Spontaneously recorded music and natural noise, once they are chosen and ordered in a film’s soundtrack, acquire a dignity that was at first unexpected, entering into harmony, rivalry, and sometimes even conflict with the score composed for the film.
Between fake bad music created by a competent composer and real bad music appropriated in its raw state from the popular muse, between an impressionist nocturne for large orchestra and the authentic concerto of crickets and frogs, the artificial music does not necessarily win out over the natural kind.
This according to “La musique prise dans le sujet, élement materiel du film et la musique composée pour le film, élément formel de l’œuvre d’art” by Roland Alexis Manuel Lévy, an essay included in Atti del secondo Congresso internazionale di musica (Firenze: Le Monniere, 1940, pp. 253–256). You may wish to compare the two short films below to test Lévy’s hypothesis.
Related article: Cowshed soundscaping
West Virginians appreciate the music made by hounds baying during a fox chase, and there are various tastes in the matter.
Some hunters prefer a “coarse mouth” whereas others esteem a “fine” or “tenor mouth”; other terms for hound vocalizations include “fast chop”, “turkey mouth”, and “pretty-tongued beller”.
This according to “‘Listen to that beautiful music’: Fox chasing in the Mountain State” by Gerald Milnes (Goldenseal XX/2 [summer 1996] pp. 27–33). Below, a polychoral welcoming anthem.
The cowboy practice of “singing the cattle down”—the night herder’s soft crooning to quiet the cows for sleep—received a new twist in 1926.
A fan letter sent to WGES in Chicago by Tom Blevins, a Utah cowman, reported that he had set up a portable radio on the range and was treating the cows to urban dance music in the evening.
“It sure is a big saving on the voice” Blevins wrote. “The herd don’t seem to tell the difference. Don’t put on any speeches, though. That’ll stampede ’em sure as shootin’.”
This according to “’Sing down the cattle’ by radio” (Popular radio October 1926, p. 615), which is reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012) p. 279.
Below, evidence suggesting that cows continue to enjoy that era’s dance music.
Musicforcats.com presents music by David Teie that is based on feline vocal communication and environmental sounds that pique the interest of cats, written in a musical language that is uniquely designed to appeal to the domestic cat.
The pieces are composed in three different styles; each style is designed to convey and evoke a particular mood.
- Kitty ditties: Playful and quick, these incorporate stylizations of some of the animal calls that are of great interest to cats. A little like sonic catnip, ditties are meant to arouse interest and curiosity.
- Feline airs: The purr is to cats what the moan is to humans; it can express pleasure or pain, but most importantly, it draws sympathetic emotions from the listener. The timing and cyclic rhythms of purrs are remarkably consistent among all breeds of domestic cats, and the feline air is based on the pulses of the purr.
- Cat ballads: Just as the pedal drum provides the heartbeat in human music, the swish, swish of these ballads provides the sound of suckling in feline music.
Elephants can communicate using sounds below the range of human hearing (infrasounds below 20 hertz). These vocalizations have been presumed to be produced in the larynx, either by neurally controlled muscle twitching (as in cat purring) or by flow-induced self-sustained vibrations of the vocal folds (as in human speech and song).
In an experiment, direct high-speed video observations of an elephant larynx demonstrated flow-induced self-sustained vocal fold vibration in the absence of any neural signals, thus excluding the need for any purring mechanism. The observed physical principles of voice production apply to a wide variety of mammals, extending across a remarkably large range of fundamental frequencies and body sizes, spanning more than five orders of magnitude.
This according to “How low can you go? Physical production mechanism of elephant infrasonic vocalizations” by Christian T. Herbst, et al. (Science CCCXXXVII/6094 [3 August 2012] pp. 595–599). Below, a podcast interview with Dr. Herbst provides examples and further details (including the fact that the elephant had died of natural causes).
Kerry Klein speaks with Christian Herbst about recreating and analyzing the lowest vocalizations that elephants produce
Filed under Animals, Science
A black cow leads the members of a South Indian hill tribe, the Kotas, to the Nilgiri Hills and, with its hoof, indicates where to found each village. This footprint acts as a moral center of gravity, an important place for music making, dancing, and other rituals.
The Kotas anchor their musical and other activities around such places and significant moments in time and, in the process, constitute themselves as individuals and as a group.
This according to The black cow’s footprint: Time, space, and music in the lives of the Kotas of South India by Richard K. Wolf (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006). Above, a Kota women’s festival dance; below, Kota men dancing at Kotagiri.
During his lonely years as a young traveling performer and teacher in northern Germany, Ferruccio Busoni adopted a Newfoundland for companionship; he named the huge black dog Lesko. When he sailed to Helsinki to begin his first steady teaching position in 1888, of course Lesko came along.
Busoni’s lively personality and prodigious performing skills soon attracted a group of artists who gathered regularly at bars and restaurants. Since his dog always attended these meetings, they declared Lesko the honorary convener and dubbed themselves the Leskovites. This group included Jean Sibelius, the writer Adolf Paul, the conductor Armas Järnefelt, and his brother, the painter Eero Järnefelt.
In 1890 Busoni expressed his regard for the Leskovites with his Geharnischte suite, op. 34a; each movement is dedicated to one of “the four friends of Lesko in Helsinki.”
This according to “The friends of Lesko, the dog: Sibelius, Busoni, Armas and Eero Järnefelt, Adolf Paul” by Barbara Blanchard Hong, an essay included in Sibelius in the old and new world: Aspects of his music, its interpretation, and reception (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2010, pp. 57–68).
Insects in rock ’n’ roll cover art is an article and an online database by Joseph R. Coelho, who teaches in the Biology Program at Quincy University.
The article, which can be read online here, was published in American entomologist (L/3 [fall 2004] pp. 142–151). The database (here) is part of a larger project called Insects in rock ’n’ roll music, which also includes lists of insect-related songs, albums, and artist names.
Above, a classic Iron Butterfly album cover. Below, ants dancing to Ant man bee from the legendary Trout mask replica by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (Beefheart plays two saxophones simultaneously on this track).
Many thanks to the Improbable Research blog for alerting us about Professor Coelho’s work!
The earliest known ancestor of Old MacDonald had a farm is A charming country life in Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to purge melancholy (1719–20); while the verses have no resemblance to the later song, the chorus of “Here a ___, there a ___, everywhere a ___” is structurally identical.
Further eighteenth-century versions appear in other collections, and in the nineteenth century others, always with the same stock chorus but differing in other particulars, emerged in blackface minstrelsy. A version from a 1917 book of soldiers’ songs produced in London gives the first direct predecessor of the modern version, with a similar tune for the chorus and an identification of the farmer as “Old MacDougal”; it also explains the nonsensical “ee-i-ee-i-o”—Old MacDougal’s farm was “in O-hi-o-hi-o.”
This according to “Farmyard cacaphonies: Three centuries of a popular song” by Vic Gammon (Folk music journal XI/1, pp. 42-72). Above, D’Urfey, who claimed—perhaps unreliably—to have written the original song. Below, Sesame Street’s justly neglected Old MacDonald cantata.
In 1996 Mira Omerzel-Terlep reported that a bone fragment excavated at the Divje Babe I cave site in Slovenia is considered to be the oldest man-made flute, dating from 45,000 years ago (“Koščene piščali: Pričetek slovenske, evropske in svetovne inštrumentalne glasbene zgodovine” [Bone whistles: Origins of the Slovenian, European, and world history of instrumental music], Etnolog: Glasnik Slovenskega Etnografskega Muzeja/Bulletin of the Slovene Ethnographic Museum VI, pp. 235–294). Further studies sought to demonstrate that the fragment had originally belonged to an instrument capable of producing a diatonic scale.
Other researchers were skeptical, though, and in 1998 Paola Villa et al. tried to put the speculation to rest, showing that the holes in the bone were the results of gnawing by animals (“A Middle Paleolithic origin of music? Using cave-bear bone accumulations to assess the Divje Babe I bone ‘flute’”, Antiquity LXXII/275 [March], pp. 65–79).
Still, the argument has not abated. In 2002 a pair of essays staking out the opposing camps was issued in Archäologie früher Klangerzeugung und Tonordnung/The archaeology of sound origin and organization; Musikarchäologie in der Ägäis und Anatolien/Music archaeology in the Aegean and Anatolia (Rahden: Leidorf); April Nowell states that the results of taphonomic testing offered no viable proof that the bone fragment was an instrument (“Is a cave bear bone from Divje Babe, Slovenia, a Neanderthal flute?” pp. 69–81) while Robert Fink presents research supports the theory that it was (“The Neanderthal flute and origin of the scale: Fang or flint? A response” pp. 83–87).
Although further scientific research on the topic has not been forthcoming, the controversy is alive and thriving on the Internet. Below, Ljuben Dimkaroski performs on a reconstruction of the alleged original bone flute.