Is Birdsong Music?
207 pages
English

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207 pages
English

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Description

How and when does music become possible? Is it a matter of biology, or culture, or an interaction between the two? Revolutionizing the way we think about the core values of music and human exceptionalism, Hollis Taylor takes us on an outback road trip to meet the Australian pied butcherbird. Recognized for their distinct timbre, calls, and songs, both sexes of this songbird sing in duos, trios, and even larger choirs, transforming their flute-like songs annually. While birdsong has long inspired artists, writers, musicians, and philosophers, and enthralled listeners from all walks of life, researchers from the sciences have dominated its study. As a field musicologist, Taylor spends months each year in the Australian outback recording the songs of the pied butcherbird and chronicling their musical activities. She argues persuasively in these pages that their inventiveness in song surpasses biological necessity, compelling us to question the foundations of music and confront the remarkably entangled relationship between human and animal worlds. Equal parts nature essay, memoir, and scholarship, Is Birdsong Music? offers vivid portraits of the extreme locations where these avian choristers are found, quirky stories from the field, and an in-depth exploration of the vocalizations of the pied butcherbird.


Foreword by Philip Kitcher
1. An Outback Epiphany
2. Songbird Studies
3. The Nature of Transcription and the Transcription of Nature
4. Notes and Calls: A Taste for Diversity
5. Song Development: A Taste for Complexity
6. Musicality and the Art of Song: A Taste for Beauty
7. Border Conflicts at Music's Definition
8. Facts to Suit Theories
9. Too Many Theories and Not Enough Birdsong
10. Songbirds as Colleagues and Contemporaries
Acknowledgements
List of Abbreviations
Glossary
Notation and Supplement Conventions
Bibliography
Index

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Publié par
Date de parution 01 mai 2017
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253026484
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1950€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Extrait

IS BIRDSONG MUSIC?
MUSIC, NATURE, PLACE
Sabine Feisst and Denise Von Glahn
IS BIRDSONG MUSIC?
Outback Encounters with an Australian Songbird

HOLLIS TAYLOR
WITH A FOREWORD BY PHILIP KITCHER
INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS
Bloomington Indianapolis
This book is a publication of
INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
iupress.indiana.edu
2017 by Hollis Taylor
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z 39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Taylor, Hollis, author.
Title: Is birdsong music? : outback encounters with an Australian songbird / Hollis Taylor ; with a foreword by Philip Kitcher.
Other titles: Music, nature, place.
Description: Bloomington ; Indianapolis : Indiana University Press, 2017. | Series: Music, nature, place
Identifiers: LCCN 2016059600 (print) | LCCN 2017000757 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253026200 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780253026668 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780253026484 (e-book)
Subjects: LCSH : Birdsongs-Australia. | Butcherbirds-Behavior-Australia.
Classification: LCC QL 698.5 .T39 2017 (print) | LCC QL 698.5 (ebook) | DDC 598.159/40994-dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016059600
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CONTENTS
Foreword by Philip Kitcher
1. An Outback Epiphany
2. Songbird Studies
3. The Nature of Transcription and the Transcription of Nature
4. Notes and Calls: A Taste for Diversity
5. Song Development: A Taste for Complexity
6. Musicality and the Art of Song: A Taste for Beauty
7. Border Conflicts at Music s Definition
8. Facts to Suit Theories
9. Too Many Theories and Not Enough Birdsong
10. Songbirds as Colleagues and Contemporaries
Acknowledgments
Notation and Supplement Conventions
List of Audio Tracks
List of Abbreviations
Glossary
Bibliography
Index
FOREWORD
Philip Kitcher
M ore than a century has elapsed since Darwin taught the world about the continuity of life. Part of his message, more prominent in the Descent of Man than in the Origin of Species , affirms a connection between our own species and the rest of the animal kingdom. Yet, as the late Stephen Jay Gould once remarked, when we learn of our evolution from apes , we should also recall that we evolved from apes. Besides the continuity, there are also differences.
But what exactly are those differences? Are there important kinds of things we can do from which other animals are debarred? Or is it all a matter of degree? Perhaps for any characteristic or capacity that prompts us to swell our chests with pride, there s a nonhuman species anticipating us. For anything we can do, maybe another animal does it to a lesser degree-or simply in a different way. And sometimes better?
Darwin s picture of life has revived, even intensified, the perennial human quest to explain just what it is that makes us different. Scholars complete the sentence No other animal species can in many different ways. We have all heard some popular answers. Humans use tools; other animals don t. We can talk; they can t. Moreover, the subsequent debates are familiar. Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees stripping leaves from tree branches to fish for termites. Does that count? Is it sufficiently creative ? Many kinds of animals employ sounds or gestures for purposes of communication. Some-parrots, chimps-can be taught to use human languages. Do these findings warrant attributing linguistic abilities to species other than our own?
Then there s music. It s a wonderful human achievement, one that enriches our lives. Some people think it played a pivotal role in the evolution of human language. A much-admired play opens by characterizing it as the food of love. Yet, of course, the natural world is full of organized sound. Humpback whales emit patterned clicks, gibbon calls produce focused notes, frogs give rhythmic calls. And even though bees don t do it, birds do.
In fact, birds do it magnificently . For centuries, poets have celebrated the beauties of birdsong. Musicians have been inspired to imitate the phrases created in a dawn chorus or a nocturnal serenade. Olivier Messiaen was only the most famous-and possibly the most dedicated-composer to incorporate birdsong into his works. Yet, despite all the fans and the fanfare, skepticism persists. Charming, mellifluous, inspiring it may be. But birdsong can t count as real music .
Why not? Probably the most popular reason for thinking that taking birdsong to be music is simply for the birds stems from long-discarded ideas. Many people suppose the vocalizations of birds to be instinctive, matters of running some innate program. Birds have evolved to make a species-typical pattern of sounds in order to attract mates. Come springtime, they perform by rote.
Amateur ornithologists, especially those with sensitive ears, can cite innumerable cases by way of refutation. Hollis Taylor is a professional ecologist specializing in avian behavior (especially vocal behavior), and her ears are surely as keen as any ever to absorb hours of birdsong. After a long career as a violinist, composer, jazz performer, ethnomusicologist, and avant-garde musician, she has become captivated by the vocal talents of a particular bird species: the pied butcherbird, so named for its habit of seizing smaller birds and mammals and storing its food by impaling its prey on twigs. As she puts it, she has fallen in love with a convict. Her book is the decisive rebuttal of dismissals of avian creativity. It is a gift to our species and a mitigating plea on behalf of another, the principal target of her research.
Birds may sing to attract mates. They may learn a species-typical pattern around which they weave their songs. But, as Hollis s extensive fieldwork shows, their creativity is extraordinary. They may sing for hours on occasions on which advertising to potential partners seems entirely irrelevant. They absorb sounds from the ambient environment into their songs, using them as cues or directly imitating what they hear. Anyone who is inclined to assimilate these activities to some blind instinct or some mechanical program should ponder whether our own musical efforts might merit a kindred explanation. Don t some musical masterpieces have obvious functions? Composers write to celebrate a royal marriage or to honor the deity, songs are sung to woo, and dance music offers opportunities of closer contact. Are the processes of composition rooted in the pleasurable sounds we hear?
Scientists investigating birdsong have joined the consensus among bird lovers. They concede that vocalization isn t always geared to biological functions and recognize that species-typical patterns are learned and often varied. But now pooh-poohing avian creativity and condescending to the birds come in new forms. To be sure, they can make some apparently musical gestures, but human music is distinguished by its The list of Truly Important Musical Features with which the sentence ends has many entries. We can improvise; they can t. We can transpose; they can t. We can sing duets and trios; they can t. And so on and on and on. Perhaps the list makers should be worried by the inability of many people to do the things they emphasize-and in some cases very few people have the essential capacity. But, as Hollis demonstrates in example after example, such dismissive claims are thoroughly mistaken. It turns out that the birds can .
Her aim is not primarily to refute but rather to include . Trained as a musician and as a field ecologist, gifted with absolute pitch, and sensitive to the requirements of rigorous collection of data, she brings together the insights of different perspectives. Modestly-too modestly, I think-she characterizes herself as not a scientist. Her basis for the judgment is her sense of emotional engagement with the birds she studies. By that criterion, Jane Goodall would be denied the title-and so too, I conjecture, would many of the field ethologists who have followed in her wake. Hollis Taylor may have begun as an artist and a humanist. She has also become a scientist, or, to use an older term, a natural philosopher.
Although the pied butcherbird is her true love, she also surveys other Australian birds. Her conception of music is also catholic: she includes far more than the Western canon, or the narrowed version of it (Bach to Mahler) that figures in most standards for evaluating birdsong. She is admirably reflective in considering alternative ways of representing birdsong-although her own transcriptions and analyses using standard (Western) musical notation are high points of her powerful argument. Above all, she is inclusive in her sources. The descriptions of her fieldwork sites that punctuate her discussions convey a vivid sense not only of place but also of the people with whom she has engaged. She celebrates the contributions to research of ordinary folk, and her recollections are filled with sincere respect and humane gratitude.
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