Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Sound of Music - Part 2

"A person does not hear sound only through the ears;
he hears sound through every pore of his body.
It permeates the entire being,
and according to its particular influence either slows
or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation;
it either wakens or soothes the nervous system.
It arouses a person to greater passions
or it calms him by bringing him peace.
According to the sound and its influence
a certain effect is produced.
Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance.
This shows that the same energy which goes into the form of sound
before being visible is absorbed by the physical body.
In that way the physical body recuperates
and becomes charged with new magnetism."
~ from 'Mysticism of Sound' by Hazrat Inayat Khan ~

"Do you know that our soul
is composed of harmony?"
~ Leonardo DaVinci ~

The bird is an animal almost universally exalted and accepted as symbolically being associated with the soul, as a messenger of the gods, as carriers of souls, an oracle or seen to possess the spirit of loved ones whilst also being a symbol of good or evil. The Ancient Greeks actually developed a science from the study of birds and their activities called 'Ornithomancy' and since then, birds have continued to feature heavily in folklore across the world even in the 20th-century imagination. It is no surprise that the modern Western super hero 'Superman' has the special ability to fly and is also given a name that indicates supreme powers. Perhaps this is because man has long wanted to be able to fly. Take the story of 'Icarus' as just one such further example.

In folklore birds are seen to possess the ability to talk offering guidance to humans. Carl G. Jung, the psychiatrist, (See Mystical WWW Philosophy), said that birds represented the inner spirit of a person and that birds were seen to be associated with angels, flights of fancy and the supernatural.

The Egyptians associated birds with the soul or 'ba', and the hawk specifically with the soul of 'Horus' and the pharaoh. Some Native American beliefs see the birds as personifications of the rain and the wind. Shamans are known for transforming into the shape of birds to be able to leave the body and soar up into the universe. The patron god of the ancient Aztec civilization was 'Huitzilopochtli'. The Aztecs believed that the dead were reborn as 'Colibris' which were the birds of their patron god, and hence held all birds in high esteem.

Mental health 'helped by birdsong'

Birdsong has a powerful healing effect which can improve mental health and benefit hospital patients, according to a health expert.

Dr William Bird, GP, who is a health adviser for the countryside agency, Natural England, said tests had proven the effect. He cites a 2004 report in the prestigious medical journal, Thorax, on the effects of birdsong on patients recovering from a lung operation. "They needed less pain relief and were far more relaxed," he said.

Dr Bird also recommended birdsong for the elderly and for those who suffer from high levels of stress. "We have lost our connection with nature," he said, adding: "By having birdsong, it's away of connecting back, and our mental health improves when that connection has been made."

Research has found that "ultra waves" increase in the brain when subjects are shown a natural scene, and Dr Bird said the same effect occured with birdsong.

Mark Avery, director of Conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said that bird sounds were a "tonic" for people's general wellbeing.

Wikipedia describes bird song - Bird songs are certain vocal sounds that birds make—in non-technical use, those sounds that are melodious to the human ear. In ornithology, bird 'songs' are often distinguished from shorter sounds, which may be termed 'calls'.

Musicologists believe that birdsong has had a large influence on the development of music. Although the extent of this influence is impossible to gauge, it is sometimes easy to see some of the specific ways composers have integrated birdsong with music.

There seem to be three general ways musicians or composers can be affected by birdsong: they can be influenced or inspired (consciously or unconsciously) by birdsong, they can include intentional imitations of bird song in a composition, or they can incorporate recordings of birds into their works.

One early example of a composition that imitates birdsong is Janequin's Le Chant Des Oiseaux, written in the 16th century. Other composers who have quoted birds, or who have used birdsong as a compositional springboard, include Biber (Sonata Representativa), Beethoven (Sixth Symphony), Wagner (Siegfried) and jazz musicians Paul Winter (Flyway) and Jeff Silverbush (Grandma Mickey).

Twentieth century French composer Olivier Messiaen deserves special mention, as he composed with birdsong extensively. His Catalogue d'Oiseaux is a seven-book set of solo piano pieces based upon birdsong. His orchestral piece Réveil des Oiseaux is composed almost entirely of birdsong. Many of his other compositions, including Quatuor pour la fin du temps, similarly integrate birdsong.

Italian composer Ottorino Respighi, with his The Pines of Rome (1923-1924), may have been the first to compose a piece of music that calls for the addition of pre-recorded birdsong. A few years later, Respighi wrote Gli Uccelli ("The birds"), based on Baroque pieces imitating birds.

American jazz musician Eric Dolphy sometimes listened to birds while he practiced flute. He claimed to have incorporated bird song into some of his improvisational music.

In the psychedelic era of the 1960's and 1970's, many rock bands included sound effects in their recordings. Birds were a popular choice. The English band Pink Floyd included bird sound effects in many of the songs from their 1969 albums More and Ummagumma (see, for example, the song Cirrus Minor). Similarly, the English singer Kate Bush incorporated bird sound effects into much of the music on her 2005 album, Aerial.

Music hall artist Ronnie Ronalde, has gained notoriety for his whistling imitations of birds and for integrating birdsong with human song. His songs 'In A Monastery Garden' and 'If I Were A Blackbird' include imitations of the blackbird, his "signature bird."

The French composer François-Bernard Mâche has been credited with the creation of zoomusicology, the study of the music of animals. His essay Musique, mythe, nature, ou les Dauphins d'Arion (1983)includes a study of "ornitho-musicology," in which he speaks of "animal musics" and a longing to connect with nature.

Bird song and poetry
Bird song is a popular subject in poetry. Famous poems inspired by bird song include Percy Bysshe Shelley's To a Skylark ("Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!/Bird thou never wert") and Gerard Manley Hopkins' Sea and Skylark.

Zoomusicology Zoomusicology is a field of musicology and zoology or more specifically, zoosemiotics. Zoomusicology is the study of the music of animals, or rather the musical aspects of sound or communication produced and received by animals.
Zoomusicology may be distinguished from ethnomusicology, the study of human music. Zoomusicology is most often biomusicological, and biomusicology is often zoomusicological.

In the opinion of Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1990), "in the last analysis, it is a human being who decides what is and is not musical, even when the sound is not of human origin. If we acknowledge that sound is not organized and conceptualized (that is, made to form music) merely by its producer, but by the mind that perceives it, then music is uniquely human." According to Mâche, "If it turns out that music is a wide spread phenomenon in several living species apart from man, this will very much call into question the definition of music, and more widely that of man and his culture, as well as the idea we have of the animal itself." (Mâche 1992: 95)

Shinji Kanki composes music for dolphins according to conventions found in dolphin music or found to please dolphins in his Music for Dolphins (Ultrasonic Improvisational Composition) for underwater ultrasonic loudspeakers (2001).
Composers have evoked or imitated animal sounds in compositions including Jean-Philippe Rameau's The Hen (1728), Camille Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals (1886), Olivier Messiaen's Catalogue of the Birds (1956-58), and Pauline Oliveros's El Relicario de los Animales (1977). (Von Gunden 1983, p.133)

The icaros (sacred healing songs and chants) sung by ayahuasca healers, or shamanic practitioners, among Amazonian tribes are evocative of many of the sounds of birds, animals and insects of the jungle.

Twentieth century French composer Olivier Messiaen deserves special mention, as he composed with birdsong extensively. His Catalogue d'Oiseaux is a seven-book set of solo piano pieces based upon birdsong. His orchestral piece Réveil des Oiseaux is composed almost entirely of birdsong. Many of his other compositions, including Quatuor pour la fin du temps, similarly integrate birdsong.

Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time
Messiaen uses rhythmic motifs of 17 notes and 29 notes which play together. The different prime numbers ensure that the motifs are constantly creating new combinations of sound as the music evolves. It gives the piece a sense of timelessness because it takes a very long time before the two motifs will repeat a pattern already heard. Messiaen is using the same principle as the prime number cicada who avoids its periodic predator by choosing a prime.

Messiaen wrote in the preface to the score that the work was inspired by text from the tenth chapter of the Book of Revelation:

"And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire… and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth… And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever,… that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished…"
Messiaen list at youtube

Songbirds Update 1 March 2007

In 1986 Quantum brought you a story about two Aussie scientists who made a controversial discovery about the origin of songbirds. Dr Les Christidis and Dr Richard Schodde were mocked by the scientific community after claiming that many songbirds actually originated from Australia. Tonight, we revisit this story to find out if 20 years of scientific advancements have helped them silence the critics.

Whistled Languages
Whistled languages are a form of communication used by many indigenous people around the world. The languages differs according to whether the spoken language is tonal or not, with the whistling being either tone or articulation based. Tonal languages are stripped of articulation, leaving only suprasegmental features such as duration and tone, and when whistled retain the spoken melodic line. In non-tonal languages, some of the articulatory features of speech are retained, though the normally timbral variations imparted by the movements of the tongue and soft palate are transformed into pitch variations.

Thus whistled languages convey phonemic information solely through tone, length, and, to a lesser extent, stress, and many phonemic distinctions of the spoken language are lost. "All whistled languages share one basic characteristic: they function by varying the frequency of a simple wave-form as a function of time, generally with minimal dynamic variation, which is readily understandable since in most cases their only purpose is long-distance communication." (ibid: 32)

Languages communicated by whistling are relatively rare, but are known from around the world. One example is the Silbo on the island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands, which maintains Spanish's five vowels, but reduces its consonants down to four. Others exist or existed in all parts of the world including Turkey (Kusköy "Village of the Birds"), France (the village of Aas in the Pyrenees), Mexico (the Zapotecs of Oaxaca), South America (Piraha), Asia (the Chepang of Nepal), and New Guinea. They are especially common and robust today in parts of West Africa, used widely in such populous languages as Yoruba and Ewe. Even French is whistled in some areas of western Africa.
In continental Africa, speech may be conveyed by a whistle or other musical instrument, most famously the "talking drums". However, while drums may be used by griots singing praise songs or for inter-village communication, and other instruments may be used on the radio for station identification jingles, for regular conversation at a distance whistled speech is used. As two people approach each other, one may even switch from whistled to spoken speech in mid-sentence.

In the Greek village of Antia, the entire population knows how to whistle their speech, and whistled conversations are also carried on at close range.

As the expressivity of whistled speech is limited compared to spoken speech, whistled messages typically consist of stereotyped or otherwise standardized or set expressions, are elaborately descriptive, and often have to be repeated.
However, in languages which are heavily tonal, and therefore convey much of their information through pitch even when spoken, such as Mazatec and Yoruba, extensive conversations may be whistled.

In Africa and indigenous Mexican communities, whistled language is used only by men.

Whistled languages are normally found and used in locations with abrupt relief created by difficult mountainous terrain, slow or difficult communication (no telephones), low population density and/or scattered settlements, and other isolating features such as sheepherding and cultivation of hillsides.

The main advantage of whistling speech is that it allows the speaker to cover much larger distances (typically 1­2 km but up to 5 km) than ordinary speech, and this is assisted by the relief found in areas where whistled languages are used. In practice, many areas with such languages work hard to preserve their ancient traditions, in the face of rapidly advancing telecommunications systems in many areas.

A whistled tone is essentially a simple oscillation (or sine wave), and thus timbral variations are impossible. Normal articulation during an ordinary lip-whistle is relatively easy though the lips move little causing a constant of labialization and making labial and labiodental consonants (p, b, m, f, etc.) impossible.

January 5, 2005 - National Geographic
Shepherds who whistle to each other across the rocky terrain of the Canary Islands off northwest Africa are shedding light on the language-processing abilities of the human brain, according to scientists.

Researchers say the endangered whistled "language'" of Gomera island activates parts of the brain normally associated with spoken language, suggesting that the brain is remarkably flexible in its ability to interpret sounds as language.
"Science has developed the idea of brain areas that are dedicated to language, and we are starting to understand the scope of signals that can be recognized as language," said David Corina, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Silbo Gomero is a substitute for Spanish, with individual words recoded into whistles. Vowels and consonants are replaced by tones that are whistled at different frequencies. ("Silbo" comes from the Spanish "silbar" -to whistle.)
Known as silbadores, the whistlers of Gomera are traditionally shepherds and other isolated mountain folk. Their novel means of staying in touch allows them to communicate over long distances - Silbador whistles can travel up to six miles (ten kilometers). "Spanish consonants are mapped into four different whistles and the five vowels into two whistles," explained lead researcher Manuel Carreiras, psychology professor at the University of La Laguna on the Canary island of Tenerife. "There is much more ambiguity in the whistled signal than in the spoken signal," he added.

Because whistled "words" can be hard to distinguish, silbadores also rely on repetition and context to make themselves understood.

Language of the Birds or Language of the Gods"

1 comment:

iridescent cuttlefish said...

Hey, Movie Girl!

Just a few random thoughts...did you know that ornithologists have recently documented cases where some birds are fluent in other birds' languages? Kinda reminiscent of Tolkien's eagles & thrushes, eh? (Not to mention those "spies" that Saruman tricked Radagast into loaning him.) Strange how the pivotal role of birds seems to be downplayed in most re-tellings of those tales--both The Hobbit and LOTR end with the eagles (and the shape-shifting Beornlings, of course, carrying the day.)

Then there's Ian Anderson's Secret Languages of Birds (you have to scroll down to the bottom to activate the free streaming mp3--you might like the rest of this site, too, come to think of it.) Food for thought, anyway, and it does make one reconsider the meaning of phrases like "bird-brain" (language of the gods...maybe the gods really are crazy.)