Saturday, September 17, 2011

Re: "Notes and Music" by Kristina

Kristina ended her latest post with the question: Is a birdsong music or language?

In class this past week we defined art as an aesthetically pleasing piece of literature, music, or visual composition that connotes something intentional and does not occur in nature. Our working definition of music is: organized sound. Since music lies within the confides of art, that also means that music must be intentional and not occurring in nature.
Can bird singing be considered music even though it occurs in nature? One of the main problems with trying to answer this question, is that we have not yet defined "nature" operationally. Yet, most definitions of nature state that it is independent of human activity. Red-bellied Woodpeckers will find the materials that will produce the loudest volume when they peck. Is this because more birds will hear, or because they enjoy the sound of their drumming? Animal music is a touchy subject because we do not want to anthropomorphize and at the same time we do not want to make the claims saying that only humans can make music. To answer Kristina's question, using the conclusions we have come to in class so far, birdsong is not music.
Yet, what about bird language? On Cornell's Ornithology Lab web page, it states that there are at least three types of bird vocalizations: Chirp notes, call notes, and song. Chirp notes are short and high pitched, they are typically used to keep in contact with birds of the same species or to publicize that they found food. Call notes are louder and more multifaceted than chirp notes. Call notes include calls made to: mark territory, warn others of a predator, prompt parents to feed them (baby birds), keep in contact with another when in a flock, and to navigate when they are migrating nocturnally. Songs are the most intricate bird vocalization and are used to mark and defend a territory as well as to attract a mate.
Looking at all of the ways in which birds use vocalizations to communicate different things to each other, it is safe to conclude that bird songs and bird vocalizations in general are language.

Questions: How shall we define nature? Does the definition of nature limit music to a product of humans? Do we only view bird songs as musical because they (sometimes) sound aesthetically pleasing to us?