Music and Evolution: from Grunts to Songs

Music and Evolution: from Grunts to Songs is an abstract narrative game. You begin as an ape 6 Billion years ago. Exploring an abstract space called the White Womb, you interact with other beings or apes to acquire evolutionary traits related to music. At last, you acquire the final trait to be a human being, and gets ‘born’ into the real world of symbolic mind.

Final project for Music 256A – Music Computing and Design at CCRMA (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics) as Stanford University.


Since the project is on artful design, I wanted to create something that is purely out of my interest. I have always been intrigued by the evolutionary perspective of music. Music did not just happen one day, but it was the outcome of billions of years of chain reactions of evolutionary traits. Brainstorming for the ideas, I began to realize that I could perhaps create an abstract and narrative game that shares some of the ideas on how music came about.

The vision was to begin as the initial species of human evolutionary tree (ape/ ardipithecus) and climb the way up to acquiring the symbolic mind (homo sapiens). Also the whole process is an analogy to a baby inside a womb (ontogeny recapitualtes phylogeny). My goal was to share with the users on various perspectives of development of music.


[Full Video]


In the beginning, you start as the first person view, because you, the ape, are not able to recognize oneself as a being. The ape, without arms or legs, represent its quadrupedal nature. Looking at the mirror and playing around, you acquire the trait of perspective (partial theory of mind). Now you are ready to enter the white room for evolutionary exploration.

Next room, the ape is evolved into having two arms. This is to represent partial bipedalism, where you start to have two arms in freedom. Interaction with other apes begin, with involuntary grunts, represented as circular visual effects. Synchronizing your grunts with others give you a sense of rhythm.

Next, you evolved into a fully bipedal being. This allows you to portray your sense of rhythm by walking in a constant pace. First sexual selection encounter happens. As displayed by the visual effect, the ‘opponent’ ape has acquired an evolutionary trait that you have not yet acquired. Therefore, your mating calls fail you, leading to acquiring the complex emotion of shame.

Then you travel to the tree, that chirps in high pitch. Interacting with the tree, you begin to mimic the chirps. (This is possible because you are bipedal. Thoracic development occurs as your neck becomes more straight). After acquiring a sense of pitch, you return to the area of mating calls, and finally succeeds, acquiring the complex emotion of pride.

With pride in your hands, you are now able to teach other apes and pass on some of your traits. The two apes sitting down on the ground are only able to let out grunts. Going near them gives you an opportunity to transfer your trait of pitch, which turns out to be musilanguage.

The next scene has apes around the fire. This is showing that as you evolve, your group becomes tighter and more interactive. Also, as they process the rituals, the normal red fire continuously turns into colorless triangular shapes. This is to show that human ancestors have changed things in nature to their needs. At last you acquire a sense of pattern (proto-iconicity and proto-index), the final ingredient to symbolic mind.

The mirror appears again, but this time, the ape chooses to sing, instead to entering it. As the mirror descends, a human being appears. The ape song is represented by a small fire, delivered to the human being. The design was inspired by Prometheus. If a god gave humans fire, wouldn’t the god be our evolutionary ancestors?

The ape dies after giving the fire because these two species cannot coexist. Having acquired a symbolic concept, the human being comes into life, and the White Womb’s water breaks.

In the last scene, the human being is born into the real world. The first thing he notices is an apple. This is a cliche analogy to the Forbidden tree. I believe that symbolic mind is a threshold that makes human beings human. However, symbolic mind is not always a good thing nor a bad thing, like the Adam’s apple.

Also, I used an apple as the ending because creationism is the most symbolic conception. It is like an amnesia to the evolutionary exploration within the game.

The ending is the same as the opening, but the characters are now colored. In fact, the entire game’s structure is in sense a return to the beginning. Opening – ending have the same environment. First Scene – last Scene have the same environment. Second scene and the penultimate scene have the same environment. Evolution is a continuous process, but in the big picture it is a repeat of symmetry.


Music and Evolution: from Grunts to Songs is programmed in Unity, with an audio plug-in Chunity that connects ChucK with Unity.

Please download the zip file attached in the following link.

  1. Download and Install Unity.
  2. Download and Install ChucK.
  3. Download the zip file.
  4. Unzip the zip file.
  5. Open Unity.
  6. Open the Project by clicking on the folder called “Music&Evolution”
  7. Build & Run in Unity.

[How to Play]

space – begin the game

w,a,s,d – move up, down, left, right

q,e – rotate the cameras





[Background: Design Sketch & Research]

Here are some of my notes and studies on music and evolution.


Implementing all of these evolutionary traits was impossible within the time-constraint. Therefore, I picked about ten traits and sought ways to apply them in a game environment. Here are some examples.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.42.55 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.43.10 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.43.21 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.43.28 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.43.35 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.42.36 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.43.46 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 1.43.54 PM


I would like to thank Professor Ge Wang, and instructor/TA Jack Atherton. Music 256A allowed me to become a designer. I developed brainstorming skills, methodologies, and aesthetic articulation. In a technical side, I learned a great deal in C#, Unity, OpenGL, ChucK, Sculptris, Blender, and Mixamo.

Every lecture was truly inspiring, and the projects allowed me to practice realizing abstract ideas. Every moment I put into the project was worth it. Thank you for teaching me how to be an artful designer.

I want to thank Professor Elizabeth Tolbert at the Peabody Institute for teaching me and seeding me a huge interest in Music and Evolution.