Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Interested in doing a PhD in Amsterdam?

We are seeking a PhD candidate for the project Deep: Interpreting Deep Learning Models for Text and Sound Methods and Applications. This project is funded by an NWO Dutch Research Agenda grant to a consortium led by Dr. Willem Zuidema of the Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation (ILLC) at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
This ambitious project aims to develop, apply, and fine-tune techniques to make modern deep learning models for text, speech, and music more transparent. 
In this PhD position you can combine insights from audio analysis and deep learning to help musicians play what they love. If you are excited about doing this kind of research in an interdisciplinary environment with smart and friendly colleagues and a strong industrial collaboration, then you may want to join us.

All information on how to apply can be found here.

Deadline for applications is 21 July 2022.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Was Darwin right? (New book, translated in German and Italian)

Aap slaat maat (Nieuw Amsterdam), translated as The Evolving Animal Orchestra (MIT Press),  Der Affe schlägt den Takt (Henschel Verlag), and Il scimmia batte il tempo (Carocci editore).

Appraisal of The Evolving Animal Orchestra (MIT Press):

"In 1871 Charles Darwin argued :

The perception, if not the enjoyment, of musical cadences and of rhythm is probably common to all animals.

Henkjan Honing has tested this eminent reasonable idea, and in his bookhe 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." 

–– Simon Ings in NewScientist.

"Honing’s new book provides a succinct, informal though rigorous overview of what we know of cross-species musicality. [..] Most science happens as a tiresome journey, and what the public sees is only the splendidness of arrival – that's not the case of this book. This is a popular science book, intriguing and entertaining." 

–– Andrea Ravignani in Current Biology

"Originally published in 2018 in the Netherlands, the new English translation by Sherry MacDonald has been eagerly awaited by students and scholars who are curious about music’s place beyond the strictly human. I believe they will not be disappointed, for Honing’s book offers a number of insights for both the amateur and the scientist in a readable prose style." 

–– Rachel Mundy in Psychology of Music.

For more endorsements, see here.
For related podcasts, see HedgehogandtheFox and BigBiology.
For related documentaries, see
CBC, Sky Tv and here.
For links to all the books, see here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Do language and music share one precursor?

One way of categorizing the sensitivities of animals to the building blocks of language and music is to group these sensitivities along the frequency/spectral and temporal dimensions of sound. Although speech and music share many acoustic features, music appears to take advantage of a different set of acoustic features than speech. In humans the frequency dimension is central to music/melody perception, while for understanding speech the temporal dimension appears to be most fundamental (Albouy et al., 2020; Shannon et al., 1995). With respect to the frequency dimension of speech, humans attend primarily to the spectral structure (which enables the distinction between the different vowels and consonants), while for music the attention appears to be less on a spectral quality (e.g., the sound of a guitar versus that of a flute), but instead on the melodic and rhythmic patterns. As such, it might well be that humans are an exception in that they can interpret the same sound signal in (at least) two distinct ways: as speech or as music (cf. speech-to-song illusion). In other animals such distinction is not observed (as yet). In humans, melody and speech are processed along specific and distinct neural pathways (Albouy et al., 2020; Norman-Haignere et al., 2022) and it could be that brain networks that support musicality are partly recycled for language (Peretz et al., 2018). This could imply that both language and music share one precursor. In fact, it is one possible route to test the Darwin-inspired conjecture that musicality precedes music and language (Honing, 2021). In a recent preprint (ten Cate & Honing, 2022) we discuss the potential components of such a precursor.

Albouy, P., Benjamin1, L., Morillon, B., & Zatorre, R. J. (2020). Distinct sensitivity to spectrotemporal modulation supports brain asymmetry for speech and melody. Science, 367(6481), 1043–1047.

Honing, H. (2021). Unravelling the origins of musicality: Beyond music as an epiphenomenon of language. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 44(E78), 66–69.

Norman-Haignere, S. V., Feather, J., Boebinger, D., Brunner, P., Ritaccio, A., McDermott, J. H., … Kanwisher, N. (2022). A neural population selective for song in human auditory cortex. Current Biology, 1–15.

Peretz, I., Vuvan, D. T., Armony, J. L., Lagrois, M.-É., & Armony, J. L. (2018). Neural overlap in processing music and speech. In H. Honing (Ed.), The Origins of Musicality (Vol. 370, pp. 205–220). Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Shannon, R. V., Zeng, F. G., Kamath, V., Wygonski, J., & Ekelid, M. (1995). Speech recognition with primarily temporal cues. Science, 270(5234), 303–304. 

Ten Cate, C., & Honing, H. (2022). Precursors of music and language in animals. PsyArXiv Preprint. Retrieved from

Friday, April 15, 2022

Precursors of music and language?

Diagrammatic representation of the comparative approach. It shows a hypothetical phylogenetic tree that illustrates the evolution of several traits that humans may share with monkeys and birds. Filled shapes represent a hypothetical trait (such as vocal learning or beat perception); open shapes indicate the absence of that trait. The position on the phylogenetic tree dates the possible evolutionary origin of such a trait. N.B. Circle: homologous trait, present in human and monkeys, originating from a shared ancestor; Square: an independently evolved trait, similar in humans and birds by convergence.
Language and music are universal human traits, raising the question for their evolutionary origin. In a recent review, co-authored with Carel ten Cate (LU), we take a comparative perspective to address that question.

In the chapter (ten Cate & Honing, in press) we examine similarities and differences between humans and non-human animals (mammals and birds) by addressing whether and which constituent cognitive components that underlie the human ability for language and music can be found in non-human animals. It first provides an introduction to the nature and meaning of vocalizations and non-vocal communicative sounds in non-human animals. Next it reviews experimental and observational evidence of animal perception of various frequency and temporal dimensions of sounds. Many animal species show perceptual and cognitive abilities to distinguish between or to generalize auditory stimuli. This includes evidence of the presence of one or more of the constituent cognitive components on which the human abilities for language and music are based, or that may have served as precursors for these components. At the same time, there are also important differences among animal species in their abilities. Hence contrasts are not limited to those between humans and other animal species.  

We conclude that the differences between humans and other species, as well as those among non-human species, might result from specific biases and the weight or priority certain species give to attending to certain features of an acoustic signal, or because different species use particular mechanisms to different degree.

ten Cate, C. & Honing.H. (2023, in press). Precursors of music and language in animals. In Sammler, D. (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Language and Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:

Monday, February 21, 2022

Interested in becoming an Assistant Professor in Computational Creativity?

If you have expertise in computational creativity in music and the performing arts, and would like to complement our research group in Amsterdam, see here for more information.

Deadline for applications: 21 March 2022.

What makes music catchy?

Often you only need to hear a few seconds of music, to recognize a song. There's a good chance it was a very catchy tune. Computational musicologist Ashley Burgoyne (Music Cognition Group, University of Amsterdam) reveals what makes a song catchy.

Burgoyne, J. A., Bountouridis, D., Balen, J. van, & Honing, H. (2013). Hooked: A Game For Discovering What Makes Music Catchy. In A. De Souza Britto, F. Gouyon, & S. Dixon (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference (pp. 245–250). Curitiba, Brazil. [pdf]

Waarom kan jouw partner niet dansen? [Dutch]

"Sta je eindelijk weer eens met je partner op de dansvloer, gaat hij nog voor het einde van het eerste nummer op je tenen staan. Hij voelt zich schuldig en jij bent teleurgesteld, want jij wil ook weleens romantisch over de dansvloer zwieren. Maar waarom kan jouw partner dat niet? Heeft-ie een slecht ritmegevoel?" 

In deze Universiteit van Amsterdam lezing geeft cognitief neurowetenschapper Fleur Bouwer (Universiteit van Amsterdam, Music Cognition Goup Associate) antwoord op die vraag.


Bouwer, F.L., Honing, H., & Slagter, H. A. (2020) Beat-based and memory-based temporal expectations in rhythm: similar perceptual effects, different underlying mechanisms. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 32(7), 1221-1241. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01529 

Honing, H., & Bouwer, F. L. (2019). Rhythm. In Rentfrow, P.J., & Levitin, D. (ed.), Foundations in Music Psychology: Theory and Research. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. ISBN 9780262039277.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Interested in music and biology?

In this episode of Big Biology, entitled Beasty Beats: The Origins of Musicality, Art Woods and Marty Martin talk with Henkjan Honing about the biology of musicality:

"He started as a musician but eventually found his way to the science of music. Among diverse species, he and his collaborators now study how and why some animals perceive elements of music but others do not. We also discuss the earliest known examples of human musical instruments and the possible adaptive value of music."

Apple podcast here | Spotify podcast here | Stitcher podcast here.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Why do we value music so much; Are there biological or social explanations for this?

Below a recording of a recent, one hour+ edition of BètaBreak –made by Frank Gelens, Rianne Verhaegh, and hosted by Spui25– about what musicality entails, what its biological underpinnings in the brain are, and why we all have musical abilities.

"The ability to perceive rhythm, tones and beats, key components of musicality, seems to be universal across humans and manifests itself already from a young age; something that this edition’s guest endorses (Honing, 2018). Is there an underlying mechanism in our brain that makes this possible? Could our preferences in music have a biological explanation? Furthermore, is musicality also present in other species or is it a human trait?"

Honing, H. (2018). On the biological basis of musicality. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (The Neurosciences and Music VI: Music, Sound and Health). doi: 10.1111/nyas.13638.

For another episode of BètaBreak/Spui25 with Frans de Waal on the topic of beauty, see here (with snippets on music/ality too).

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wat is het geheim van de cello? [Dutch]

Eerste aflevering van de podcastserie De Ontroering - Op zoek naar het geheim van de cello. Podcastserie van de Cello Biënnale Amsterdam, het grootste cellofestival ter wereld, met gesprekken, achtergrondreportages en natuurlijk muziek. 

De podcast werd gemaakt door Mirjam van Hengel en Frans van Deursen.