Re: Can birds sing out of tune? graphs / images

Subject: Re: Can birds sing out of tune? graphs / images
From: sylvi macCormac (
Date: Sat Oct 01 2005 - 22:39:18 EDT


I was wondering if anyone would have answers to a question. Thanks in advance.

Do you have graphs / images of bird songs ? or URLs that might lead me 'up
that mountain' t/here to hear .... humour is welcome, eh ?

best regards, sylvi macCormac
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ / na / da / bc
siwash rock & soundscape
dis abled & irish-canadian ;-)

Kevin Austin wrote:

> For a little off topic fun and commentary.
> Best
> Kevin
> Forwarded from <eamt>
> Date: Sat, 01 Oct 2005 17:56:30 -0400
> From: Eldad Tsabary <>
> Subject: RE: Mind-Twister: Can birds sing out of tune?
> Dear Harold (and all),
> As promised I forwarded your question to my friend -
> composer/clarinettist Daniel Goode - who is known for his bird-call
> research and composition. Daniel spent (and still does) years
> recording birds, transcribing their calls into conventional notation
> and composing (and performing) long pieces
> based on these transcriptions.
> Here's his response:
> "So here's my answer to the question whether birds can sing out of
> tune: I'd turn it around, just for fun, to ask, Can birds sing IN
> tune? The question of what birds sing (and why) is of continuing
> human and musical interest, and some of the best work is now.
> I just read two new books, "The Singing Life of Birds" by Donald
> Kroodsma; and "Why Birds Sing" by musician/philosopher David
> Rothenberg. The latter, but both really will give the answer to your
> student's question, phrased either way. The Kroodsma has important
> research, not completely resolved yet about the Hermit Thrush, my
> favorite.
> In short birds sing for biological survival and possibly for play or
> pleasure. What they sing is both calls (coded messages for e.g.,
> danger ahead) and songs (for mate-catching, usually but not always by
> the male). Some have said they sing what their female potential mates
> like, which varies, of course. But that short-circuits the process.
> They sing sounds that give them maximum attention, sometimes geared
> to the audio environment and what the resonant frequencies are (just
> like some feed-back composers, Stuart Dempster, Pauline Oliveros,
> Bobetomagus (a group that just did earsplitting electronic
> feedback-of course electronic is not a bird thing).
> So tuning, per se is not the point. But they do have precise tuning
> and the ability to precisely reproduce this tuning and material even
> over a life time, though some species change their song year to year.
> To ask can they sing out of tune might be to ask: is what they do
> "wrong" because it doesn't precisely match our equal-tempered
> pitches, or probably any historical tuning, though it may resemble,
> mirror, conform in part to, some tunings someplace on earth, even our
> equal tempered
> scales.
> Of course, I don't think birds can be wrong. It is meaningful to ask
> what bird tuning are, and to study them. They are naturally as
> various as the species are. In my transcriptions I recognized that I
> couldn't exactly match what I had on tape from my thrush recordings.
> I used some plus and minus signs to show microtonal variations, and
> when playing I would try to remember what I heard and match it. Also,
> I, for musical and technical reasons have always used half-speed
> playbacks for making the score.
> I don't make a claim that my scores or performances match up exactly
> tuning-wise, but I try. And even if I did match the tuning, I
> couldn't play the fastest notes that fast, nor the portamentos or
> glissandos the same way, and particularly the attack/decay
> transients, nor the timbre.
> So it is always a translation into another language to play bird
> songs on our instrument. I did have one hypothesis about the Hermit
> Thrush found in the northeast U.S. and Canada: the, what we would
> call, arpeggios, seem to be related some way to the harmonic
> (overtone, partial) series. The prevalence of major triads 4ths and
> 5ths, 7th and 9th chords may be related to the double-pipe that makes
> up the bird's resonant chamber, the syrinx. But the manner of
> production is more complex than in our single-pipe larynx.
> There is cross-pipe modulation going on, so it's not the relatively
> simple overblowing of a single pipe that we have in brass instruments
> (and woodwinds). Still the Hermit Thrush's "chords" seem often like
> the simple sounding of a fundamental plus a selection from its first
> few overtones. (Chords is what I love about them, being a harmonic
> progression fan) The "chords" are suggestive of chord changes, and
> their repetition is the "natural passacaglia," I call it in my
> program notes.
> Musicians from the very beginning have always been impressed with the
> musical parallels between birds and humans. Rhythm is another very
> very fruitful field for parallels. Again, they don't count eighth
> notes, but they are as precise about rhythm, with seeming ability to
> do very sophisticated variation procedure. And then there's form.
> Wow. Forms, repetitive forms, non-repetitive forms, mixed repetitive.
> Mimic birds like the Mockingbird and the Brown Thrasher have HUGE
> HUGE repertoires.
> And we should also feel some kind of awe in the face of music that is
> millions of years old in the evolutionary development of the bird
> species. They've been practicing!! Much longer than we have! If the
> student has a follow-up question, I'll give it a try."
> Hope this is worthwhile,
> Best
> Eldad
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On Behalf Of
> Harold Isaac
> Sent: September 29, 2005 10:25 PM
> To:
> Subject: Mind-Twister: Can birds sing out of tune?
> Hi everyone,
> I am currently making my own research on the topic but I was
> wondering if anyone would have the answer to that question. Thanks in
> advance.
> Harold

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