In recent article in Science, entitled “The Music of Nature and the Nature of Music“, it is suggested that not only are natural sounds such as whale and bird songs music, but that their songs may be part of a “universal music” that provides an intuitive musical concept to many animals—including humans.
Our world is filled with innumerable natural sounds, and from the earliest times humans have been intrigued and inspired by this “soundscape.” People who live close to nature perceive a wider range of sounds than those of us living in industrialized societies, who rely heavily on advances in sound technology. The sounds of whales in the ocean, for example, were first recorded in the 1940s, yet the Tlingit, Inuit, and other seafaring tribes have been hearing them through the hulls of their boats for millennia. Similarly, the ultralow frequency communications of elephants have only just been recorded even though the Hutu and Tutsi tribes of central East Africa have incorporated these sounds into their songs and stories for centuries.
It is said that every known human culture has music. Music has been defined as patterns of sound varying in pitch and time produced for emotional, social, cultural, and cognitive purposes. Is music-making in humans defined by our genes? Do other species show musical language and expression? If they do, what kinds of behavior invoke music-making in these animals? Is there evidence in the animal kingdom for the ability to create and recreate a musical language with established musical sounds? How are musical sounds used to communicate within and between species? Do musical sounds in nature reveal a profound bond between all living things?