A major traveling
exhibition on the music of natureand the nature of musicis
scheduled to open in 2007 as a result of a collaboration among
ASTC, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the BioMusic Program
of National Musical Arts, an interdisciplinary group of scientists
and musicians. Planning was supportec by a grant from the National
Science Foundation. We share here highlights of the planning process.
musical sounds of birds and other animals give clues
to the deep roots of human musicality.
Photo by David Klein
Emerging Field of Scientific Research
Studies Related to Music and Sound
Related Exhibits and Programs
BiomusicAn Emerging Field of Scientific
Sound technology and cross-disciplinary approaches to research
are creating insights into the nature of music that are as yet
little known by the general public. This emerging research field
was acknowledged in 1986 by the National Academy of Sciences,
when the BioMusic Program was established by NAS's resident ensemble,
National Musical Arts (NMA). In recognizing the program, NAS's
then-president Frank Press referred to "the powerful new
understanding being offered by the wider realization of the shared
principles of science and art... and a renaissance spirit of blending
the different parts of knowledge to help us understand the whole."
In 2002, the California Academy of Sciences
organized a symposium, Nature's Music: The Science of Bird
Song, in memory of one of the BioMusic Program's founding
members, Luis Baptistafurther evidence of the growing interest
of the scientific community in this emerging field of research.
Biomusic researchers combine the analytical tools of musicology
with research in a wide variety of fields-neuroscience, biology,
zoology, environmental science, physics, psychology, mathematics,
and anthropology. Among the recent findings (see References
- Bird songs often use the same rhythmic
variations, pitch relationships, and combinations of notes as
those used by human composers.
- Human composers, in their turn, have
been inspired by the musical sounds of birds. Mozart's "Musical
Joke" was the subject of research by ornithologists Luis
Baptista and Meredith West, who were able to demonstrate that
the piececomposed as a requiem to Mozart's pet starlingfeatures
exact musical quotations from this bird.
- Humpback whales compose songs with rhymes
and repeated phrases, which are imitated by other whales in
the same breeding area and evolve over time.
- When a harmonic interval is played,
neurons throughout the auditory system that are sensitive to
one or more frequencies contained in the interval respond by
firing action potentialssuggesting that certain rules
for music may be innate.
- Neuro-imaging studies of professional
musicians performing error-detection tasks provide evidence
that music involves widely distributed, but locally specialized,
regions of the human brain.
- Human infants as young as two to six
months prefer consonant sounds, like perfect fifths, over dissonant
ones, suggesting that "the rudiments of music listening
are gifts of nature rather than products of culture."
- Initial experiments with bonobos who
compose music using synthesizers have shown evidence of sophisticated
musical understanding. (Experiments are part of a planned multi-year
study by a research team under the direction of Patricia Gray
and Mark Tramo in collaboration with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and
a community of bonobos recently relocated to Iowa from the Language
Research Center, Georgia State University.)
Studies Related to Music and Sound
Little public knowledge, but high interestAlthough
as yet little known to the public, research on the musical sounds
of nature, and the deep roots of human musicality, has innate
appeal. Following a AAAS symposium and the January 2001 publication
of two articles in the journal Science, biomusic was the
subject of wide coverage in the international media. Science
News, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston
Globe, the BBC, and the CBC ran stories, among many others.
Music, learning, and the brain also have
been a focus of attention among educators and parents, in part
because of publicity given to the so-called "Mozart effect"based
on results of a study that have never been replicated. While Mozart
may not make children smarter, however, project advisor Donald
Hodges says that music is "a central core property of what
it means to be a human being."
A preliminary front-end study by Joyce Ma of the Exploratorium
showed that visitors made a number of connections with what was
a first an unfamiliar topicmaking associations, for example,
with nature recordingsand expressed interest in learning
Studies of earlier exhibition projectsFollowing are
pertinent findings from studies carried out in connection with
several earlier exhibitions about sound and music, based on a
2002 literature review by George Hein of Lesley University.
Contact: Bronwen Edwards
Musiquest: Exploring the Science of Sound in Cardiff, Wales,
by Bronwen Edwards, Hand to Hand, 15/3 (Fall 2001): 3.
People don't expect to find music activities
in a science center.
People don't realize that music and science are related.
People come for the music.
Good technology is available to help people gain musical experience
without specific musical instrument skills.
New England Aquarium
Sounds of the Sea
with Billy Spitzer, Living on Earth, August 2000
Final, Summative Evaluation Report, Sounds of the Sea Exhibition,
New England Aquarium, by George E. Hein and Elsa Bailey, 1999
Visitors already knew that sound was important for marine mammals.
After experiencing this exhibition, they had more knowledge of
noise pollution in the deep ocean.
The Sound Tunnel held visitors' attention longest.
The Science Place
Planned exhibition on music
Psychology of Music Front-End Evaluation, by Kirsten Sabina
Buchner and Marianna Adams, January 9, 2000
Based on interviews of 59 people at Science Place and Dallas Symphony
Orchestra performance. Pertinent findings:
Music is an important part of the daily lives of most visitors.
Visitors hold very strong associations with music (e.g., vivid
memories, strong emotional responses).
Few visitors are aware of research on the psychology of music.
Visitors are not interested in analyzing music or exploring music
Related Exhibits and Programs
ECHO interactive learning center
San Jose, California
Components related to the biology of sound and music are Heartbeats
(a bass drum and heartbeat monitor) and Soundscapes (an oscilloscope
and visual sound monitor).
Developer: Tom Nielsen
Laboratory of Ornithology
Ithaca, New York
Center includes several exhibits developed in collaboration
with the Science Museum of Minnesota, including a Sound Matching
Game and Sound Studio.
Contact: Rick Bonney
Do You Know Your Natives? lets visitors play 20-second
segments of frog songs by pressing buttons on a wall-hung unit,
then add more songs to compose a frog chorus.
Interactive experiences, artifacts, and a performance space
San Francisco, California
The Sonic Series, public programs that are part of updating
and expansion of exhibit collection about sound and hearing
of Music, an online resource in the Accidental Scientist series
Memories, a component of the Memory
exhibition the explored music, memory, emotion, and identity,
included 40 years of top tunes
What Makes Music?, a traveling exhibition, included Pan
Pipes (showing how length of resonating chamber affects pitch),
a laser oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer, and an Ensoniq synthesizer
that let visitors see their own voices, then compare the waveshapes
to those of a flute, clarinet, or saxophone.
of Fine Arts
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Hereings, a temporary exhibition, included Steve Peters
Bird's World includes two relevant units:
How to identify birdsComputer stations where visitors learn
how to identify New England species at rest, in flight, and by
song; they can hear five voices (contact call, song, begging,
male-to-male aggression, and alarms)
Crack the caseComputer game in which FBI agents play tapes
of plotting turtle poachers against a background of natural sounds,
and visitors crack the case by identifying bird calls and other
Contact: Maureen McConnell
The Power of Music investigated variations in visitors'
interpretations of video clips change accompanied by different
Developer: Diana Issidorides
Science Museum of Minnesota
St. Paul, Minnesota
on a String and other components of the Experiment Gallery
invite visitors to experiment with the physics of sound. The museum
also developed a device called a phonaudiograph, which is used
as a component in the traveling exhibition Invention at Play.
Contact: J. Shipley Newlin
Virginia Discovery Museum
A temporary exhibition, Good Vibrations, which opened in
May 2003, included a Juke Box of World Musica global map
coded to a computer that plays over a hundred different musical
pieces, and a touch-screen computer that allows visitors to match
photographs to music according to the mood the sounds convey.
Also included was a model of the human ear showing how nerve hairs
transform sound waves into electrical signals.
Contact: Sam Johnson
For information about the Music of Nature
exhibition, contact email@example.com.