Bonobo (Kanzi) Teaches Me How To Structure the Research
Important to what we are doing at BioMusicKidz is building on new research. The research range is broad and includes many social species, including humans. The story below demonstrates how an ape participates in helping guide new scientific research and knowledge.
After Peter Gabriel’s remarkable musical encounter with this special group of bonobos, I was invited to set up a bonobo music research program with the same bonobos. My expertise in studying music-making brought me into this unique world of primates but, as I soon discovered, bonobos are not humans. We have things in common and other things that are similar but surprises abound if you presume to jump in quickly to a research project after an initial introduction to the bonobo group. Since I wanted to pursue a collaborative style of music research between human and bonobo, unlike more typical types of research using food rewards to train for a specific task, bonobo interest in the research activities and an acceptance of me was key to successfully collecting measurable, repeatable data in a very dynamic setting.
Kanzi, a world-renowned bonobo, Kanzi — Ape Initiative, and his sister, Panbanisha, and her offspring, Nyota, Nyota — Ape Initiative spent a lot of time with me improvising on duelling synthesizers or drumming together.
One day while waiting for the staff to set up the research equipment, I sat on the floor and mindlessly began to make regular tapping sounds on the glass wall separating Kanzi and me. Suddenly, Kanzi’s hand mirrored mine, tapping to match my tempo. I didn’t stop. Neither did he. Minutes passed but we continued to entrain to the same beat. Even when staff brought him a favorite snack, green onions, he rolled onto his back to eat but continued our rhythmic entrainment with his foot! That experience defined our breakout research. Rhythmic entrainment – a basic for music-making – became the primary focus for bonobo music research. Even applying our research protocols to other bonobos living at the Jacksonville Zoo, rhythmic entrainment occurred between bonobo and human. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2015-30056-001
This bonobo/human rhythmic entrainment research has changed the way science thinks about human uniqueness. Once thought to be a way to define ‘human’, we now know rhythmic entrainment is part of an ancient inheritance delivered in our DNA. Thank you, Kanzi!!