is now hosted on Snowball’s official YouTube channel, has more than five million views). Snowball appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman,Good Morning America and numerous other talk shows, and starred in commercials for Taco Bell, Geico and Loka bottled water.

Snowball’s public debut also caught the attention of two scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif.John Iversen and Aniruddh Patel were interested in the evolutionary origins and neuroscience of rhythm and music. At the time, there was no documented evidence that nonhuman animals could dance — or, in more scientific terms, that they could “entrain” their movements to an external beat. “We saw this video, and it really knocked us out — it was the first time we had ever seen this,” Iversen said. “As scientists, you love these kinds of moments.”

Iversen and Patel tested Snowball in controlled experiments, altering the tempos of his favorite songs and observing how he responded without any training or encouragement. Snowball danced in bouts, rather than continuously, but frame-by-frame video analysis confirmed that he adapted his movements to the match the altered beats. Soon after, other studies by separate research teams showed that numerous species of parrots could entrain to a beat, as could elephants. Monkeys, on the other hand, did not display much rhythmic talent in the lab.

The findings seemed to fit a hypothesis Patel had recently conceived: Musical rhythm, he argued, is a byproduct of “vocal learning” — the ability to reproduce sounds one has never heard before. Humans, parrots and elephants are all vocal learners. Elephants have been documented imitating the sounds of trucks and other animals, and parrots are literally synonymous with mimicry. Monkeys, on the other hand, are stuck with an inborn set of hoots and screams. Patel’s notion was that the evolution of vocal learning in select species strengthened the links between brain regions in charge of hearing and movement, which made musical rhythm possible. In the years following its introduction, the vocal learning hypothesis seemed to fit all the relevant data.

Iverson and Patel’s study of Snowball turned out to be just the prelude to a new concerto of research on musicality in the animal kingdom. In recent years, scientists have tested various species and found evidence that nonvocal learners such as sea lions and bonobos have rhythm too. In parallel, pioneering studies have begun to elucidate how the brain tracks a beat, work that may help corroborate that rhythm is not restricted to the planet’s most loquacious creatures. The new findings suggest that rhythm has a more ancient and universal evolutionary origin than was originally thought. “I don’t think the vocal learning hypothesis has much to teach us anymore,” said Peter Cook, a comparative psychologist at Emory University. “Beat keeping might be rooted in a really old, widely conserved mechanism, which is basically how brains communicate. What is more interesting is why some animals don’t do it.”

A World of Wild Rhythms

Patel and Iversen published their first study on Snowball in 2008. (Irena Schulz was a co-author on the paper.) The following year, Adena Schachner, at the time a researcher at Harvard University, and her colleaguesdemonstrated that an African grey parrot named Alex — the Koko of the bird world, famous for his large vocabulary — could also move to a beat, as could Asian elephants and 13 other parrot species identified through an exhaustive search on YouTube. Further evidence came from Columbia University neuroscientist and musician David Sulzer, also known as Dave Soldier, who had been recording albums with an orchestra of Asian elephants in Thailand, for whom he had constructed supersized drums, gongs and chimes. Meanwhile, Yoshimasa Seki of the Brain Science Institute in Japan and his team successfully trained budgerigars (parakeets) to peck an LED in time to a wide range of tempos. In related experiments by other researchers, rhesus monkeys largely failed to learn rhythmic tapping tasks: They took more than a year to grasp the concept and even then were inconsistent and tended to lag behind the rhythm.

By 2012, the vocal learning hypothesis seemed to be transitioning from a tentative notion to a promising explanation of rhythm’s biological origins. Because people, parrots and elephants had all evolved to be vocal copycats, they had an innate talent for recognizing and replicating auditory rhythms; in contrast, acoustically inflexible primates did not. But then a single maverick mammal — one not known for musical prowess — leapt from sea to stage, stole the spotlight and urged the scientific community to reconsider.

A few years after word of Snowball got around, Cook, then a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was contemplating a suitable research project for himself and Andrew Rouse, a UCSC undergrad. Cook was studying cognitive psychology, in particular the behavior of pinnipeds — walruses, seals and sea lions — and he knew that Rouse had a passion for music. Perhaps, Cook thought, they could combine their interests and really put the vocal learning hypothesis to the test.

Though not quite as vocally proficient as parrots, walruses and seals can mimic novel sounds . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2016 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Music, Science

Rube Goldberg + music

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2016 at 9:23 am

Cool dance

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Take a look.

A short film made by Dominique Palombo follows a young man expressing himself in dance, parading the streets of Paris. We follow this man while he moves to the music, feels every beat and rhythm, and lets his body move. Not only are his movemens exciting, the music he dances to is very playful in nature. “N’arrete Pas” translates to Don’t Stop and we watch as he constantly is in motion throughout this short film.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2016 at 7:59 am

Posted in Music, Video

How Whitney Houston remade “The Star-Spangled Banner”

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Very interesting article by Cinque Henderson in the New Yorker, well worth reading if you’re interested in music. (I’ve always like Charles Grodin’s wonderful performance in the movie Hearts and Soul, a wonderful little movie, as much for the meaning as the music.)

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2016 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Music

Astonishing meme-formations: YouTube and copyright law and a personal crusade

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Quite an intricate and fascinating path is trodden by Jason Koebler in Motherboard in “Weezer’s Bizarre Copyright Crackdown on ‘Hash Pipe’“. As you might guess, it was somewhat difficult for me to follow, never having so much as heard of “Weezer.” But the formations into which memes can quickly evolve are amazing. (Memes are the meta-lifeforms that live in and through our cultural creations, subject to the same Darwinian principles as normal lifeforms, and thus constantly evolving, only on a much faster timescale. More in The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, and in other publications sense.)

Formations of the mineral variety persist for years, gradually shaped by erosion, glaciers, etc. Formations of animals are either very slow moving (coral reefs, for example) or quite fluid (a large herd, flock, or school, for example) or even hyperfluid (a political party, a body of law, a cultural practice, a fashion). So meme-formations are best thought of as 4-dimensional shapes, so that you have to examine the entity over time.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2015 at 2:03 pm

Frank Sinatra: A Hundred Years On, the Voice Resonates Still

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A very nice look at Frank Sinatra’s singing career. Sinatra was born on 12/12/1915.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2015 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music

π as a waltz

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The first 226 digits of π, base 12, used as a chromatic scale:

Sounds pretty good. More in a Motherboard article.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2015 at 8:03 am

Posted in Math, Music, Video

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