Music's Role in ... Life

Are there universal principles of musical sounds and musical construction that apply to human music and that of other species? Yes, according to Roger Payne, the renowned humpback whale expert and founder-president of the Whale Conservation Institute. More than that, he contends, music just may have been central to the creation of life. Payne, who is perhaps best known for his codiscovery with Scott McVay that the long and complex vocalizations of humpback whales are in fact songs, was actually out at sea in the midst of a three-year research voyage. So Boston University's Jelle Atema stood in and presented Payne's paper at a symposium titled "The Music of Nature and the Nature of Music." Payne has discovered a strong correlation between whale songs and human musical compositions. While humans compose music adhering to strict rules, "whales also obey strict rules ... to achieve...

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