“I may be just a schmo to you,” says National Symphony Orchestra cellist Pavla Teie, “but, man, to monkeys I am Elvis.”

Working on a universal field theory of music centered on the notion that all human compositions are rooted in sounds we hear in the womb, Teie began creating music for monkeys, Sadie Dingfelder reports in our Arts in Review issue. She writes:

Confirming his initial hunch, he found that relaxed tamarins tend to use notes in the diatonic scale—which would sound melodious to ancient Chinese court musicians as well as any modern blues guitarist. He also found that calm calls used high, pure notes, like a flute, but threatening sounds tended to be low, harsh, and dissonant. That observation dovetailed with research Teie found showing that the amygdala, a structure in monkey and human brain stems, responds strongly to dissonance. Curiously, it sends our heart racing when we hear the harsh-sounding intervals that 20th century composers are known for.

“Why should the amgydala care about dissonance? It’s not as if Arnold Schoenberg was running around in tents 30,000 years ago, killing people,” Teie says.

Read the full profile here.