Peter Gabriel is a man obviously fascinated by primates. The artist who once sang "Shock the Monkey" is now teaching a troupe of bonobo apes to play keyboards. "Peter has long believed that we have underestimated the intelligence of the primates and he has begun working with the Atlantic Language Research Center on this," Caroline Turner, his London publicist, said. "However, the project is absolutely in its infancy." Gabriel told London's Financial Times last month that he has spent time at Georgia State University in Atlanta teaching the apes. "It is a little like working with a child," Gabriel told the paper.

The apes understand about 4,000 English words and recognize 400 pictograms, according to Gabriel. They also have a keen sense of rhythm and melody.

Gabriel may not have an ape album on his Real World release schedule quite yet, but he has been showing off the project to his peers.

"When he first started telling me about it, I said 'You've told me about some out-there type stuff before, but this takes the cake,' " recalled BT, who collaborated with Gabriel on music for London's Millennium Dome project. The Maryland producer, who plans to feature Gabriel on his next album, was recently introduced to one of Gabriel's new female companions.

"The story about it is unbelievable," BT said. "She speaks sign language. She has a really large vocabulary for a primate. They asked her to go to Peter's studio. She said, 'Yes, when I'm done I'd like Jell-O.' She went in and played piano pretty well. It's going to scare the hell out of you. Afterwards, she said, 'Can I have my Jell-O now?' It's some really nutty sh--." When Gabriel isn't working with his gelatin-eating homies, he's finishing his new studio album, tentatively titled Up. Due in the spring of 2002, the record will feature several collaborations, though Turner said it was too early to reveal more details.

One group likely to appear is the African-Irish outfit Afro Celt Sound System. Gabriel sings on the single "When You're Falling" from their recently released album, Volume 3: Further in Time. Gabriel will also perform with the Afro Celt Sound System at WOMAD USA, his annual world music celebration. The festival, which will also feature Asian Dub Foundation and a DJ set by Perry Farrell, along with several other acts, will be held July 27-29 at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington (see "Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel To Play WOMAD USA"). Gabriel has not performed at the event since 1994.

Another musician likely to show up on Up is BT.

"We've been trying to coordinate me getting over there to help out," BT said last month. "I've got a mental conceptual idea that I talked to him about. It's such a cool idea. He flipped out. I don't want to say any more. It's so cool someone might steal it!" BT did reveal that the idea does not involve primates.