22 July 2010


For some decades now, the term space music has been associated with New Age and Ambient music that evokes a feeling of comtemplative spaciousness. The program "Music from the Hearts of Space" was one of the original radio versions, on NPR.

An enterprise called Project Calliope would like to try for a literal interpretation of space music, by launching a satellite into orbit with sensors on board -- "an ionospheric detector transmitting sonifiable data back to Earth for web streaming and remixing." I would like to know more specifically just what signals are being detected and relayed back to us, but the concept is interesting. Will the result be the readily-identifiable (but entirely non-musical) sound signature of radioteletype signals received on short wave radios? Or will we hear the ethereal, shifting aural equivalent of the Aurora Borealis? Time will tell.

A much more familiar form of music is bird song -- an anthropomorphic term for the calls which birds make to defend territory, attract mates, communicate with other flock members, or to announce the presence of a predator. Since so many bird calls are pleasing to the human ear, and also since so many take the form of identifiable, repeating patterns, we use the term "song" as a convenient shorthand. For even the most clinical ornithologists among us, it is a strong temptation to hear the ornate repertoire of a Mockingbird , or the cascading arpeggios of a Canyon Wren (see image below), or the haunting cry of a Common Loon, with the strong feeling that here is Nature proclaiming the joy of life. [Note: click on each bird link, turn up your volume, then click on "listen" to hear that bird's call.]

So just for the fun of it, here is a bird song quiz. Click on "launch interactive", and you will be presented with eight species with singular calls. Click on "begin", and have fun !!

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