Synths meet monkeys. Photo: Andreas Tilliander.

Composer and Swedish dance music maestro Håkan Libdo has been a constant source of experimentation. But his latest project yields zoo-like new adventurousness. Six species of monkeys are equipped with synthesizers to test the question of whether playing a synth is really playing music – or if it’s so simple, a monkey can do it.

Describing the project, there’s a bit of a defense of the complexity of the instrument:

“You just press a button and out comes music, right?” Well… you do press buttons, twist knobs and faders, but there are endless ways of doing this. That is why the synthesizer is one of the greatest example of human ingenuity and engineering — something that makes us different from the monkeys.

You obviously can’t just break into the monkey cage with some finds from eBay and try this yourself. Lest you think there was some animal cruelty involved, Skansen Aquarium in Stockholm was a collaborator in the film. Here’s a look at what happens – the Bliptronic is to me the clear winner as a monkey-playable instrument, and in the end, some keyboards just … lose.

It’s all a teaser – and a clever one – for Sweden’s Voltfestivalen, coming up June 9. Edited by Simon Carlgren, concept by Håkan Lidbo.

Of course, this doesn’t answer whether monkeys can be DJs… or Paris Hilton, for that matter. (She announced her debut DJ set date today and was, perhaps, met with more skepticism than these adorable zoo animals.)

Since the text goes by too fast, here are the complete details to please your inner synth – or primate – nerd.

Dwarf Monkey (Callithrix pygmaea)
Habitat: The Upper Amazonas. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, north Bolivia and west Brazil.
Length: 13 cm, tail 19 cm.
Weight: 120 — 150 g
Age: 5-10 years.
Diet: Tree gum, fruit, insects and spiders.
World’s smallest monkey
Bleeptronic 5000 (
64 LED button matrix synthesizer.
Origin: USA
Weight: 400 g
Dimensions: 15 x 15 cm.
Production year: 2010

Lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia rosalia)
Habitat: Close to river Sao Joao and in the Poco d´Anta nature reserve, south west of Rio de Janeiro.
Length: 34-40 cm, tail 26-38 cm
Weight: 630-710 g
Age: Up to 20 years
Diet: Fruit, flowers, insects, frogs, lizards and bird’s eggs.
One of world’s most rare monkeys.
TR-909 (Roland Corporation)
Analog, partially sample based drum machine
Origin: Japan
Dimensions: 48 x 10 x 30 cm
Weight: 4500 g
Production year: 1984

Hamadryas Baboon (Papio Hamadryas)
Habitat: North east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Length: Max 76 cm, tail max 61 cm
Weight: Female 10-13 kg, male 17-25 kg.
Age: Up to 35 years
Diet: Grass, roots, fruit, seeds, insects, lizards and sometimes small mammals
Their red ass make them look sexy and also serves as a pillow
Casiotone CT-360 (Casio)
Incredibly crappy digital synthesizer
Origin: Japan
Dimensions: 59 x 24 x 9 cm
Weight: 4.2 kg
Production year: 1987

Ring Tailed Lemur (Lemur Catta)
Habitat: South west Madagaskar.
Length: 50 cm
Age: 25-30 years
Diet: 70% fruit, 30% leafs
Yamaha DX7 (Yamaha)
16 voice FM Digital Synthesizer
Origin: Japan
Dimensions: 101 x 10 x 33 cm
Weight: 14500 g
Production year: 1983
6 sine wave operators per voice, 32 Algorithms

Suricate (Suricata suricatta)
Habitat: Semi-deserts in southern Africa.
Length: 25 cm.
Weight: 900 g
Age: 10-15 years.
Diet: Insects, lizards, scorpions, small birds, eggs, rodents and other small mammals.
Suricates can survive bites from poisonous scorpions and snakes that would kill a human.
Mirage EPS16 (Ensonic)
Sampler Workstation
Origin: USA
Dimensions: 102 x 11 x 31 cm
Weight: 13000 g
Production year: 1988
8 note polyphonic, 8 bit, 32 khz sample rate, analog filters

Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni)
Habitat: Central America from Nicaragua and south to Venezuela, north east Brazil and nothern Peru.
Length: 58-70 cm.
Weight: 4-12 kg.
Age: 12 years, (up to 30 years in zoo).
Diet: Leaves, sprouts and fruit.
Sloths have the lowest and most varied body temperature of all mammals. It varies between 24° and 33°.
Yamaha SHS-10 (Yamaha)
Keytar FM synthesizer
Origin: Japan
Dimensions: 67 x 28 x 6 cm
Weight: 3.4 kg
Production year: 1987

Camera operators: Andreas Tilliander, Mats Almegård and Johan Östman. Concept by Håkan Lidbo.
Thanks to Bosse Johnsson and Jonas Wahlström at Skansenakvariet, Jörgen Berggren at Berggren Media, Jon Nensén and Daniel Sällstedt.

Voltfestivalen — The place to go to experience the best new electronic music and art
Skansenakvariet — The place to go to experience unique wildlife in Stockholm

  • Mat

    lol – great! Reminds me a bit of me making music (on an uninspired day;)
    …and also of Basment Jaxx “Where´s your head at” (

  • Lucasparismusic

    Dx7 and lemur, that should work out ha ha!

  • Fernando Carvalho

    Funny video. I don’t like the last sentence about human superiority, humans are not superior to anything I think.

    • chrondel

       we’re superior engineers! 😉

  • kid versus chemical

    That’s a cool video, the monkeys did a decent job with casio and the dx7. Though as a bona fide synth nerd, that TR909 being in there makes me cringe, those things go for like what, 2 grand? You can just as easily conduct the experiment with only the cheap stuff. The dx7 and the ensoniq are borderline also I suppose. I’m a total gear dork, I know, lol.

    Anyone else think the same thing? (be honest).

    • Peter Kirn

      Yeah, I didn’t quite understand the 909, either.

  • ajeales

    At the risk of being shot, it’s worth remembering that nobody ever felt the need to make a video proving that violinists, concert pianists, or even bassoon players are superior to monkeys. So what does that actually say?? Hehe…

    • Peter Kirn

      Actually, we don’t know what movies the monkeys may be making.

    • ajeales

      Indeed, we may have this all wrong. Perhaps the Baboon is actually thinking:

      “Take away this cheap plastic shit and bring me my Stradivarius, ‘cuz I ain’t gonna pwn Jackie Du Pre anytime soon unless I get me more practice time on the Elgar cadenza!”

  • Roy Macdonald

    Cool but I think that these guys should have given the synths also to apes (chimps, gorillas, orangutan) rather than just monkeys. Apes happen to be much more intelligent. I guess that something much more interesting could have came out.
    Which is the criteria to give to each species a certain synth?

    On the other hand not just any person can do music with a synth, just like with any other instrument. Playing the synth’s “demo” or presets is not making music, is just pressing a button. Not much more than pressing “play” on a cd player.
    So I’d extend this explortation to see if humans can actually do any better than monkeys (and apes). (with at least a few hundreds of humans getting tested from broad age ranges and ideally different cultures. (Imagine what could do an aborigine that’s not used to interact with electronic devices!!BTW, there’s a very interesting research done by artist Juan Downey in the ’80 in which he gave video cameras to some amazonian natives. more or less the same idea but with synths)).

    • Graham Leake

      could you point me in the direction that I could find more information about that research you mentioned with Juan Downey? Sounds rather interesting.

    • Roy Macdonald

       I remember that I read a paper he wrote about the subject while I was at university but I couldn’t find it online, neither I remember it’s name.
      The research I mention is part of his VideoTransAmericas series.
      I only found this in english
      If you’re really interested I can try to get the videos he made.

  • Josh

    I know it’s just for fun but the “superiority” dig seems unnecessary… I mean a DX7 isn’t really known for it’s ease of use 

    • Peter Kirn

      Ha! I can see it now… humans locked in a room with a DX7, making hooting noises, banging their fists against the buttons and prying off the keys because *no one* can intuit that front panel… 😉

  • Andy
  • ltf3

    Hey, none of the real synths here actually had knobs…  poor little guys didn’t stand a chance!

    You ever tried to program a DX7??  ;-))

    • msefk

      yep.  love it.

  • Executiveblaster

    +1 to the 909 comment! Glad it wasn’t hurt…

    And people are always so hard on the dx7!

  • radionarcotix

    Yes. But can you catch delicious ants on a stick?

  • heinrich zwahlen

    That gives me hope..especially the one ripping out the key:-)

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, here’s the funny thing. The Sun runs an April Fools’ joke about gorillas with iPads:

    Problem is, reality is stranger:

    In fact, orangutans (not gorillas) *are* using iPads. And it’s very possible you could teach an orangutan to play a synth. 

    The big problem with the iPads was the problem you see here: a lot of animals are *strong* and curious and will rip the thing apart. 

    So, this is all amusing, but I’m with the others here who actually aren’t quite so quick to leap to the conclusion humans are superior. (Now, maybe if there were an MS-20 in there – I mean, it took humans to make that. 😉 )

  • Aaron

    I can’t believe how many people harped on about the ‘superiority’ comment. Is there such a thing as being reverse pompous? Apparently. Grow a sense of humor and enjoy the video.