Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Feel like I-dosing? [Part 2]

A few months ago my Facebook friends in the US started mentioning it. Only a few weeks later it appeared in the news in Europe, generating a lot of noise in Belgium last week when I-dosing or ‘binaural beats’ were condemned as a form of narcotics.

The phenomenon of ‘binaural beats’ was first described in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove. It is the sensation of hearing interference beats when two slightly different frequencies are played separately to each ear. The rate of the ‘perceived’ beats were claimed to modulate ones brain waves. However, little or no evidence has been brought forward since then. The few studies that seriously studied the effect could not support this claim (e.g., Owens et al., 1998), except that that it might have some effect on attention and arousal. Quite understandable, if you listen to one of the examples (see link).

The recent media attention for this phenomenon seems to be successfully bootstrapped by a new company selling mp3’s with titles like ‘Quick Hit Simulations’ describing their product with statements like ‘binaural beats will synchronize your brainwaves and help you achieve a quick hitting simulated drug simulation.’ Prices around twenty dollar. Here is one for free :-)

Update: Last week The Lebanon News restarted it all over again '"Digital drugs," otherwise known as binaural beats, have sparked an outcry in Lebanon, with the Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi calling Thursday for legal measures to be taken against the product.'

ResearchBlogging.orgOwens, J. et al. (1998). Binaural Auditory Beats Affect Vigilance Performance and Mood. Physiology & Behavior, 63 (2), 249-252. DOI: 10.1016/S0031-9384(97)00436-8.

ResearchBlogging.orgDunning, Brian. "Binaural Beats: Digital Drugs." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 31 Mar 2009. Web. 31 Jul 2010. link.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

What is the most instantly recognisable song?

Everyone knows a hook when they hear one, but scientists don’t know why. By playing the Hooked on Music game you are exploring the science of songs and helping us to unlock what makes music catchy.

Last weekend the preliminary outcome of the online game was announced in Manchester, UK at the MOSI [1], answering the question: What is the most instantly recognisable song? Interestingly, numerous media started to report on this. A small media hype? (see UvA News).



#HookedonMusic is a citizen science experiment involving the Manchester Science festival, produced by the MOSI in association with the University of Amsterdam. The project is a spin-off of a larger consortium (including the University of Utrecht, Sound & Vision and Meertens Institute) that collaborates on developping a web-based environment, so-called ITCH environment (Identification, Tagging and Characterisation of Hooks; See CogItch).

In devising an online game for all to enjoy, we try to harness the wisdom of the crowd to understand and quantify the effect of catchiness on musical memory.

Explore the online game here or download the app here.





video


ResearchBlogging.orgJ.A. Burgoyne, D. Bountouridis, J. van Balen, & H. Honing (2013). Hooked: A Game for Discovering What Makes Music Catchy. Proceedings of the 14th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference, 245-250. Curitiba, Brazil.

[1] See MOSI Press release.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Gaan we kinderen weer horen zingen? [Dutch]

Volkskrant 3 november 2014
Minister Bussemaker wil muziekles op de basisschool mogelijk maken. De Tweede Kamer beslist vandaag. 

Afgelopen decennia is muziek op school een curiositeit geworden. Kregen leerlingen voorheen minstens een uur per week muziekles, in de afgelopen twintig jaar lag de focus voornamelijk op taal en rekenen.

Het werd een buitenschoolse activiteit die ouders zelf maar moesten regelen. Zo kreeg slechts een beperkte groep kinderen de mogelijkheid om een muziekinstrument te leren bespelen. Muziek werd een uitzondering, een luxe die maar voor sommigen was weggelegd.

Maar muziek is geen luxe. Uit recent wetenschappelijk onderzoek naar de relatie tussen muziek en ons brein blijkt dat onze muzikale vaardigheden, waaronder luisteren naar en meezingen met muziek, nauw verstrengeld zijn met een scala aan sociale, emotionele, cognitieve en motorische vaardigheden.

De een denkt bij muziek aan dat ene liedje dat in zijn hoofd blijft hangen, een ander raakt niet uitgepraat over de complexe structuur van een briljante compositie, een derde raakt ontroerd als een zo goed als sprakeloze demente man onverwacht meezingt met een liedje uit zijn jeugd. Muziek raakt ons. Muziek ontwapent, verbindt, maakt slimmer, ontroert en troost. 

Het lijkt misschien triviaal om het massaal in tranen meezingen met een speciaal daarvoor ontworpen liedje een muzikale vaardigheid te noemen. Maar voor een grote meerderheid van de mensen is muziek een stemmingsregulator. Voel je je blij - bepaalde muziek versterkt je stemming. Voel je je down - dat ene liedje maakt het draagbaar. Iedereen die weleens een uitvaart bijwoont, ervaart de betekenis en de werking van muziek. Vooral pubers weten er alles van. In de fase waarin zij verkeren en waarin zoveel verandert is muziek niet weg te denken. Muziek is meer met ons menszijn verweven dan we meestal denken.

Veel mensen en organisaties hebben afgelopen tien jaar initiatieven ontplooid om muziek terug te brengen in het primair onderwijs. Denk bijvoorbeeld aan 'Kinderen maken muziek', 'Muziek in ieder kind' van het Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie en de campagne 'Muziek telt!'.

Die initiatieven zijn niet alleen belangrijk geweest voor wat ze ontplooiden, maar ook om de bewustwording die ze teweeg hebben gebracht. Ambassadeurs en prominenten zijn belangrijk. Gelukkig heeft koningin Máxima zich de afgelopen jaren met veel enthousiasme voor muziekonderwijs ingezet; ik heb goede hoop dat ze dit zal blijven doen.
Inmiddels zijn we er in dit land meer dan ooit van overtuigd dat muzieklessen goed zijn voor de ontwikkeling van alle kinderen. Uit peilingen blijkt dat zowel de meeste kinderen als een overgrote meerderheid van de ouders muziekles op school belangrijk vinden. Dat is een heuse omwenteling.

Als de Tweede Kamer vandaag akkoord gaat, horen we binnenkort weer kinderen samen zingen in de klas. Laat ze naast het zingen ook een bandje beginnen en op feestjes, schoolavonden en talentenjachten spelen. Geef ze een ud, synthesizer of drumstel, faciliteer een blokfluittrio, ukelelekwartet en dj-draaitafel. Laat kinderen bedenken welke muziek ze leuk vinden om te spelen, naar te luisteren of op te dansen. Stimuleer en ondersteun kinderen bij het maken van muziek. Dat is goed voor de ontwikkeling van muziek, ons onderwijs en onze cultuur in het algemeen.

[Bron: Volkskrant 20141103, Opinie]

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What do we share with other primates in terms of cognition?

Below a beautiful summary of the recent literature on the neurobiology of action imitation/understanding, language, and rhythmic processing/auditory timing (Mendoza & Merchant, in press). The neural circuitry that is thought to be involved in all three higher cognitive functions is shown here for three closely related primates: the macaque monkey, chimpanzee and human brain.

Schematic representation of the neural circuits for action imitation/understanding, language, and rhythmic processing in three closely related primates. Upper, middle and lower panels adapted from Hecht et al. (2013a), Rilling et al. (2008) and Merchant and Honing (2014), respectively.
(In turn, adapted from Mendoza & Merchant, in press.)

For me, and several other researchers in the field of rhythm cognition, the bottom panel is the most intriguing. It addresses the question in how far we share rhythm cognition with other primates.

Quite a few papers on this topic came out recently (I cite a small selection below). One of the teasing questions is the absence/presence of a bidirectional link between IPL (inferior parietal lobe) and MPC (medial premotor cortex), a link that quite a few researchers suspect is crucial to regularity detection or rhythmic entrainment in sound and music, and arguably should be considered a basic building block of musicality.

ResearchBlogging.orgAckermann, H., et al. (2014, in press). Brain mechanisms of acoustic communication in humans and nonhuman primates: An evolutionary perspective. Behavioral and Brain Science.

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H., & Merchant, H. (2014, in press). Differences in auditory timing between human and non-human primates. Behavioral and Brain Science.

ResearchBlogging.org Mendoza, G., Merchant, H. (2014). Motor system evolution and the emergence of high cognitive functions Progress in Neurobiology DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2014.09.001
 
ResearchBlogging.orgMerchant, H., & Honing, H. (2014; online). Are non-human primates capable of rhythmic entrainment? Evidence for the gradual audiomotor evolution hypothesis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7 (274) 1-8. doi 10.3389/fnins.2013.00274

 ResearchBlogging.orgPatel, A., & Iversen, J. (2014). The evolutionary neuroscience of musical beat perception: the Action Simulation for Auditory Prediction (ASAP) hypothesis Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8 DOI: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00057

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Can you do better?

When I played the #HookedOnMusic game the other day, I recognized 10 songs (from the nineties) and scored 90 points. Most of you must be able to do better :-)

Play the game here.

Waarom wordt muziek mooier als je het vaker hoort? [Dutch]



Zie voor de volledige uitzending hier.

 ResearchBlogging.org Margulis, L. (2013). On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind. Oxford: Oxford Universty Press.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wat is het geheim van de Sacre du Printemps? [Dutch]

Afgelopen weekend zond de NTR op NPO 2 een live televisieprogramma rond de NPO Radio 4 Hart & Ziel Lijst uit. Bezielde verhalen over klassieke muziek en antwoorden op de vraag waarom en hoe luisteraars zich laten raken door klassieke muziek.

Wat is het geheim van het ritme van de Sacre du Printemps, wat maakt Erbarme dich een tranentrekker? Ook verhalen van luisteraars kwamen aan bod. Waarom kun je zo goed hard autorijden met het Vioolconcert van Philip Glass op de autoradio? Of hoe kan het dat de sonates van Scarlatti voor altijd verbonden zijn met het lezen van een Russische roman?

De uitzending is terug te zien op Uitzending gemist.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Hooked on music: What makes music catchy?

Presentation of hooked-game at the Science Museum in August 2014.

Everyone knows a hook when they hear one, but scientists don’t know why. By playing the Hooked on Music game you are exploring the science of songs and helping us to unlock what makes music catchy.

#HookedonMusic is a citizen science experiment involving the Manchester Science festival, produced by the Museum of Science & Industry in association with the University of Amsterdam. In devising an online game for all to enjoy, we try to harness the wisdom of the crowd to understand and quantify the effect of catchiness on musical memory. Explore the game here.

Presentation of hooked-game at the Science Museum in August 2014.

For more information on #HookedonMusic see the About on www.hookedonmusic.org.uk.
For more online experiments see MCG website.

ResearchBlogging.orgJ.A. Burgoyne, D. Bountouridis, J. van Balen, & H. Honing (2013). Hooked: A Game for Discovering What Makes Music Catchy. Proceedings of the 14th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference, 245-250. Curitiba, Brazil.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Do chimps like to listen to African and Indian music?

©2014, Emory University.
This week an interesting study, co-authored by primatologist Frans de Waal, appeared online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition. It was summarized in a Press Release as follows:
“While preferring silence to music from the West, chimpanzees apparently like to listen to the different rhythms of music from Africa and India, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.” 
While the first part of this summary must be wrong (the study did not present any Western music to chimpanzees, neither did any other study), the study does provide intriguing evidence for a difference in preference between West-African and North Indian music on the one hand, and Japanese taiko music and silence on the other. Chimps apparently prefer the former sounds in their environment over the latter.

The paper is framed as a critical answer to an older study by McDermott and Hauser (2007) that showed nonhuman primates (i.e., cotton-top tamarins and marmosets) to prefer slow tempos and silence over music, but dislike music overall. But are these studies also an indicator of musical preference?

Here Frans de Waal is clear and precise:
“Our objective was not to find a preference for different cultures’ music. We used cultural music from Africa, India and Japan to pinpoint specific acoustic properties. Past research has focused only on Western music and has not addressed the very different acoustic features of non-Western music. While nonhuman primates have previously indicated a preference among music choices, they have consistently chosen silence over the types of music previously tested.” 
So the different stimuli were in fact used to test a sensitivity to a complex of acoustic properties. Because if one would like to test a musical preference, one needs to know what the chimps are listening for. Is it loudness, timbre, melody, rhythm, timing, etc.

Unfortunately the stimuli are not provided online, or described in such a way that the original recordings can be traced, very much against the notion of replicability common in most empirical research. Hence, we can not listen to them for ourselves or run computer algorithms to extract the musical and/or acoustic features for comparison. We have to do with a rather crude characterization of the stimuli (For example, the 'Japanese taiko stimulus' is characterized as atonal, with undefined pitch, and 1 strong beat per 1 weak beat) and guess what the acoustical differences were. Yet another strange detail: some of the music was slowed down artificially, this to bring all stimuli in the same tempo range. A peculiar transformation that humans would readily notice (see earlier entry).

The authors themselves have an intuition on what might have caused the difference. They make the observation that Japanse taiko (like Typical Western music) has a regular beat, and it might be that this regularity is what chimpanzees dislike:
“Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects” 
Sounds reasonable, not?

Well, the experiment was not designed such that it could show that it is indeed the rhythmic structure that these chimps were attending to. In fact, there is no convincing evidence as yet that chimpanzees, or any other nonhuman primate, can actually perceive rhythmic regularity (See earlier entry).

Although it is suggested that apes (as opposed to monkeys) might have some of the neural circuitry that is needed for beat perception (Merchant & Honing, 2014), it has never been shown that any of the great apes can perceive the beat in a rhythmically varying stimulus such as music (See discussion in earlier blogs on the topic of beat induction).

What has been shown, however, is that monkeys can be sensitive to the rhythm structure or rhythmic grouping (cf. Merchant & Honing, 2014). Hence it is more likely that it is the rhythmic structure (or rhythmic grouping) that the chimpanzees use to distinguish between the musical stimuli, instead of perceived regularity: the beat. Nevertheless, it could also be any of those many other features of music that makes the difference for them: dynamic contour, timbre, note density, melodic contour, timing, etc, etc.

[See related item in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant.]
[See related item in Psychology Today.]

ResearchBlogging.orgMingle, M., Eppley, T., Campbell, M., Hall, K., Horner, V., & de Waal, F. (2014). Chimpanzees Prefer African and Indian Music Over Silence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition DOI: 10.1037/xan0000032

ResearchBlogging.orgMerchant, H., & Honing, H. (2014). Are non-human primates capable of rhythmic entrainment? Evidence for the gradual audiomotor evolution hypothesis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7 (274) 1-8. DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00274.

ResearchBlogging.orgMcDermott, J., & Hauser, M. (2007). Nonhuman primates prefer slow tempos but dislike music overall Cognition, 104 (3), 654-668 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2006.07.011

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Interested in becoming a student assistant at MCG?

The Music Cognition Group (MCG) searches for an enthusiastic and well-organized personal assistant (PA) for the Academic Year 2014/15. For more information and detailed instructions on how to apply see here. Deadline for applications is 15 August 2014.