Category Archives: Science

Tango and therapy


Recent research suggests that tango dancing may be an effective strategy for influencing symptoms related to mood disorders.

In one study, 41 participants were randomized to tango dancing for 1.5 hours, four times per week for two weeks, or to a wait-list control condition. Self-rated symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, self-efficacy, satisfaction with life, and mindfulness were assessed at pretest, posttest, and one month later. The tango group participants showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia at posttest relative to the controls, whereas satisfaction with life and self-efficacy were significantly increased. At a one-month follow-up, depression, anxiety, and stress levels remained reduced relative to the wait-list controls.

In another study, 22 tango dancers were assessed within four conditions in which the presence of music and a dance partner while dancing were varied in a 2 x 2 design. Before each condition and five minutes thereafter, participants provided salivary samples for analysis of cortisol and testosterone concentrations and completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. The data suggest that motion with a partner to music has more positive effects on emotional state than motion without music or without a partner. Moreover, decreases of cortisol concentrations were found with the presence of music, whereas increases of testosterone levels were associated with the presence of a partner.

This according to “Intensive tango dance program for people with self-referred affective symptoms” by Rosa Pinniger et al. (Music and medicine: An interdisciplinary journal V/I [January 2013] pp. 15–22) and “Emotional and neurohumoral responses to dancing tango argentino: The effects of music and partner” by Cynthia Quiroga Murcia (Music and medicine: An interdisciplinary journal I/1 [July 2009] pp. 14–21), respectively.

Below, Tina Frühauf provides a testimonial.

BONUS: A translation of lyrics of the song in the video:

Think it over
before taking that step
that perhaps tomorrow
you may not go back.

Think it over.
I have loved you so much
and you have sent me into the past
perhaps for another love.

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The smell of jazz

Sonny Stitt

People can systematically match information from different senses; these matches are known as crossmodal correspondences.

A 2013 study demonstrated that at least some color-music correspondences can be explained by emotional mediation.

A later study investigated the emotion mediation hypothesis for correspondences between odor and music, testing whether the strength of odor-music matches for particular odors and musical selections can be predicted by the similarity of the emotional associations with the odors and music. These researchers found that perceived matches were higher when the emotional responses were similar and that a model including emotional dimensions captured a significant amount of the variance of match scores, providing new evidence that crossmodal correspondences are mediated by emotions.

This according to “The smell of jazz: Crossmodal correspondences between music, odor, and emotion” by Carmel A. Levitan, Sara A. Charney, Karen B. Schloss, and Stephen E. Palmer, a paper included in Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (Austin: The Cognitive Science Society, 2015, pp. 1326–1331).

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention, and for noting that “fishy was comprehensively unpopular, except with the category heavy metal, where it was first on the list.”

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SMUG: Scientific Music Generator



SMUG is a system for generating lyrics and melodies from real-world data, in particular from academic papers.

The developers of SMUG wanted to create a playful experience and establish a novel way of generating textual and musical content that could be applied to other domains, in particular to games.

This according to “SMUG: Scientific Music Generator” by Marco Scirea, Gabriella A. B. Barros, Noor Shaker, and Julian Togelius, a paper included in Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Computational Creativity (Provo: Brigham Young University, 2015, pp. 204–211).

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention! Above, an excerpt from the score generated from Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species by means of natural selection. Below, an app that generates music from barcodes.


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Camille Saint-Saëns, astronomer

saint-saens and flammarion

Many know Saint-Saëns as the composer of Le carnaval des animaux and other landmark Romantic works; fewer know that he was an avid amateur astronomer.

Saint-Saëns was friends with the eminent French astronomer Camille Flammarion and participated in the Société Astronomique de France. His stature as a great French composer brought attention to the Société and astronomical research, and he contributed several articles to the group’s journal, Revue d’astronomie populaire.

This according to “Inspired by the skies? Saint-Saëns, amateur astronomer” by Léo Houziaux, an essay included in Camille Saint-Saëns  and his world (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 12–17).

Today is Saint-Saëns’s 180th birthday! Above, the composer (right) with Flammarion; below, Saint-Saëns adresses the heavens (Laudate, coeli!).

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The vocal tract organ

vocal tract organ


The vocal tract organ is a new musical instrument that consists of three-dimensional (3D)-printed vocal tracts (throat and mouth) for individual vowels sitting on loudspeakers to enable static vowel sounds to be produced.

The acoustic excitation from the loudspeakers is a synthesized version of the typical waveform produced by the vibrating human vocal folds during pitched sounds, which enables the instrument to be played from a keyboard.

The vocal tract organ will become an instrument in its own right, and it could be used as a direct replacement for the vox humana organ stop, given that its acoustic output is a much closer representation of the human vocal output than that from a vox humana organ pipe. The 3D-printed tracts may also be used  in vocal and choral workshops as well as degree-level music technology education.

This according to “The vocal tract organ and the vox humana organ stop” by David M. Howard (Journal of music, technology & education VII/3 [2014] pp. 265–277).

Above, an illustration from the article; below, a composition by Professor Howard.

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Music for cats. II

cat music 2

As we reported a few years ago, David Teie has composed music for cats. Now he has published, along with two colleagues, a report on a scientific study demonstrating this music’s efficacy.

They presented two examples of Teie’s cat music in counter-balanced order with two examples of human music and evaluated the behavior and response latencies of cats to each piece.

The cats showed a significant preference for and interest in species-appropriate music compared with human music (Median (IQR) 1.5 (0.5-2.0) acts for cat music, 0.25 (0.0-0.5) acts for human music, <P><0.002) and responded with significantly shorter latencies (Median (IQR) 110.0 (54-138.75) s for cat music, 171.75 (151-180) s for human music (<P>< 0.001). Younger and older cats were more responsive to cat music than middle-aged acts (cubic trend, <r>2 = 0.477, <P>< 0.001).

This according to “Cats prefer species-appropriate music” by Teie, Charles T. Snowdon, and Megan Savage (Applied animal behavior science 20 February 2015).

Below, Samantha demonstrates with Cozmo’s air.


Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Science

Musik und Klangkultur


In 2014 transcript Verlag launched the series Musik und Klangkultur with Musik—Raum—Technik: Zur Entwicklung und Anwendung der graphischen Programmierumgebung Max.

The book discusses the visual programming language for music and multimedia known as Max. After over two decades of development and application, Max has become a sort of international lingua franca in practically-oriented music, art, and media institutions. A complete cultural-historical survey is presented, in which the software figures as the product of a specific sphere of aesthetic practice, which retroactively evokes innovative production structures. The focus of the analysis thus becomes the reciprocal influences of technological and artistic production.

Below, a demonstration of Percussa AudioCubes, an electronic musical instrument that allows users to create Max/Msp patches using an OSC server.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New series, Science

Hermit thrush pitch preferences


The song of the hermit thrush, a common North American songbird, is renowned for its apparent musicality and has attracted the attention of musicians and ornithologists for more than a century.

Recent research has shown that hermit thrush songs, like much human music, use pitches that are mathematically related by simple integer ratios and follow the harmonic series. These findings add to a small but growing body of research showing that a preference for small-integer ratio intervals is not unique to humans; such findings are particularly relevant to the ongoing nature/nurture debate about whether musical predispositions such as the preference for consonant intervals are biologically or culturally driven.

This according to “Overtone-based pitch selection in hermit thrush song: Unexpected convergence with scale construction in human music” by Emily Doolittle, et al. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America CXI/46 [18 November 2014] pp. 16616–16621).

Below, a hermit thrush video that will fascinate your cats; more recordings, including slowed-down ones, are here.

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Slime mold music

Physarum polycephalum

Die Lebensfreude is a pioneering piece of music composed with the aid of an amoeba-like plasmodial slime mold called physarum polycephalum.

The composition is for an ensemble of five instruments (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) and six channels of electronically synthesized sounds. The instrumental parts and the synthesized sounds are musifications and sonifications, respectively, of a multi-agent based simulation of physarum foraging for food.

Physarum polycephalum inhabits cool, moist, shaded areas over decaying plant matter, and it eats nutrients such as oat flakes, bacteria, and dead organic matter. It is a biological computing substrate, and has been enjoying much popularity within the unconventional computing research community for its astonishing computational properties.

This according to “Harnessing the intelligence of physarum polycephalum for unconventional computing-aided musical composition”by Eduardo R. Miranda, an article included in Music and unconventional computing (London: AISB, 2013).

Many thanks to the Annals of Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention! Above, the co-composer; below, the work’s premiere.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Nature, Science

Inebriated zebra finches


zebra finches

Speech impairment is one of the most intriguing and least understood effects of alcohol on cognitive function, largely due to the lack of data on alcohol effects on vocalizations in the context of an appropriate experimental model organism.

Zebra finches, a representative songbird and a premier model for understanding the neurobiology of vocal production and learning, learn song in a manner analogous to how humans learn speech. When allowed access, finches readily drink alcohol, increase their blood ethanol concentrations (BEC) significantly, and sing a song with altered acoustic structure.

The most pronounced effects were decreased amplitude and increased entropy, the latter likely reflecting a disruption in the birds’ ability to maintain the spectral structure of song under alcohol. Furthermore, specific syllables, which have distinct acoustic structures, were differentially influenced by alcohol, likely reflecting a diversity in the neural mechanisms required for their production. Remarkably, these effects on vocalizations occurred without overt effects on general behavioral measures, and importantly, they occurred within a range of BEC that can be considered risky for humans.

Results suggest that the variable effects of alcohol on finch song reflect differential alcohol sensitivity of the brain circuitry elements that control different aspects of song production. They also point to finches as an informative model for understanding how alcohol affects the neuronal circuits that control the production of learned motor behaviors.

This according to “Drinking songs: Alcohol effects on learned song of zebra finches” by Christopher R. Olson, et al. (PLOS one IX/12 [23 December 2014] e115427).

Above, a female zebra finch reacts to a (perhaps inebriated) male; below, a (perhaps sober) zebra finch with a fastidious friend.

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