Cultural Variation in rhythmic prototypes

While the timing of musical events varies infinitely by physical standards, humans perceive but a small number of rhythmic and metric categories. These building blocks of rhythmic and metric structure are commonly presumed to be tied to prototypical durational ratios, particularly to the smallest of integer ratios, 1:1 and 1:2. Experimental tapping studies testing the reproduction of two-interval rhythms show that participants from Western Europe and North America distort any given target toward either 1:1 or 1:2.
Categorical perception is definitely subject to learning processes; we therefore cannot exclude a priori the influence of socially and culturally divergent environments. Yet scientific rhythm research tends to presume a cognitive privileging of the ratios 1:1 and 1:2 to be biologically determined. However, comparative-musicological knowledge about the cultural normalcy of uneven meter gives cause for doubts in this respect.
The project explores potential cultural variance in rhythmic prototypes. We first replicate a classical tapping study in four countries (Mali, Bulgaria, Turkey and Germany). In a second phase, we will examine the extent to which the context-poor stimuli used in the cognitive-psychological laboratory experiment are methodologically appropriate for activating and representing the potential effects of cultural familiarity.

External research partners: Nori Jacoby (Columbia), Daniel Goldberg (Yale), Andre Holzapfel (KTH), Justin London (Carleton)