Chimp heard playing a mean drum solo, but is it music?

After a chimp is recorded pounding a bucket, researchers run the beats through digital audio software. Please say the ape was playing a Bananarama song.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
3 min read

An artist's re-creation of Barney the chimpanzee's drum solo. All that's missing are some sweet pyrotechnics and Gene Simmons on bass. Illustration by Camille Martin, School of Decorative Arts, Strasbourg

Everyone who's been to the zoo and visited the ape exhibit has probably seen one of our distant evolutionary cousins pounding away on something when they aren't eating or doing things in public that makes the ride home for parents very awkward.

Just imagine for a second that these creatures aren't just banging on something to make noise. What if they can actually keep a beat? A group of scientists say just such an event occurred a decade ago, and they have unveiled it to the public for the first time in a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The study, published last Wednesday, details a 2005 incident at the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands. The study says that an unidentified "observer" witnessed a chimpanzee named Barney banging out a beat on a bucket with his hands, making it "probably the first evidence that our capacity to drum is shared with our closest relatives," according to the study's abstract.

The observer at the research center witnessed Barney's drum solo but didn't have a camera nearby at the time. So the onlooker recorded it on a voice recorder, according to the study. The recording was uploaded to YouTube in conjunction with the study's release.

To determine whether the bucket beating could be considered a piece of music, researchers from the University of Strasbourg in France and Utrecht University in the Netherlands used a piece of digital audio software called Reaper to examine the length and duration of Barney's performance and compare it with "the type of characteristics generally associated with human drumming," according to the study.

The researchers counted "685 drumbeats spread over 11 sequences for over four minutes" from Barney's drumming. The study also says that Barney's "focus" and his "leisurely, spaced time intervals" during his drumming showed "it was more than just a short, uncontrolled noise-making display."

To the untrained ear, the drumming might just sound like a chimp beating on a bucket to make noise, but there are some other interesting caveats to Barney's performance. The study asserts that Barney couldn't have been using the bucket as a way to communicate with the other chimps in his enclosure because they weren't within earshot. Also, the bucket had been in the enclosure for some time and therefore wasn't a new object that Barney suddenly picked up and started playing with.

This is just the latest report of wild animals exhibiting human-like behavior. Earlier this month, a study found that chimps like their food cooked rather than raw. Another study released earlier this month found that chimps enjoy drinking fermented beverages in the wild, some of them imbibing enough to become intoxicated. Last week, another study found that kangaroos and other marsupials prefer to use one hand over the other.

I say we take this latest study even further. Let's throw a guitar and a bass into a chimp enclosure and see what happens. The worst outcome is they'd produce a sound that's way better than anything that would ever come out of a Nickelback album.

(Via Real Clear Science)