Toward a model for joint synchronization to musical rhythm

Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2014 Aug 11. pii: 201324142
Synchronization in human musical rhythms and mutually interacting complex systems

Hennig H
Department of Physics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA holgerh@nld.ds.mpg.de

Though the music produced by an ensemble is influenced by multiple factors, including musical genre, musician skill, and individual interpretation, rhythmic synchronization is at the foundation of musical interaction. Here, we study the statistical nature of the mutual interaction between two humans synchronizing rhythms. We find that the interbeat intervals of both laypeople and professional musicians exhibit scale-free (power law) cross-correlations. Surprisingly, the next beat to be played by one person is dependent on the entire history of the other person’s interbeat intervals on timescales up to several minutes. To understand this finding, we propose a general stochastic model for mutually interacting complex systems, which suggests a physiologically motivated explanation for the occurrence of scale-free cross-correlations. We show that the observed long-term memory phenomenon in rhythmic synchronization can be imitated by fractal coupling of separately recorded or synthesized audio tracks and thus applied in electronic music. Though this study provides an understanding of fundamental characteristics of timing and synchronization at the interbrain level, the mutually interacting complex systems model may also be applied to study the dynamics of other complex systems where scale-free cross-correlations have been observed, including econophysics, physiological time series, and collective behavior of animal flocks.