William Weir

Some More Bird Song Science

In sounds of nature on January 23, 2011 at 8:26 pm

So this study is about two years old, but it hasn’t gotten any less fascinating since. And since I recently had posts on metronomes and bird song, this one nicely ties the two together.

Researchers at MIT found that by cooling a part of a zebra finch’s brain caused the bird to slow its singing. This brain region, the high vocal center (or HVC) is where the bird’s internal metronome resides. The study also shed some light on the brain mechanics of bird song. Says reseacher Michale Fee:

It seems to look a lot like a music box. You have a drum that rotates and controls the timing. The drum has little bumps all over it. If you rotate the drum more slowly, you get the same notes but they come out more slowly.

And where goes the zebra finch brain goes (possibly) the human brain. Besides unlocking mysteries of bird song, the researchers say the findings could reveal some of the secrets behind humans’ capacity for speech and music.


The Sounds of Ice

In sound installations on January 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Ice harps! Ice chimes! Ice vibes!

Here in the Northeast, where we’re bracing more single-digit temps, ice is everywhere. And if you can’t escape the ice, I always say, you might as well listen to it in the form of elaborately sculpted musical instruments. The above clip features the ice instruments of Norwegian composer Terje Isungset who’s been building them since 1999. Fascinatingly, though I guess not surprisingly, the instruments always sound different, dependent upon the weather.

I first saw this on the always interesting Everyday Listening, which has been working overtime on the ice-sound front. It also has this great clip of an sound installation that processes the audio of melting ice. It’s by Jonathon Kirk and Lee Weisert:

The Evolution of the City Bird’s Song

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm

This is interesting – New Scientist has a story about how city-dwelling birds have evolved a different way of singing, so that they can be heard over cars and jackhammers and the rest of the urban din.

City birds’ songs are sung at 195 hz higher than their country-dwelling counterparts. Their contact calls (those made to communicate things like danger, or “there’s food here!”) were 90 hz higher. Furthermore, the city birds’ songs were slower, possibly because all the buildings around them cause echoes that make their songs harder to make out at faster speeds.

To be honest, I had not noticed this. Next time I’m in some rural setting, though, I’ll be sure to try to make out the faster, lower-pitched birds.