Is Birdsong Music?: Outback Encounters with an Australian Songbird

Author(s): Hollis Taylor (Editor); Philip Kitcher (Foreword by)

Natural History

How and when does music become possible? Is it a matter of biology, or culture, or an interaction between the two? Revolutionizing the way we think about the core values of music and human exceptionalism, Hollis Taylor takes us on an outback road trip to meet the Australian pied butcherbird. Recognized for their distinct timbre, calls, and songs, both sexes of this songbird sing in duos, trios, and even larger choirs, transforming their flute-like songs annually. While birdsong has long inspired artists, writers, musicians, and philosophers, and enthralled listeners from all walks of life, researchers from the sciences have dominated its study. As a field musicologist, Taylor spends months each year in the Australian outback recording the songs of the pied butcherbird and chronicling their musical activities. She argues persuasively in these pages that their inventiveness in song surpasses biological necessity, compelling us to question the foundations of music and confront the remarkably entangled relationship between human and animal worlds. Equal parts nature essay, memoir, and scholarship, Is Birdsong Music? offers vivid portraits of the extreme locations where these avian choristers are found, quirky stories from the field, and an in-depth exploration of the vocalizations of the pied butcherbird.


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Hollis Taylor is Research Fellow at Macquarie University. A violinist/composer, ornithologist, and author, her work confronts and revises the study of birdsong, adding the novel reference point of a musician's trained ear.

Foreword by Philip Kitcher1. An Outback Epiphany2. Songbird Studies3. The Nature of Transcription and the Transcription of Nature4. Notes and Calls: A Taste for Diversity5. Song Development: A Taste for Complexity6. Musicality and the Art of Song: A Taste for Beauty7. Border Conflicts at Music's Definition8. Facts to Suit Theories9. Too Many Theories and Not Enough Birdsong10. Songbirds as Colleagues and ContemporariesAcknowledgementsList of AbbreviationsGlossaryNotation and Supplement ConventionsBibliographyIndex

General Fields

  • : 9780253026668
  • : Indiana University Press
  • : Indiana University Press
  • : May 2017
  • : 229mm X 152mm
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Hollis Taylor (Editor); Philip Kitcher (Foreword by)
  • : Paperback
  • : English
  • : 598.15940994
  • : 364
  • : 13 b&w illus., 34 music exx.