While the Kerala dance-drama kūṭiyāṭṭam focuses on weighty episodes from the venerable Indian epics, its performance affords a number of occasions for humor outside of the stock buffoon character of the vidūśaka, who provides narration in Malayalam and jokes directly with the audience.
Some comic moments are produced in the classical Sanskrit texts by the characters of maids, doctors, and so on, but other verbal and physical comedy has been interpolated into the tradition by the performers representing monkeys, demons, madmen, drunks, sweepers, soldiers, and gardeners.
This according to “Comic relief by non-vidūśaka characters in kūṭiyāṭṭam” by L.S. Rajagopalan, an article included in Living traditions of Nāṭyaśāstra (Dilli: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2002) pp. 123–127).
Below, an uncostumed kūṭiyāṭṭam dancer demonstrates some monkey moves.
Filed under Animals, Asia, Dance
In a study of the development of children’s ability to relate musical forms to extramusical concepts, four- and six-year-old children matched appropriate animal pictures to excerpts from Sergej Prokof’ev’s Petya i volk (Peter and the wolf) significantly better than chance, but identified the wolf and bird more readily than the cat and duck excerpts.
Three-year-olds participating in a simplified version of the task experienced a comparable order of difficulty in matching the various music-animal pairs.
A third experiment replicated the first, but with the less familiar music of Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le carnaval des animaux. Again, performance was above chance, increasing the likelihood that children’s success in the first two experiments was not attributable to previous exposure to the music.
This according to “The development of referential meaning in music” by Sandra E. Trehub and Laurel J. Trainor (Music perception: An interdisciplinary journal IX/4 [summer 1992] pp. 455–70).
Above, a still from Disney’s Peter and the wolf; below, the Saint-Saëns work.
In the eiri-kyōgenbon (illustrated editions of kabuki plot synopses) of the Genroku reign (1688–1704), evidence is found for the representation of exotic animals on the kabuki stage: tigers and elephants, regarded as Chinese animals, in plays of the Edo tradition, as fierce opponents of the protagonist; and peacocks in the Kamigata (Kyōto-Ōsaka) style, in kaichō scenes (the unveiling of a Buddhist image).
It is not clear whether stuffed prop animals were always used or if actors portrayed the animals; it seems certain that real animals were not used.
This according to “元禄歌舞伎に登場する動物” (Animals in Genroku kabuki) by 鎌倉 恵子 (Kamakura Keiko), an article included in Kabuki: Changes and prospects—International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Bunkazai Kenkyūjo/National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, 1998, pp. 135–47).
Above, Bandō Mitsugorō I as a samurai subduing a tiger; below, a modern-day kabuki dragon.
In 1996 a two-week expedition to the Walrus Islands in the Bering Sea was undertaken to record the sounds of Pacific walruses, both for use in musical compositions and to add to the baseline data on acoustic disturbance and walrus behavior collected by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
There was an opportunity during the expedition to use a hydrophone to record the animals’ underwater communications, which include a gonging sound, whistling, grunting, roaring, and clacking of teeth.
This according to “Toothwalkers” by Douglas Quin (Terra nova: Nature and culture II/3 [summer 1997] pp. 88–96). Toothwalker refers to Linnaeus’s designation of the walrus as Odobenus rosmarus (tooth-walking sea horse).
Below, the celebrated E.T. demonstrates his repertoire and expertise.
Many are the creatures of the air, water, and earth that inhabit the verses of Italian madrigals, sonnets, and canzoni.
The poets of the 16th and 17th centuries—Torquato Tasso, Giovanni Battista Guarini, and Giambattista Marino, to mention the most famous—found an erotic metaphor in the bee, which is both sweet and stinging.
There are also the little parasites that annoy and explore the desired body. All the animal species are represented in this repertoire: insects, fish and crustaceans, snakes, small mammals and ferocious predators, singing birds, and fantastical beasts.
This according to “Hic sunt leones: Animali e musica nella Sicilia nel Cinque e Seicento” by Giuseppe Collisani, an article included in Res facta nova: Teksty o muzyce współczesnej VI/15  pp. 51–68).
Above, a 17th-century Italian bee in a painting by Giovanna Garzoni; below, Giovanni de Macque’s Ne i vostri dolci baci; the work’s text includes the bee metaphor.
In music as in politics, dogs can be useful props.
Richard Nixon’s famous “Checkers speech”, which saved his vice presidential bid and set a new standard for emotional appeals in political advertising, made news the same year (1952) that Patti Page had a number-one hit with (How much is) that doggie in the window?
The subsequent 1952 presidential race included an ad for Adlai Stevenson that featured a saucy Patti Page lookalike addressing the camera and singing, “I love the gov, the governor of Illinois…Adlai, I love you madly.” This was the first presidential race to feature widespread use of the new televisual medium, and Dwight D. Eisenhower won both the ad war and the presidency.
This according to “Political machinations: How much was that doggie in the window?” by Philip Gentry (IASPM-US 1 October 2012).
Above, Checkers; below, Patti Page!
As we reported a few years ago, David Teie has composed music for cats. Now he has published, along with two colleagues, a report on a scientific study demonstrating this music’s efficacy.
They presented two examples of Teie’s cat music in counter-balanced order with two examples of human music and evaluated the behavior and response latencies of cats to each piece.
The cats showed a significant preference for and interest in species-appropriate music compared with human music (Median (IQR) 1.5 (0.5-2.0) acts for cat music, 0.25 (0.0-0.5) acts for human music, <P><0.002) and responded with significantly shorter latencies (Median (IQR) 110.0 (54-138.75) s for cat music, 171.75 (151-180) s for human music (<P>< 0.001). Younger and older cats were more responsive to cat music than middle-aged acts (cubic trend, <r>2 = 0.477, <P>< 0.001).
This according to “Cats prefer species-appropriate music” by Teie, Charles T. Snowdon, and Megan Savage (Applied animal behavior science 20 February 2015).
Below, Samantha demonstrates with Cozmo’s air.
The Inventur und Schätzung der Joseph Haydnischen Kunstsachen of 1809 is preserved in the Musiksammlung of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.
One of the items listed therein is a living parrot, which used to call Haydn by his name and could sing the beginning of the national anthem. The parrot was sold for 1415 florins.
This according to “Haydn als Sammler” by Otto Erich Deutsch, an article included in Zum Haydn-Jahr 1959 (Österreichische Musikzeitschrift XIV/5–6 [May–June 1959] pp. 188–194).
Below, perhaps a descendant.
The song of the hermit thrush, a common North American songbird, is renowned for its apparent musicality and has attracted the attention of musicians and ornithologists for more than a century.
Recent research has shown that hermit thrush songs, like much human music, use pitches that are mathematically related by simple integer ratios and follow the harmonic series. These findings add to a small but growing body of research showing that a preference for small-integer ratio intervals is not unique to humans; such findings are particularly relevant to the ongoing nature/nurture debate about whether musical predispositions such as the preference for consonant intervals are biologically or culturally driven.
This according to “Overtone-based pitch selection in hermit thrush song: Unexpected convergence with scale construction in human music” by Emily Doolittle, et al. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America CXI/46 [18 November 2014] pp. 16616–16621).
Below, a hermit thrush video that will fascinate your cats; more recordings, including slowed-down ones, are here.
Speech impairment is one of the most intriguing and least understood effects of alcohol on cognitive function, largely due to the lack of data on alcohol effects on vocalizations in the context of an appropriate experimental model organism.
Zebra finches, a representative songbird and a premier model for understanding the neurobiology of vocal production and learning, learn song in a manner analogous to how humans learn speech. When allowed access, finches readily drink alcohol, increase their blood ethanol concentrations (BEC) significantly, and sing a song with altered acoustic structure.
The most pronounced effects were decreased amplitude and increased entropy, the latter likely reflecting a disruption in the birds’ ability to maintain the spectral structure of song under alcohol. Furthermore, specific syllables, which have distinct acoustic structures, were differentially influenced by alcohol, likely reflecting a diversity in the neural mechanisms required for their production. Remarkably, these effects on vocalizations occurred without overt effects on general behavioral measures, and importantly, they occurred within a range of BEC that can be considered risky for humans.
Results suggest that the variable effects of alcohol on finch song reflect differential alcohol sensitivity of the brain circuitry elements that control different aspects of song production. They also point to finches as an informative model for understanding how alcohol affects the neuronal circuits that control the production of learned motor behaviors.
This according to “Drinking songs: Alcohol effects on learned song of zebra finches” by Christopher R. Olson, et al. (PLOS one IX/12 [23 December 2014] e115427).
Above, a female zebra finch reacts to a (perhaps inebriated) male; below, a (perhaps sober) zebra finch with a fastidious friend.