Blowin' in Birdland: Improvisation and the Australian pied butcherbird

MIT Press
Publication Type:
Journal article
Leonardo Music Journal, 2010, 20 pp. 79 - 83
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This paper challenges the assumption that improvisation is a process unique to humans. Despite the general reluctance of biologists to consider bird-song "music," they routinely comment on improvisation found in the signals of songbirds. The Australian pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) is such a species. Analysis (including transcriptions and sonograms) of solo song, duets and mimicry illustrates their remarkable preoccupation with novelty and variety, and traces improvisation's role in the creation of their complex song culture. The author suggests further zoomusicological case studies for the relevance this research could have to other human (musical) capacities.
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