All human societies have music with a rhythmic beat, typically produced with percussive instruments such as drums. The set of capacities that allows humans to produce and perceive music appears to be deeply rooted in human biology, but an understanding of its evolutionary origins requires cross-taxa comparisons.
Drumming by palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) shares the key rudiments of human instrumental music, including manufacture of a sound tool, performance in a consistent context, regular beat production, repeated components, and individual styles.
Throughout 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at nonrandom, regular intervals; yet individual males differed significantly in the distribution parameters of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles. Autocorrelation analyses of the longest drumming sequences further showed that they were highly regular and predictable, like human music.
These discoveries provide a rare comparative perspective on the evolution of rhythmicity and instrumental music in our own species, and show that a preference for a regular beat can have other origins before being co-opted into group-based music and dance.
This according to “Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music” by Robert Heinsohn, Christina N. Zdenek, et al. (Science advances III/6 ).
Above, a male cockatoo (right) drumming with a stick for a female; below, a video produced by the research team.
In 1879 Richard Wagner joined the growing movement in Germany opposing the cruel medical practices of animal experimentation with an open letter published in the Bayreuther Blätter.
His arguments for the pointlessness of these experiments were original; they followed from his experiences with traditional medicine and his well-developed critique of civilization. His contemporary allies, however, ignored these arguments and simply used the Wagner name.
The open letter led directly to Wagner’s much-discussed essay Religion und Kunst, in which, among other things, he paints a horrific scenario of the unimpeded development of science and technology.
This according to “Richard Wagner als Gegner von Tierversuchen: Ein visionärer Zivilisationskritiker” by Ulrich Tröhler and Joachim Thiery (WagnerSpectrum XI/1  pp. 73–104). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above, the composer with his dog Pohl; below, no horses were annoyed during this performance.
In an interview, Ry Cooder recalled the inspiration for his album My name is Buddy.
“Once I was hipped to Buddy the Cat, I knew that’s my guy. He was a mascot of a record store, living up in Vancouver. They found him living in a suitcase in the alley. I said ‘Okay, I’m there. I can go with that and I know what to say.’”
Buddy is the album’s protagonist—a laid-off, disenfranchised cat who is joined by Lefty the Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad as they travel down the Lost Highways, Cardboard Avenues, and Sundown Towns of a bleak, destitute U.S.
“It’s a tip of the hat to the disappearing of the American working man,” Cooder said, “to the neighborhoods, the way of life, the life that people made for themselves, how they worked, what they achieved…No one’s gonna argue with a cat.”
This according to “Three (or four) chords and the truth: The saga of Ry Cooder and a cat named Buddy” by John Kruth (Sing out! LI/3 [autumn 2007] pp. 52–59).
Today is Cooder’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 2009; below, Three chords and the truth, the album’s centerpiece.
From practically the beginning, critics gushed over Eartha Kitt with every feline term imaginable: her voice “purred” or was “like catnip”, she was a “sex kitten” who “slinked” or was “on the prowl” across the stage, sometimes “flashing her claws”, and her career was often said to have had “nine lives”.
Appropriately, she was tapped to play Catwoman in the 1960s TV series Batman, bringing feral, compact energy to the role (left, click to enlarge).
Throughout her six-decade career Kitt remained a fixture on the cabaret circuit, maintaining her voice and figure through a vigorous fitness regimen. Even after learning that she had cancer, she triumphantly opened the newly renovated Café Carlyle in September 2007; The New York times reviewer wrote that Ms. Kitt’s voice was “in full growl”.
This according to “Eartha Kitt, a seducer of audiences, dies at 81” by Rob Hoerburger (The New York times CLVIII/54,536 [26 December 2008] p. 37).
Today would have been Kitt’s 90th birthday! Below, in one of her signature songs, purring in French (one of the seven languages that she sang in).
In 2015 the Society for Ethnomusicology launched Ethnomusicology translations, a peer-reviewed, open-access online series for the publication of ethnomusicological literature translated into English (ISSN 2473-6422).
Articles and other literature in any language other than English are considered for editorial review, translation, and publication. Preference is given to individual articles published in scholarly journals or books during the past 20 years.
As a central online resource, Ethnomusicology translations aims to increase access to the global scope of recent music scholarship and advance ethnomusicology as an international field of research and communication.
Below, Greek animal bells (worn by goats in this case), a subject that figures in the series’s inaugural publication.
Charles Butler’s The feminine monarchy, or, The history of bees first appeared as a small duodecimo in 1609; it was reprinted, with considerable additions and alterations, as a quarto in 1627, and again in 1634. Though it was intended merely as a bee-keeper’s manual, its beauty and insight render it worthy of a place among the renowned works of nineteenth-century poetry.
While in most matters the work is extraordinarily accurate, it becomes questionable when Butler turns to music. His account of a certain point in the hive’s life cycle might be thought to credit bees with the powers of a masterful composer. Butler’s depiction of this event—which he refers to as “the bees’ madrigal”—appears to present a carefully constructed four-part chorus.
This according to “Charles Butler and the music of the bees” by Gerald R. Hayes (The musical times LXVI/988 [1 June 1925] pp. 512–515). This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above, some of Butler’s notations from the later, enlarged edition (note that verso and recto considerations result in part of the notation appearing upside-down). Below, a performance of the work.
The familiar buzz of flying mosquitoes is an important mating signal, with the fundamental frequency of the female’s flight tone signaling her presence. In the yellow fever and dengue vector Aedes aegypti, both sexes interact acoustically by shifting their flight tones to match, resulting in a courtship duet.
Surprisingly, matching is made not at the fundamental frequency of 400 Hz (female) or 600 Hz (male), but at a shared harmonic of 1200 Hz, which exceeds the previously known upper limit of hearing in mosquitoes. Physiological recordings from Johnston’s organ (the mosquito’s “ear”) reveal sensitivity up to 2000 Hz, consistent with observed courtship behavior. These findings revise widely accepted limits of acoustic behavior in mosquitoes.
This according to “Harmonic convergence in the love songs of the dengue vector mosquito” by Lauren J. Cator, et al. (Science 8 January 2009).
Above, the female Aedes aegypti; below, Mosquitos demonstrates another form of harmonic convergence.
While the Kerala dance-drama kūṭiyāṭṭam focuses on weighty episodes from the venerable Indian epics, its performance affords a number of occasions for humor outside of the stock buffoon character of the vidūśaka, who provides narration in Malayalam and jokes directly with the audience.
Some comic moments are produced in the classical Sanskrit texts by the characters of maids, doctors, and so on, but other verbal and physical comedy has been interpolated into the tradition by the performers representing monkeys, demons, madmen, drunks, sweepers, soldiers, and gardeners.
This according to “Comic relief by non-vidūśaka characters in kūṭiyāṭṭam” by L.S. Rajagopalan, an article included in Living traditions of Nāṭyaśāstra (Dilli: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2002) pp. 123–127).
Below, an uncostumed kūṭiyāṭṭam dancer demonstrates some monkey moves.
Filed under Animals, Asia, Dance
In a study of the development of children’s ability to relate musical forms to extramusical concepts, four- and six-year-old children matched appropriate animal pictures to excerpts from Sergej Prokof’ev’s Petya i volk (Peter and the wolf) significantly better than chance, but identified the wolf and bird more readily than the cat and duck excerpts.
Three-year-olds participating in a simplified version of the task experienced a comparable order of difficulty in matching the various music-animal pairs.
A third experiment replicated the first, but with the less familiar music of Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le carnaval des animaux. Again, performance was above chance, increasing the likelihood that children’s success in the first two experiments was not attributable to previous exposure to the music.
This according to “The development of referential meaning in music” by Sandra E. Trehub and Laurel J. Trainor (Music perception: An interdisciplinary journal IX/4 [summer 1992] pp. 455–70).
Below, the Saint-Saëns work.
In the eiri-kyōgenbon (illustrated editions of kabuki plot synopses) of the Genroku reign (1688–1704), evidence is found for the representation of exotic animals on the kabuki stage: tigers and elephants, regarded as Chinese animals, in plays of the Edo tradition, as fierce opponents of the protagonist; and peacocks in the Kamigata (Kyōto-Ōsaka) style, in kaichō scenes (the unveiling of a Buddhist image).
It is not clear whether stuffed prop animals were always used or if actors portrayed the animals; it seems certain that real animals were not used.
This according to “元禄歌舞伎に登場する動物” (Animals in Genroku kabuki) by 鎌倉 恵子 (Kamakura Keiko), an article included in Kabuki: Changes and prospects—International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Bunkazai Kenkyūjo/National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, 1998, pp. 135–47).
Above, Bandō Mitsugorō I as a samurai subduing a tiger; below, a modern-day kabuki dragon.