Musical entrainment is shared by all human cultures and the perception of a periodic beat is a cornerstone of this entrainment behavior. Here, we investigated whether beat perception might have its roots in the earliest stages of auditory cortical processing. Local field potentials were recorded from 8 patients implanted with depth-electrodes in Heschl's gyrus and the planum temporale (55 recording sites in total), usually considered as human primary and secondary auditory cortices. Using a frequency-tagging approach, we show that both low-frequency (<30 Hz) and high-frequency (>30 Hz) neural activities in these structures faithfully track auditory rhythms through frequency-locking to the rhythm envelope. A selective gain in amplitude of the response frequency-locked to the beat frequency was observed for the low-frequency activities but not for the high-frequency activities, and was sharper in the planum temporale, especially for the more challenging syncopated rhythm. Hence, this gain process is not systematic in all activities produced in these areas and depends on the complexity of the rhythmic input. Moreover, this gain was disrupted when the rhythm was presented at fast speed, revealing low-pass response properties which could account for the propensity to perceive a beat only within the musical tempo range. Together, these observations show that, even though part of these neural transforms of rhythms could already take place in subcortical auditory processes, the earliest auditory cortical processes shape the neural representation of rhythmic inputs in favor of the emergence of a periodic beat.
Keywords: Frequency-tagging; Human auditory perception; Human depth-electrode recording; Intracerebral EEG; Music cognition; Musical rhythm and beat processing.