Ruffling feathers

What can music theory do for the study of bird song?

Vanessa Schipani
Jan 6, 2011
Musician and philosopher linkurl:David Rothenberg's; focus on the aesthetic, rather than the adaptive, value of bird and whale song doesn't sit well with some biologists. But others, like linkurl:Ofer Tcernichovski,; a neuroscientist at the City College of New York and Hunter College, think Rothenberg's on to something.
Common nightingale, Luscinia megarhynchos
Wikimedia Commons/Buteo
"The general idea David is trying to develop is that bird song relates to music, or more generally, it relates to beauty and has aesthetic value," says Tcernichovski. "It's more than just something adaptive." It's not that everyone has the same taste in what sounds beautiful, he says, but it's possible that there are some underlying qualities that tie bird, whale and human song together. Tcernichovski adds that by using music theory to study animal song, it might be possible to get at what that "something" is. Is it possible that birds might sing, not to "defend...
Why Birds Sing.The Descent of ManWhy certain bright colors and certain sounds should excite pleasure, when in harmony, cannot, I presume, be explained any more than certain flavors and scents are agreeable; but assuredly the same colors and the same sounds are admired by us and by many of the lower animals.Why Birds Sing.