Friday, May 10, 2019

Interested in becoming an SA at MCG?

The Music Cognition Group (MCG) searches for an enthusiastic and well-organized student assistant / P.A. acting as a first point of contact with people from both inside and outside MCG, starting 1 August 2019 (1 y, 0.2 fte). Deadline for applications is 15 June 2019.

N.B. You have to be registered as a bachelor or master student at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

For more information, and detailed instructions on how to apply, see here.

Monday, April 29, 2019

In search of the origins of musicality?

This week, George Miller in the Hedgehog and the Fox investigates the origins of human musicality by looking for musical ability and perception in other animals, including rhesus macaques, zebra finches, a cockatoo named Snowball, and Ronan, a headbanging California sea lion. Miller's guide to the Evolving Animal Orchestra, is Henkjan Honing, professor of music cognition at the University of Amsterdam.

Honing’s book is not about the origins of music, but the structure of musicality, that collection of attributes that enable us to make and appreciate music, such as perception of a regular beat or the ability to imitate a melody. If such traits are based on our cognitive abilities and biological predispositions, it makes sense to look for them in other animals. All sorts of fascinating hypotheses then open up: if musicality is a sensitivity that humans share with many non-human species, it may have preceded the development of music and of language, but enabled both.

Interested in the biological basis of music and musicality?

Lecture room at KNAW.

Get inspired during a masterclass on Musicality and Genetics that will be held at the KNAW - Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen on Wednesday 19 June 2019 in Amsterdam.

Register soon, and submit your abstract here, before May 15, 2019.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Is beat perception special?

Fleur Bouwer wonders. Behaviorally, temporal expectations seem to facilitate processing of events at expected time points, such as sounds that coincide with the beat in musical rhythm. Yet, temporal expectations can develop based on different forms of structure in the environment, not just the regularity afforded by a musical beat. Because still little is known about how different types of temporal expectations are neurally implemented and affect performance, she orthogonally manipulated the periodicity and predictability of rhythmic sequences to examine the mechanisms underlying beat-based and memory-based temporal expectations. The results are now accessible via BioRxiv.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Since when is music a topic for biologists?

Below the opening of a recent book review of The Evolving Animal Orchestra in Current Biology by Andrea Ravignani:
"Music is traditionally regarded as ‘intellectual property’ of the arts, humanities, and perhaps social sciences. Since when is music a topic for biologists? While Darwin and other naturalists had noticed crossspecies similarities to human musical behaviors, realizing the importance of musicality has contributed enormously to linking music and biology. In fact, while music is more of a cultural product, musicality denotes the neurobiological predispositions an organism uses to produce and process music. Henkjan Honing’s new book The Evolving Animal Orchestra: In Search of What Makes Us Musical is not about animals listening to human music or the like. It is a journey through cross-species musicality — that is, the neurobiology underlying musical behaviors in humans and other animals"
See the full review here.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Can all animals keep the beat?

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Darwin believed in the musicality of animals. The truth may be more interesting, says Simon Ings in the NewScientist of 3 April 2019:
"THE perception, if not the enjoyment, of musical cadences and of rhythm," wrote Darwin in his 1871 book The Descent of Man, "is probably common to all animals."
Henkjan Honing has tested this eminently reasonable idea, and in his book, The Evolving Animal Orchestra, he reports back. He details his disappointment, frustration and downright failure with such wit, humility and a love of the chase that any young person reading it will surely want to run away to become a cognitive scientist.
No culture has yet been found that doesn't have music, and all music shares certain universal characteristics: melodies composed of seven or fewer discrete pitches; a regular beat; a limited sequence of rhythmic patterns. All this would suggest a biological basis for musicality.
A bird flies with regular beats of its wings. Animals walk with a particular rhythm. So you might expect beat perception to be present in everything that doesn't want to falter when moving. But it isn't. Honing describes experiments that demonstrate conclusively that we are the only primates with a sense of rhythm, possibly deriving from advanced beat perception.
Only strongly social animals, he writes, from songbirds and parrots to elephants and humans, have beat perception. What if musicality was acquired by all prosocial species through a process of convergent evolution? Like some other cognitive scientists, Honing now wonders whether language might derive from music, in a similar way to how reading uses much older neural structures that recognise contrast and sharp corners.
Honing must now test this exciting hypothesis. And if The Evolving Animal Orchestra is how he responds to disappointment, I can't wait to see what he makes of success." – Simon Ings (NewScientist).

Wednesday, April 03, 2019


[Text as published in Nautilus and adapted from The Evolving Animal Orchestra: In Search of What Makes Us Musical (2019, the MIT Press). Chinese version by Levitan; text correction courtesy of Zhi-Yuan Ning (Leiden University).]




人类的乐感显然是不寻常的。乐感基于且受限于我们的认知能力(注意力、记忆力、预见力)及禀性(生物学意义的),是自发形成的一系列自然特征。但它为何如此特别呢?是因为人类有可能是唯一具备所有这些音乐本领的物种吗?或是因为这些对音乐的倾向也像语言能力那样为人类所独有呢?亦或乐感原本就是人类与其它物种共享的自然进化产物? 《我和狗狗一起弹钢琴》: [link]

研究音乐的亨詹·霍尼(Henkjan Honing)怀疑这个广为流传的视频里的狗狗并没有音高辨别力(一种听力以外的知觉能力),它只能利用主人目光所指示的线索来找到正确的琴键。 达尔文认为所有的脊椎动物应该都能感知、欣赏节奏与旋律,仅仅是基于它们相似的神经系统。他确信人类的乐感是有生物学基础的。此外,他还认为,音乐敏感性肯定是一种非常古老的特质,比语言敏感性还要古老许多。事实上,他认为音乐与语言都起源于乐感,并将其在人类和其它动物中的由来归因于性选择的演化机制。。


20世纪初,伊万·巴甫洛夫(Ivan Pavlov)发现,狗能记住某个单音调并将其与食物联系起来。狼、老鼠、椋鸟和恒河猴都能通过叫声的绝对音高识别同类,并能辨别音调。 然而相对音感是一种更具音乐性的听音能力。大多数人听的是整首旋律,而不是专注于一段旋律里的个别音调及其频率。无论对方用高音还是低音唱《玛丽有只小羊羔》,你都能听出那首歌。即便在嘈杂的咖啡馆里听到扩音器里传出的曲调,你仍然能够立即辨认出是哪首歌。
但这是谁唱的呢?你绞尽脑汁想记起歌手的名字或歌曲的名字,然而大脑却一片空白,于是你打开听歌识曲软件,把智能手机对着扬声器,几秒钟内就找到了歌名、歌手和所属专辑。 “存在一种听音模式使得音色这一要素在现代作曲家的作品中占有重要的地位的,鸣禽也具备。”




长期以来,科学家一直认为鸣禽拥有绝对音高辨别力,能根据音高或基频识别并记住旋律。40多年前,美国鸟类研究学者斯图尔特·赫尔斯(Stewart Hulse)以欧洲椋鸟为研究对象,进行了一系列听音实验,进而得出了这一结论。他指出,椋鸟能区分出逐渐升高或降低的音调序列,但却识别不了振动频率略升高或降低的音调序列。赫尔斯的结论是,鸟类关注的是绝对频率。和多数哺乳动物一样,欧洲椋鸟拥有绝对音高辨别力,而非相对音高辨别力。


2016年,加州大学圣地亚哥分校的研究人员提供了解答这一问题的方向。他们让椋鸟听了音色、音高都经过处理的不同旋律。使用了俗称音色旋律的刺激物——由不同音色的音调组成的音调序列。他们通过一系列声学实验研究了鸟类是如何利用声学特征对从没接触过的陌生旋律进行归类的。 “鱼能够分辨出约翰·李·胡克(John Lee Hooker)和约翰·塞巴斯蒂安·巴赫(Johann Sebastian Bach)的作品。”




2014年,在奥地利召开的一场国际会议上,笔者偶然发现了支持这一观点的实验证据。在某次讲座中,维也纳大学(University of Vienna)的博士后研究员米歇尔·施皮林斯(Michelle Spierings)曾揭示过斑胸草雀(zebra finches)识别声音序列(她称之为音节)差异的学习过程。这些声音由“mo”、“ca”、“pu”等人类的话语组成。在不同的行为实验中系统地调整这些语音的序列(句法)、音调、音延及动态范围(声谱包络)。

斑胸草雀得先学会区分Xyxy和xxyY序列,其中x和y代表不同的语音,大写字母代表乐调重音:即更高、更长或音量更大的音节。举个例子:“MO-ca-mo-ca”不同于“mo-mo-ca-CA”。 然后,斑胸草雀会听见一段重音、结构都有所变化的陌生序列。该测试目的在于确定鸟类是用乐调重音还是音节顺序来区分语音差异的。



如果没有解读错的话,研究结果将表明人类的听音模式可能与斑胸草雀一样,这种听音模式关注的是声音的音乐特质(音韵),而非倾听话语时密切关注的句法与语义。 笔者又想起了达尔文。人类和斑胸草雀的听音过程是否密切相关?

针对椋鸟和斑胸草雀的研究表明,鸣禽会收集利用全声谱的信息。它们具有相对音感,基于音色轮廓曲线、语调及声音的动态范围听音。这种音乐理论家早就有所察觉的听音模式已使埃德加·瓦雷兹(Edgard Varèse)、 捷尔吉·利盖蒂(György Ligeti)、卡佳·萨丽亚诺(Kaija Saariaho)等现代作曲家,在他们的作品中尤为着重音色的表现力。

有相对音高辨别力的人不仅仅能听出音高之间的关系。即便面对音高无法辨认的熟识旋律,他们也能借助这声音其他方面的轮廓特征(声谱包络)将其辨认出来。但人们对声谱包络不怎么感兴趣。 一个有趣的问题由此产生:人类需要什么样的特质才能像鸣禽一样听音?或者,反过来说,鸣禽有可能像人类那样听音乐吗? 人类和鸣禽听音时都有自己的策略和偏好。笔者研究斑胸草雀时,发现韵律结构并非此鸟最关注的因素。有证据表明,斑胸草雀最关注语调、音色和动态变化,最不关注声音的时序特征。事实上,对斑胸草雀而言,与歌曲音节间的时序结构相比,韵律蕴含的信息可能更多。

针对斑胸草雀的研究结果迫使笔者意识到,对人类显而易见的东西,对动物却未必如此。当我们不由自主被节奏中的规律性吸引时,斑胸草雀似乎更关注“局部”,如单音或时程。这很好地诠释了美国心理学家詹姆斯·吉布森(James J. Gibson)(也是我最喜欢的)一句妙语:“事可知,而时不可” (“Events are perceivable but time is not”)。只有事件发生时,才能感知时间。在斑胸草雀的例子中,这种“事件”似乎是被它们赋予某些特定特征的单个声音,而非声音序列的时序结构(声音序列承前启后所形成的节奏)。



经典的人工智能方案会这样解决问题:创建一个知识导向型系统,该系统可将飞机的典型特征编成的精确规则(可由计算机解释)。这个特征清单可以很长:细长的对称物体、两个机翼、一个机头和一个机尾、两边的小窗户、机头或机尾上的螺旋桨等。编写一份涵盖所有飞机特征的清单虽不容易,但却能将飞机和鸟类及类似飞机的物体区分开。 “如果把智能手机靠向正在唱同一首歌的人,软件无法识别对方在唱什么。”

最新的计算机模拟系统强有力地证明,知识导向型的系统不是判断照片中是否有飞机的最有效方法。所有复杂的推理都是多余的。是否有飞机只需简单关注一个细节:照片中是否有前轮? 常被用于归类实验的斑胸草雀和其它实验动物或许也可以做到这一点。或者说,其实它们倾听的是音乐的“前轮”:与音乐本质无关的某个细节。鸟能记住并辨认出某个独特的细节,这个细节通常是鸟类觅食的有效线索,进而让鸟有必要继续专注于它。

可以肯定的是,人类、鸣禽、鸽子、老鼠和某些鱼(如金鱼和鲤鱼)可以轻易分辨出不同的旋律。但仍然存疑的是,它们在辨别旋律时是否像人类那样利用了音乐的结构性特征。 在北美,某项针对锦鲤(类似金鱼的鱼,听力比大多数鱼好)的研究提供了一个不同寻常的例子。因为听力好,锦鲤常被叫作“听力专家”。它们的听觉灵敏到仿若在通过电话线收听声音:虽然大部分声音高频段及低频段的音质可能比较差,但在它们听起来仍非常的清晰。



实验的结果令人惊讶,这三只锦鲤不仅能区分约翰·李·胡克和巴赫的作品,还能区分蓝调及一般古典音乐流派。这些鱼似乎能依据先前学到的音乐区别,正确归类一首从未听过的新乐曲。 但锦鲤这种乐曲归类决策的生物学基础是什么?为何它们能区分乐曲?它们到底听到了什么?研究表明,锦鲤并不是根据乐曲的音色来加以区分的,即便用同一乐器的不同音色演奏古典和蓝调旋律,锦鲤仍然能够做出区分。



有关作者:亨詹·霍尼是阿姆斯特丹大学音乐认知学教授,著有《进化中的动物管弦乐队:探索是什么让我们拥有乐感及音乐认知学:听音科学》(The Evolving Animal Orchestra: In Search of What Makes Us Musical and Musical Cognition: A Science of Listening)。

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Interested in rhythm and synchrony?

Preliminary announcement:

From 29 July 2019 through 2 August 2019 a workshop entitled Synchrony and Rhythmic Interaction: From Neurons to Ecology will be organized at the Lorentz Center, NL. It will bring together, for the first time, scholars from several disciplines aiming to exchange insights on synchrony and rhythmic interaction, from the neural level to ecology.

See for more information the Lorentz Center website.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Interested in the biology of musicality?

This June in Amsterdam, leading experts from diverse fields meet to explore how advances in genomics can give insights into the biology of musicality. The KNAW Colloquium is preceded by a Masterclass (June 19), now open for applications. Spread the word!

Young researchers, PhD-students, and master students in the fields of music cognition, psychology, and genetics are cordially invited to join our Master Class on 'Musicality and Genomics': See

What makes music special to us?

We are all born with a predisposition for music, a predisposition that develops spontaneously and is refined by listening to music. Nearly everyone possesses the musical skills essential to experiencing and appreciating music. Think of “relative pitch,”recognizing a melody separately from the exact pitch or tempo at which it is sung, and “beat perception,”hearing regularity in a varying rhythm. Even human newborns turn out to be sensitive to intonation or melody, rhythm, and the dynamics of the noise in their surroundings. Everything suggests that human biology is already primed for music at birth with respect to both the perception and enjoyment of listening.

Human musicality is clearly special. Musicality being a set of natural, spontaneously developing traits based on, or constrained by, our cognitive abilities (attention, memory, expectation) and our biological predisposition. But what makes it special? Is it because we appear to be the only animals with such a vast musical repertoire? Is our musical predisposition unique, like our linguistic ability? Or is musicality something with a long evolutionary history that we share with other animals?

Read the full article in Nautilus Magazine of March 14, 2019.