BEATS FOR BEASTIES
Do animals make music? It’s a difficult to say f for certain. Many animals use complex forms of communication, but does th that qualify as music?
A study publishpublished earlier this year in the journal Frontiers In BeBehavioral Neuroscience found that male mice ‘sing’ in ultrasonic frequencies (sounds too highhig for our ears to detect) to attract females. What’What’s more, the researchers from Duke University founfound that the rodents produce more complex calls tot attract females they have never met but whom they have sensed by smelling traces of their urine.
Most animals vocalise in some way. But to be considered musical, scientists argue, the animals need to display vocal learning: they must have to learn how to sing in a specific way throughout their lives. Gibbons certainly do: male and female pairs duet loudly every morning to defend their territory. And it’s a skill they have to learn: a 2013 study described how gibbon mothers teach their daughters to sing.
Until 1967, humans had no idea that whales make complex songs with phrases, repetitions and codas. Now we know that whale songs change over time and vary between populations, indicating that whales have culture. We can also use whale song to identify new species. This year, in Marine Mammal Science, scientists described a recording from Antarctica, which could be from a species of beaked whale unknown to science.
If any species of animal produces ‘true music’, it’s most likely to be a bird: no other class of creatures produce sonic compositions that are so varied – or so sweet. Birds use songs to defend territory, attract mates, practise riffs and show off. In 1924 a nightingale spontaneously joined cellist Beatrice Harrison for the world’s first outdoor broadcast for an impromptu duet. (Listen here: bit.ly/1MKTuG7)
It’s undeniable that animals create complex, meaningful noises. But do they have rhythm? Neuroscientist Ani Patel claimed only humans can keep a beat. And he was proved wrong. Snowball – tested in his lab – bopped to Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys and Queen in perfect time, even when the tempo was sped up or slowed down. The cockatoo became the first animal immortalised in a scientific paper for his groove.