This Halloween, let’s visit the home of the largest urban bat colony in the world—Austin, Texas, where a group of Mexican free-tailed bats arrived in the early 1980s and found a highly suitable breeding environment.
Now nicknamed Bat City, Austin has forged links with the city’s more official nickname, Live Music Capital of the World. The annual Bat Fest combines a music festival with the bats’ nightly emergence, literally turning the latter into a performance event, and the city’s many bat-themed musical groups include the Bat City Surfers, a “horror surf punk” band whose members self-identify as descendants of bats.
This according to “Bat City: Becoming with bats in the Austin music scene” by Julianne Graper (MUSICultures XLV/1–2  14–34); RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2018-47414).
Above, bats flying in front of the iconic Frost Bank Tower in downtown Austin. Below, the Bat City Surfers hold forth.
The occurrence of non-insect arthropods in popular music illuminates human attitudes toward these species, especially as compared to insects.
Crustaceans are the most commonly referenced taxonomic group in artist names, album titles, and cover art, followed by spiders and scorpions. The surprising prevalence of crustaceans may be related to the palatability of many of the species.
Spiders and scorpions were primarily used for shock value, as well as for their totemic qualities of strength and ferocity. Spiders were the most abundant group among song titles, perhaps because of their familiarity to the general public.
Three non-insect arthropod album titles were found from the early 1970s, then none appeared until 1990. After 1990, issuance of such albums increased approximately linearly. Giant and chimeric arthropods are the most common album cover themes, indicating the use of these animals to inspire fear and surprise. Song lyrics also illustrate the diversity of sentiments present, from camp spookiness to edibility.
Understanding the impact of human activities on wildlife behavior and fitness can improve species’ sustainability. A study sought to identify behavioral responses to anthropogenic stress in an urban species during a semi-experimental field study.
Eight urban hedgehogs (erinaceus europaeus; four per sex) were equipped with biologgers to record their behavior before and during a mega music festival (2 × 19 days) in Treptower Park, Berlin. Researchers used GPS to monitor spatial behavior, VHF-loggers to quantify daily nest utilization, and accelerometers to distinguish between different behaviors at a high resolution and to calculate daily disturbance.
The hedgehogs showed clear behavioral differences between the pre-festival and festival phases. Evidence supported highly individual strategies, varying between spatial and temporal evasion of the disturbance.
Averaging the responses of the individual animals or only examining one behavioral parameter masked these potentially different individual coping strategies. Using a meaningful combination of different minimally invasive biologger types, researchers were able to show high inter-individual behavioral variance of urban hedgehogs in response to an anthropogenic disturbance; such behavior might be a precondition for successful persistence in urban environments.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses an astonishing bronze figurine, perhaps unearthed in Cyprus: a nude woman playing a pair of cymbals, standing on a frog (inv. no. 74.51.5680). It was probably the handle of a mirror, and the craftmanship is typical of ancient Laconia.
Scholars have never explained the relationships between all the represented elements, but the figurine is obviously related to ancient Spartan music, or at least to its soundscape.
We may wonder whether there is a link between the frog and the cymbals in terms of sound. Did ancient Greeks perceive the croaking as a percussive sound? In Greek antiquity, frogs seem to be associated with several types of instruments.
Since the figurine might come from Cyprus and it depicts a nude woman, it is usually interpreted as Aphrodite. However, if it is a Laconian piece of art, it seems more relevant to recognize here one of the main goddesses of Sparta, Artemis Orthia. She stands on a frog, because her sanctuary was located in the marshlands of Sparta, a place appropriate for batrachia. This place had a specific soundscape of croaking frogs and water sounds. Further, there are remains of feline paws on her shoulders; the archaic Artemis is the mistress of wild beasts.
In the sanctuary, archaeologists found cymbals and auloi dedicated to the goddess for apotropaic purposes. It may be opportune to compare this piece with Asian drums decorated with frogs, which were used to ask for rain fertility: perhaps the cymbals associated with croaking had the same function in ancient Spartan marshlands.
This according to “Croaking and clapping: A new look at an ancient Greek bronze figurine (from Sparta)” by Sylvain Perrot (Music in art XLIII/1–2  pp. 175–83)
Below, an illicit visit to the sanctuary.
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A white rabbit named Peter joined the Elgar family in 1905. He appears in numerous items of correspondence and is credited, as Pietro d’Alba, with writing the words for Elgar’s songs The torch and The river.
Elgar also welcomed musical criticism and suggestions from Peter; for example, after conducting the London premiere of his second Wand of youth suite in 1908, the composer wrote to him:
My dear Peter,
Your idea—the vigorous entry of the drums—was splendid. Thanks.
This according to “Peter Rabbit: The biography of an inspired bunny” by Martin Bird (The Elgar Society journal XXI/1 [April 2018] pp. 32–39).
Below, the composition in question; Peter’s contribution begins around 15:30.
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The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752). An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted … Continue reading →