Quick hit: Acoustic ecology slideshow

Check out this slideshow of natural sounds over at Seed Magazine (and it’s named after this blog, obviously…).  H/t Wayne Marshall via the SEM Sound Studies listserv.  Pretty cool!

Soundtrack to the lifecycle of a pig

The vegetarian in me thinks this is completely bizarre and sort of barbaric: producer Matthew Herbert will choose a pig (yet to be born) and record every step of its lifecycle, from birth to butchery to its eventual consumption, and release it as an album.  I’m all for experimental art, and I know the pig probably would have died anyway bla bla.  But I admit that I don’t really see the point of this work given that Herbert doesn’t appear to be doing this to raise consciousness about animal consumption or anything, you know, worthwhile.

Asperger’s and iPods

We all know that music is an important way for people, especially teens, to form their identities and to share those identities with other people.  The Philadelphia Inquirer had a new spin on this concept last week, detailing a recent study where researchers gave iPods to kids with Asperger’s syndrome to help them socialize better.  The iPod content was varied; many kids loaded it with music, which had a calming effect, and some kids also had instructional videos on daily tasks with which they had trouble, or recordings that prompted them with conversation topics.

We often think of music helping with socialization in other ways: people hearing traditional music and connecting with a cultural identity; people hearing liturgical music that creates a common religious experience; people bonding over a genre of music that they both like, etc.  But here is a concrete example of music (loosely defined here as human-organized sound in order to include the instructional recordings) that is being used as a direct agent of socialization for people who seem to have trouble in this area.  Perhaps sound is more integral to this process than we ever realized.

Listening to whales

I was fascinated by this article in the New York Times Magazine this past Sunday.  Of course, it’s been known for a while that whales are extremely advanced–but I never knew they were so eerily similar to humans.  Two interesting sonic discussions here: the first involving the US Navy’s use of sonar in whale-dense areas for training purposes, the second detailing whales’ communication strategies.

There have been news reports for quite some time about how damaging sonar is to marine life.  This article shows just how extensive that damage can be–causing internal bleeding, lesions and what looks very much like insanity (i.e., self-stranding on beaches) in whales who were unfortunate enough to be in the area of the naval training exercises.  Here is an unfortunate instance of human-organized sound having the most negative of effects on interspecies communication (and I say “communication” advisedly–from the article, it appears that whales can understand our behaviors to a degree).

On a more positive note, on page 2 of the article:

Just three years ago, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York discovered, in the brains of a number of whale species, highly specialized neurons that are linked to, among other things, the use of language and were once thought to be the exclusive property of humans and a few other primates.  Indeed, marine biologists are now revealing not only the dizzying variety of vocalizations among a number of whale species but also complex societal structures and cultures.

Whales, as you will remember from watching PBS as a kid, communicate using a series of tonal clicks which comprise the closest thing they have to a language.  It appears that they’re closer than I imagined!  I’m struck by several thoughts: first, that perhaps long-term observations of whale cultures would shed light on the debate within anthropology over whether music was language’s precursor, or vice versa.  Second, that this work might best be done by someone with familiarity with Asian and African tonal languages, which are obviously much more complex than whale-speak but appear to have an important similarity in terms of the use of pitch.

Third: if whales have a tonal language and an advanced culture replete with social structure and ritual, might they also have music?  It’s too bad that I’m not also planning to be trained in marine biology…

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