Tag Archives: Cows

Kulning and cows

kulning 1

In Sweden the herding of livestock is women’s work. Herding music functions chiefly as a means of communication between the women and the animals; it is also used for communication between herders.

The song style known as kulning has an instrumental timbre, a sharp attack, and a piercing, almost vibrato-free sound, often very loud and at an unusually high pitch. A study of the physiological and acoustical characteristics of kulning, including phonation and articulation, shows an unconventional use of the voice that contradicts what is recommended in traditional Western voice training.

This according to “Voice physiology and ethnomusicology: Physiological and acoustical studies of the Swedish herding song” by Anna Johnson (Yearbook for traditional music XVI [1984] pp. 42–66). Below, Maria Misgeld demonstrates.

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Radio for cows

cows at sunset

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.

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Kotas and cows

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.

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Cowshed soundscaping

Cows respond strongly to changes in the muted, subliminal strata of the cowshed soundscape; the elimination of such sounds, or their masking through music and other designed sound foregrounds, causes pronounced disturbances in the animals’ physiology and behavior.

A positive soundscaping for cowsheds must take advantage of the subjective implications of sounds such as the first moo of a newborn calf, which carries the strongest psychological impact even if it cannot be described as aesthetically beautiful.

This according to “The blessed noise and little moo: Aspects of soundscape in cowsheds” by Maru Pöyskö, an essay included in Soundscapes: Essays on vroom and moo (Tampere: Tampereen Yliopisto, Kansanperinteen Laitos, 1994). Below, a newborn calf demonstrates the little moo.

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