U.S. and German researchers have found striking parallels between the music of Bach and Haydn and the songs of a small brown wren living in the Amazon region.
According to a new study penned by the appropriately named Emily Doolittle (Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle) and Henrik Brumm (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology), the musician wren (Cyphorhynus arada) favors consonant over dissonant intervals, something that has rarely been observed in any animal species before. The perception of intervals and other aspects of human music by non-human animals are believed to be of considerable relevance with regards to the origin of human music.
But this bird’s musicality goes even further, say the researchers, as it also prefers to sing perfect consonances (octaves, perfect fifths, and perfect fourths) over imperfect consonances. This makes the wren’s song sound as if it is structured around a tonal center.
The researchers say they found passages in the songs of the wrens that had striking similarity to passages by the composers Bach and Haydn. “However, this does not mean that the musician wren is singing in a key the way a human musician might. Rather, the bird’s preference for consonances leads to occasional conjunctions of pitches which sound to human listeners like they are drawn from the same scale,” explained Doolittle.
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