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Exchange Visit: A sonification device for comparing rhythmic abilities in human and non-human primates


  • Hardware Support: Carlos Rodríguez Hernández (León) & Riccardo Hofer (Vienna)


  • European Science Foundation: Exchange Visit Grant awarded to A. Ravignani by the CompCog ESF Research Networking Programme “The Evolution of Social Cognition: Comparisons and integration across a wide range of human and non-human animal species”
  • European Research Council: A. Ravignani is supported by ERC Advanced Grant 230604 SOMACCA "The Syntax of the Mind: A Computational Comparative Approach" awarded to W. T. Fitch.


Since Darwin, the putative direct role of natural selection in the emergence of human music has been a topic of great debate. A key hypothesis, whose empirical testing is crucial to this debate, is whether the ability to produce rhythmic patterns is a human specific trait, or shared with other non-human primates. During this Exchange Visit, I intend to build an electronic device that enables chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) to produce sounds through its physical exploration and manipulation, allowing to test the rhythmic production hypothesis. There are two advantages in using such an electronic device: (1) it is possible to precisely record physical variations in the sensor for later analysis and (2) the experimenter can decide about the acoustic feedback properties. This results in a flexible experimental paradigm, which allows for testing a wide range of rhythm and auditory cognition hypotheses by experimentally altering the sounds the device produces. The same device and paradigm will be used to test children, thus providing comparative data on a highly controversial topic.

Work Plan/Diary

Week 1:

  • Clarification of the objectives of the visit.
  • Exploring and evaluating different possibilities for acquiring (sensors) and processing (software) data.
  • Making sense of patterns in data provided by different sensors.

Week 2:

  • Initial calibration of Prototype 1.
  • Developing design ideas for Prototype 2.
  • Getting acquainted with Max 6 by Cycling'74

Week 3:

  • Purchase of additional materials.
  • Interfacing Prototype 2 with Max.
  • Experimenting with hybrid data acquisition (piezoelectric and acceleration sensors).
  • Prototype 1: Installing and configuring 4 piezoelectric sensors

Week 4:

  • Writing Arduino and Python code for 4 sensors.
  • Devising an appropriate shell/container for Prototype 2.
  • Using Prototype 2 to trigger sounds in Max.

Week 5:

  • Max MSP: Working with time intervals and absolute time.
  • Prototype 2 and Max/MSP: Exploring possibilities of data storage.
  • Max/MSP: A solution for writing timestamps (to txt files) in correspondence of sounds.

Week 6:

  • Prototype 1: Replacing piezoelectric sensors and building connection board between Arduino and sensory module.
  • Prototype 1: Restyling.
  • Prototype 1: Modifying/Rewriting Arduino and Python code.

Week 7:

  • Prototype 1: Calibration.
  • Prototype 2: Installing external switch for synch purposes.
  • Prototype 2: Calibration.