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Mind the gap! Musicians challenging limits of birdsong knowledge

Susanne Heiter


When contemporary musicians work with animal sounds, they are often not only interested in the sound qualities but moreover in the animals’ musical capacities. In the works by Wolfgang Müller and David Rothenberg discussed in this text, distinct abilities of singing birds are demonstrated. Beyond the established knowledge about birdsong, the musicians propose a hitherto unthinkable participation of birds in cultural activities. These propositions become possible by a reflection of current scientific knowledge and its limitations. The artists explore a room of speculation set between references to scientific facts on the one hand and gaps in this knowledge on the other hand. This setup is constructed by individual arrangements that include not only genuinely musical parts, like sound or scores, but also paratextual elements like a booklet text or chapters of books which they published separately. In a first part these settings are described, to show how by interdependence of the various parts hypotheses emerge on specific musical capacities of the respective birds. The second part shows how these hypotheses are legitimated at paratextual levels by references to scientific and common knowledge. Thus a more general mechanism is elaborated concerning the fruitful utilisation of areas of uncertainty by artists in opposition to the interests of science.


Wolfgang Müller; David Rothenberg; Kurt Schwitters; birdsong; starlings; Albert’s lyrebird; interspecies music; musical capacities; art and science; scientific knowledge

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/rela-2014-001-heit

Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (04/05/2012 n. 211)
Online ISSN 2280-9643 - Print ISSN 2283-3196

Executive Editor: Francesco Allegri
Associate Editor: Matteo Andreozzi 
Review Editors: Sofia Bonicalzi - Eleonora Adorni
Editorial Board:
Ralph R. Acampora - Carol J. Adams - Rod Bennison - Matthew R. Calarco - Piergiorgio Donatelli - William Grove-Fanning - Serenella Iovino - Joel MacClellan - Dario Martinelli - Roberto Marchesini - Alma Massaro - Barbara Muraca - Serpil Oppermann - Simone Pollo - Paola Sobbrio - Kim Stallwood - Sabrina Tonutti - Jessica Ullrich - Federico Zuolo