The blowhole section: if whales make jazz, what about the rest of the animal kingdom?
Move over Thelonious, there’s a new jazzer in town. New research from the University of Washington shows that unlike humpback whales, which sing similar songs each season in unison (zzz), bowhead whales have a freeform, improvised repertoire that scientists have compared to jazz. Audio recordings of a population in the Arctic between 2010 and 2014 showed that they sang 184 different tunes, a remarkable diversity of song seen only in a handful of bird species. But let’s leave the bowheads noodling around the High Arctic and explore which other genres of biomusic – music, kind of, made by animals – might be worth your while.
Joining whales on the Pyramid stage are, of course, the extensively studied birds, which have rhythm, pitch and tonal melodies similar to those that humans consider music (composers from Beethoven to Messiaen and Charlie Parker to Pink Floyd used birdsong in their work). The nightingale, blackbird and skylark are top of the pops in Britain, but there are 5,000 species of songbird across the world. Birdsong is the pop of biomusic: it’s accessible and there’s something for everyone. The lyrebird doing the chainsaw is a little punky; the butcherbird’s chorus is a crowd-pleaser.
Song might be pushing it, but the male rock hyrax, a small mammal that resembles a badger and a rabbit, is often found standing on a rock and shouting his guttural, rhythmic ditty, fancying himself as some kind of rodent Dave Grohl. Scientists studied the vocalisations and were surprised to find the young hyrax has a repertoire of lengthy, complex tunes. He also borrows from other tunes he likes. Rock on.
Let’s mix things up with a spot of … gabber. In a study of spontaneous tempo and rhythm in a bonobo called Kuni, the chimp could keep time with a human drummer at various tempos on her own drum. However, her spontaneous tempo was extremely fast, at 270bpm. Bonobos, then, are the speedcore extremists of the animal kingdom.
Cicadas and crickets
Cicada calls are often based on the repetition of a continuous note and they like to sing in groups. Each species has a distinctive song, which can reach volumes of 120 dB and cause damage to human ears. Crickets have a similar vibe, but the chirp is made through rubbing two limbs together. If cicadas are techno, crickets are happy hardcore. It’s a pleasant sound, perhaps because, as the theory goes, our sense of music co-evolved with the sounds of insects over millennia.
Thanks to sound artist Jana Winderen, we landlubbers now know that decapods are avant-garde maestros. She recorded the sounds of crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimp off the coast of Norway in 2009. It’s a hypnotic symphony of crackles, snaps and rumbles. Think chillwave meets witch house.
via Guardian Science http://bit.ly/2qNa5BG
April 4, 2018 at 07:48AM