This Could be Your Dog on Music

Photo: GV - "Scooter"
Photo: GV - "Scooter"

Wouldn’t it be nice if your best friend – i.e., your dog – were as blissful as this one?

Well, now there are some clever folks writing music to soothe the souls of monkeys and so, can dog music be far behind?

This came to my attention in the Sunday Magazine of The New York Times of December 12th, “The 9th Annual Year in Ideas” (p. 55: “Music for Monkeys”).

A cello player from the National Symphony Orchestra has this idea that (human) music is responsive to the pulses and heartbeats that we first encounter in the womb. And so, he reasons, one should be able to write music specifically responsive to the primal rhythms and sounds of other species.

He got in touch with a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who runs a “colony” of cotton-top tamarins (a kind of monkey), and got from this professor tamarin calls that demonstrated fear and others that demonstrated calm.

The cellist then wrote music for cello and voice based on those different sorts of monkey vocalizations, and played that music back to the monkeys, along with some people music (Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and Metallica’s “Of Wolf and Man”).

Generally, the monkeys didn’t much care for the people music, though they did show at least a little interest in excerpts from Metallica.

But they really got excited about the monkey music.

The pieces based on threatening calls made them anxious, which they manifested by cocking their heads and scratching themselves, whereas those pieces based on calming calls induced the tamarins to engage in foraging behavior, eating, and drinking.  In a nutshell, happy activities.

This clever NSO cellist has since written species-specific music for cats and for mustached bats.  

So, can dog music be far behind?

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