Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘zebra finch’

beagle_piano_hero

Photo: American Kennel Club
Most species respond to music, just not in the same way humans do.

Now that you have absorbed yesterday’s post on the responsiveness of cheese to music, it should come as no surprise that mammals, birds, and fish also have an affinity for music.

University of Amsterdam professor of music cognition Henkjan Honing writes at Nautilus, “We are all born with a predisposition for music, a predisposition that develops spontaneously and is refined by listening to music. Nearly everyone possesses the musical skills essential to experiencing and appreciating music. … Is musicality something uniquely human? Or do we share musicality with other animals. …

“By the beginning of the 20th century, Ivan Pavlov had discovered that dogs could remember a single tone and associate it with food. Wolves and rats also recognize members of their own species by the perfect pitch of their call and can also differentiate tones. The same applies to starlings and rhesus macaques. …

“Zebra finches turn out to focus mostly on the musical aspects of [sequences, as opposed to the order]. This does not mean they are insensitive to the order … but it is mainly the differences in pitch (intonation), duration, and dynamic accents [that] they use to differentiate the sequences. …

“Humans may share a form of musical listening with zebra finches, a form of listening in which attention is paid to the musical aspects of sound (musical prosody), not to the syntax and semantics that humans heed so closely in speech. … The research on starlings and zebra finches reveals that songbirds use the entire sound spectrum to gather information. They appear to have a capacity for listening ‘relatively,’ that is, on the basis of the contours of the timbre, intonation, and dynamic range of the sound. …

“What we know for sure is that humans, songbirds, pigeons, rats, and some fish (such as goldfish and carp) can easily distinguish between different melodies. It remains highly questionable, though, whether [animals] do so in the same way as humans do, that is, by listening to the structural features of the music.

“A North American study using koi carp — a fish species that, like goldfish, hears better than most other fish — offers an unusual example. Carp are often called ‘hearing specialists’ because of their good hearing. The sensitivity of a carp’s hearing can be compared to the way sounds might be heard over a telephone line: Though quality may be lacking in the higher and lower ranges, the carp will hear most of the sounds very clearly.

“Three koi — Beauty, Oro, and Pepi — were housed in an aquarium at Harvard University’s Rowland Institute, where they had already participated in a variety of other listening experiments. … In the discrimination experiment, the koi were exposed to compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and the blues singer John Lee Hooker to see whether they could differentiate between the two. In the categorization experiment, the koi were tested to see if they could classify a composition as belonging to either the blues or the classical genre. In the latter experiment, they were alternately exposed to recordings of different blues singers and classical composers ranging from Vivaldi to Schubert.

“The surprising outcome was that all three koi were able to distinguish not only between compositions by John Lee Hooker and Bach, but also between the blues and classical genres in general. The fish appeared to be able to generalize, to correctly classify a new, as yet unheard piece of music based on a previously learned distinction. …

“Rock doves, too, [pigeons] can distinguish between compositions by Bach and Stravinsky. And, like carp, rock doves can also generalize what they have learned from only two pieces of music to other, unfamiliar pieces of music. They can even distinguish between compositions by contemporaries of Bach and Stravinsky. …

“These species can do all of this with no significant listening experience. … This, in itself, is an exceptional trait. Most likely it is a successful tactic to generate food. Yet it still offers no insight into the ‘perception, if not the enjoyment,’ of music. That may be one aspect of musicality that belongs to humans alone.”

More at Nautilus, here. And while we are on the subject of critters’ artistic sensibilities, be sure to read the children’s book This is a Poem that Heals Fish. Hat tip: The inestimable Brainpickings.

Read Full Post »

Sy Montgomery had a lovely story in the Boston Globe about studies investigating  animals’ dreams. I zeroed in on the beautiful little zebra finch.

“What do birds dream about?” Montgomery asks.

“Singing.

“University of Chicago professor Daniel Margoliash conducted experiments on zebra finches. Like all birds, zebra finches aren’t born knowing their songs; they learn them, and young birds spend much of their days learning and rehearsing the song of their species. …

“The researcher was able to determine the individual notes based on the firing pattern of the neurons. While the birds were asleep, their neurons fired in the same order — as if they were singing in their dreams.”

At American Scientist, Michael Szpir titles a related article “To Sleep, Perchance to Sing.”

“It turns out that single neurons in the forebrain song system of the sleeping birds display a pattern of activity that’s only seen in the waking bird when it sings. [Amish S.] Dave and Margoliash think that this neuronal activity is part of the learning process — the birds are rehearsing in their sleep by dreaming about singing.

“Since the awake male zebra finch will sing when a female is presented, it seems natural to ask whether the male finch has an image in mind when he sings in his sleep. Margoliash won’t speculate, but if human males are any indication we might imagine they dream of fetching female finches. It’s either that or bird seed.

“You can hear the song of the awake zebra finch at: http://www.williams.edu:803/Biology/ZFinch/zfsong.html.” More.

Read what other critters dream about at the Globe, here.

Photo: Nigel Mann

Read Full Post »

Late update 1/26/14
The Peabody Essex Museum gives only a limited number of tickets out daily to this show. It was sold out when I arrived at noon today. I think it will be great, but be sure you can get in before you go.

At the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is working with a veterinarian and a curator, among others, to ensure that his untrained zebra finches enjoy themselves while performing on musical instruments for the public.

Geoff Edgers writes for the Boston Globe, “The French artist-musician is quiet … but his bandmates won’t shut up. They’re birds — 70 chirping, swooping zebra finches. And Céleste Boursier-Mougenot needs them.

“You see, the artist doesn’t use his fingers to play the Gibson Les Pauls mounted around a white-walled gallery at the Peabody Essex Museum. He depends on his winged collaborators to create the wash of power chords that have turned his installations into a sensation from London to New York City.

“ ‘I kind of feel a sense of amazement every time I see it,’ said Trevor Smith, a contemporary-art curator at the Peabody Essex, where Boursier-Mougenot’s sonic exhibition opens Saturday. ‘You’re hearing these extraordinary sounds, and they’re made by these birds. It’s both primal and very unexpected.’

“So do birds landing on guitars count as art? Yes indeed, according to critics around the world. Boursier-Mougenot has garnered rave reviews, particularly in London, where he staged a version of the piece at The Barbican Centre in 2010. ‘Hate Modern Art?’ a headline in the Telegraph read. ‘Guitar-playing exotic birds will change your mind.’ ”

More here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: