The term zoomusicology was coined in 1983 by French composer François-Bernard Mâche. Mâche argued that bird song and human music share many attributes. Both rely on repeated patterns, scales, arpeggios, themes, and variations. Both are frequently used to attract mates, or claim territory. (How much conceptual daylight is there between a national anthem and a blackbird singing to tell other males to clear off?) It was possible, then, to analyze animal sounds using musicological principles. Mâche went further, though, wondering whether birds might consider their own calls aesthetically as well as functionally. Scientists had observed that bird songs are often more complex and ornamented than seems absolutely necessary; and some species create their songs rather than know them innately, cobbling their own compositions together with snippets from their parents, their neighbors. Do these birds improvise and mimic and mock for the sheer raucous thrill of it?
more from Eric Wagner at Orion here.