Is Birdsong Music?
Outback Encounters with an Australian Songbird
Publication Year: 2017
How and when does music become possible? Is it a matter of biology, or culture, or an interaction between the two? Revolutionizing the way we think about the core values of music and human exceptionalism, Hollis Taylor takes us on an outback road trip to meet the Australian pied butcherbird. Recognized for their distinct timbre, calls, and songs, both sexes of this songbird sing in duos, trios, and even larger choirs, transforming their flute-like songs annually. While birdsong has long inspired artists, writers, musicians, and philosophers, and enthralled listeners from all walks of life, researchers from the sciences have dominated its study. As a field musicologist, Taylor spends months each year in the Australian outback recording the songs of the pied butcherbird and chronicling their musical activities. She argues persuasively in these pages that their inventiveness in song surpasses biological necessity, compelling us to question the foundations of music and confront the remarkably entangled relationship between human and animal worlds. Equal parts nature essay, memoir, and scholarship, Is Birdsong Music? offers vivid portraits of the extreme locations where these avian choristers are found, quirky stories from the field, and an in-depth exploration of the vocalizations of the pied butcherbird.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Half Title, Series Info, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
More than a century has elapsed since Darwin taught the world about the continuity of life. Part of his message, more prominent in the Descent of Man than in the Origin of Species, affirms a connection between our own species and the rest of the animal kingdom. Yet, as the late Stephen Jay Gould once remarked, ...
1. An Outback Epiphany
Wogarno Station, Western Australia, 13 April 2001: Drought has set its oven on slow bake. This autumn, they must assign acres to a sheep rather than sheep to an acre. On our drive up the five-mile dirt track to Lizard Rock, a sacred Aboriginal site, we pass a cinnabar lakebed frosted with cracked salt. ...
2. Songbird Studies
AYR Tourist Information Bureau, North Queensland, 5 October
2006: “Good morning. I’m looking for a town map and information on
local caravan parks.”
“Here you go. There’re two in town.”
“Thanks—and by the way, have you heard of the pied butcherbird?” ...
3. The Nature of Transcription and the Transcription of Nature
Lamington National Park, Queensland, 22 June 2005, 5:00 AM: I’m scrambling across a steep cliff track behind lyrebird expert Sydney Curtis. My small flashlight and I are barely up to navigating this cold, damp rainforest. We’ve come for the winter breeding, and thus singing, season of the Albert’s lyrebird (Menura alberti). ...
4. Notes and Calls: A Taste for Diversity
Yungaburra, North Queensland, 8 June 2005: Now-extinct volcanoes shaped the Atherton Tablelands. These wet tropics are as far north as I intend to travel on my first recording trip. I head out just before 4:00 am, listening for anything that might be a pied butcherbird. I’ve still only heard a few, so I am hoping I will recognize their voice. ...
5. Song Development: A Taste for Complexity
Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, 7 October 2012, 3:00 am: This cultural arts precinct is located on the Two Women Dreaming Track, with seven registered Aboriginal sacred sites and trees of significance, including a three-hundred-year-old corkwood tree in the sculpture garden. ...
6. Musicality and the Art of Song: A Taste for Beauty
Mary Creek, North Queensland, 2 April 2013: “Hi, welcome to Mary
Creek. You’re the first camper of the year. I’m surprised to see you. This
time of year, the snakes come in.”
I took a photo of a poor snake today in Mareeba that was run over by a car. It was still alive, but it could barely move. ...
7. Border Conflicts at Music’s Definition
Wills Developmental Road, North Queensland, 30 October 2013: Dark clouds of red-tailed black cockatoos wheel overhead as I depart Karumba for Gregory Downs. Although paved, the byway rides like a horse in places. Cockatiels, budgerigars (parakeets), and wallabies keep me on high alert with their last-minute swoops and bounds across the road. ...
8. Facts to Suit Theories
Clermont, North Queensland, 9 November 2013: A tenant in the caravan park is sternly and repeatedly shouting the name of his town. What’s wrong with Butch, Buddy, or Diesel? Scout and Bandit are also fine dog names. Maybe you could name a dog Clermont if you lived in Billings, Montana, or New York City, or even Paris—the name would likely roll off the tongue much easier in French. ...
9. Too Many Theories and Not Enough Birdsong
Horseshoe Bay Road, Bowen, North Queensland, 28 October 2015, 4:13 AM: The moon is full and so is the throat of a pied butcherbird who is perched high on a utility wire and facing the ocean. Set over me like a numinous angel, the bird contrasts gymnastic upward vocal leaps with steep downward frequency sweeps and delicate turns and whorls with stationary syncopated notes. ...
10. Songbirds as Colleagues and Contemporaries
Kings Creek Station, Central Australia, 30 September 2013: Wind, heat, and flies. It’s like being at the beach: the end of every thought is punctuated with a grain of sand where my teeth meet. The flies are fast here, they work in marauding teams, and they bite. I couldn’t do without my fly veil for even a moment. ...
In researching and writing this book, I have benefited from the generosity, enthusiasm, and expertise of many humans. If I were limited to one thank-you, however, it would be to these explosive, inventive, unimaginable vocalists, beginning with Two Tree, the maestro of combinatoriality. Thank you to the Alice Springs virtuosos who reside at Palm Place, ...
Notation and Supplement Conventions
List of Audio Tracks
List of Abbreviations
About the Author
Page Count: 364
Illustrations: 13 b&w illus., 34 music exx.
Publication Year: 2017
OCLC Number: 968151938
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Is Birdsong Music?