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date: 20 February 2020

Animal musiclocked

  • P.J.B. Slater
  • , revised by Emily Doolittle

Extract

Many animals communicate using sound. The sounds involved are often short and simple calls, like the croaking of frogs or roaring of lions. But they may be much longer and more elaborate, and are then usually referred to as ‘song’ by analogy with those produced by humans. Some examples are the marvellously evocative songs of humpback whales, and birdsong with its great diversity. As technology enables humans to listen more closely to a variety of kinds of animal vocalization, we recognize more and more species as singers. For example, scientists have only recently discovered that mice sing ultrasonic songs, several octaves above the human hearing range (Holy and Guo, 2005). Many composers have been inspired by animal sounds, most frequently those of birds (see Birdsong), but also whales, frogs, insects, and others (Doolittle, 2008).

Whether or not the sounds produced by non-human animals should be classed as music is a more complex issue. It may be useful to consider such questions as why animals sing; what parallels can be drawn between human and animal singing behavior; what sonic or structural similarities exist between human and animal song; and whether an understanding of non-human animal songs might shed light on the origins of the music of the animal species ...

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Journal of the Royal Musical Association