Birdsong and the Image of Evolution

Birdsong and the Image of Evolution © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009 DOI: 10.1163/156853009X445389 Society and Animals 17 (2009) 206-223 brill.nl/soan Birdsong and the Image of Evolution Rachel Mundy New York University rmm356@nyu.edu Abstract For nearly a quarter of Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871), it is the singing bird whose voice pres- ages the development of human aesthetics. But since the 1950s, aesthetics has had a perilous and contested role in the study of birdsong. Modern ornithology’s disillusionment with aesthetic knowledge after World War II brought about the removal of musical studies of birdsong, studies which were replaced by work with the sound spectrograph, a tool that changes the elusive sounds of birdsong into a readable graphic image called a spectrogram. Th is article narrates the terms under which the image, rather than the sound, of birdsong has become a sign of humanity’s abil- ity to reason objectively. Drawing examples from the strange evolutionary tales that exist at the juncture of ornithology, music history, illustration, and linguistics, this story suggests how it was that the human ear disappeared in the unbridgeable gap between the sciences and the study of aesthetics so tellingly termed “the humanities.” Keywords Birdsong, evolutionism, music, spectrograph, vision, zoomusicology For nearly http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Society & Animals Brill

Birdsong and the Image of Evolution

Society & Animals, Volume 17 (3): 206 – Jan 1, 2009

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Publisher
Brill
Copyright
© 2009 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
ISSN
1063-1119
eISSN
1568-5306
D.O.I.
10.1163/156853009X445389
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009 DOI: 10.1163/156853009X445389 Society and Animals 17 (2009) 206-223 brill.nl/soan Birdsong and the Image of Evolution Rachel Mundy New York University rmm356@nyu.edu Abstract For nearly a quarter of Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871), it is the singing bird whose voice pres- ages the development of human aesthetics. But since the 1950s, aesthetics has had a perilous and contested role in the study of birdsong. Modern ornithology’s disillusionment with aesthetic knowledge after World War II brought about the removal of musical studies of birdsong, studies which were replaced by work with the sound spectrograph, a tool that changes the elusive sounds of birdsong into a readable graphic image called a spectrogram. Th is article narrates the terms under which the image, rather than the sound, of birdsong has become a sign of humanity’s abil- ity to reason objectively. Drawing examples from the strange evolutionary tales that exist at the juncture of ornithology, music history, illustration, and linguistics, this story suggests how it was that the human ear disappeared in the unbridgeable gap between the sciences and the study of aesthetics so tellingly termed “the humanities.” Keywords Birdsong, evolutionism, music, spectrograph, vision, zoomusicology For nearly

Journal

Society & AnimalsBrill

Published: Jan 1, 2009

Keywords: VISION; MUSIC; BIRDSONG; ZOOMUSICOLOGY; EVOLUTIONISM; SPECTROGRAPH

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