Rhyme or Reason

The Rhythm Project at NYUAD will provide a deeper insight into the musical behavior of humans

Scholars already know that societies present and past, everywhere in the world, make music and move to music because rhythm is largely biological, it’s simple human nature. But the role of culture in this seemingly universal experience is not yet fine tuned.

“It’s known that rhythm perception and production are universal to the human species, but the role of culture on these mechanisms is not clear,” explained Carlos Guedes, co-principal investigator, and NYUAD associate arts professor of music. “Our research aims to further understand the cultural aspects involved in these processes.”

What exactly does the research aim to do?

Officially titled “Cross-disciplinary and multicultural approaches to musical rhythm”, the project aims to provide groundbreaking insights on the understanding of musical rhythm by looking at it across dimensions and non-Western cultures. Our goals are to:

  • Develop tools to collect and analyze music from different cultural traditions with a focus on the Gulf region and South India;
  • Develop tools to measure similarity and complexity in a cross-cultural context, through listening tests;
  • Develop computer applications able to generate musical rhythms in different styles and cultures that can be used as tools for educating people about the specific aspects of these traditions.

Every known culture has its own music, organized rhythmically. Although it’s known that rhythm perception and production are universal to the human species, the role of culture is not clear because people from different cultures perceive and produce musical rhythms differently. Our research aims to further understand the cultural aspects involved in these seemingly universal processes.

The Rhythm Project contributes cutting-edge research to both the arts and sciences.

Carlos Guedes, co-principal investigator, NYUAD Rhythm Project
Why is a multidisciplinary approach to the research significant?

The project, established in 2014, leverages and contributes cutting-edge research to both the arts and sciences with contributions from experts across disciplines:

  • Robert Rowe, NYU professor of music and music education;
  • Juan Pablo Bello, NYU associate professor of music technology;
  • Godfried Toussaint, NYUAD professor of computer science;
  • and myself, Carlos Guedes, NYUAD associate arts professor of music.

This research could not possible without intersecting knowledge from many areas namely engineering (signal processing), computer science (algorithmic approaches), psychology, and music-theoretical knowledge about the music we’re studying. We hope to expand this research to the fields of ethnomusicology and library science via the newly established research group called Sound and Music Cultures at NYUAD, which also includes: Andrew Eisenberg, ethnomusicologist; Beth Russell, librarian; Godfried Toussaint, mathematician; Konstantinos Trochidis, postdoctoral researcher; and Virginia Danielson, library director.

How does your research involve NYUAD students?

Students can get involved in the research in many ways such as recording music, cataloging, tagging, and annotating sound files. We also have student research during the academic year and summer months. My hope is that our student researchers come to understand that there are a wealth of interesting and exciting research opportunities to be carried out in music, and that a music major can provide much more beyond the glimmerings of an artistic career.

A student captures sounds of wildlife for a class project at Sir Bani Yas Island, the UAE's largest wildlife preserve.
What other soundscape research studies are you working on at NYUAD?

“Sounds from Sir Bani Yas Island”

Our interactive website allows visitors to browse a database of audio recordings of free roaming birds and animals captured at different geographic locations on Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, home to the UAE's largest wildlife preserve. Beyond the website, our long-term goal to develop innovative methodologies for environmental monitoring and soundscape analysis using current web streaming technologies and inexpensive location devices.

“Creation and analysis of a digital repository of Middle Eastern Music”

This is an NYU Global Seed Fund project that aims to create a browsable digital compendium of music from the Middle East region. This project involves the team of the rhythm project along with colleagues from the NYUAD Library and Music Department.