Music, Birdsong, and Limits of the Human

Is birdsong a form of music? This seminar explores how approaches to this question from different perspectives reveal the boundaries of the concepts of “music” and “birdsong.” We will consider what it means to listen to avian song in various contexts, incorporating historical and indigenous perspectives from around the world alongside contemporary academic approaches from various disciplines in the arts and sciences. We will also analyze how musicians in diverse traditions have engaged with birdsong, discovering a wide range of human-avian encounters in sound. We will ground our intellectual work in the emplaced activity of listening to birds sing. Individually and collectively, students will conduct regular fieldwork throughout the seminar, through which they will come to recognize by sight and by ear an array of avian species who make their home year-round in and around Seattle.

This seminar would appeal to students in any discipline who are interested in learning more about intersections between the arts and the natural world. It would appeal to any students who would like to ground their intellectual experiences in sensory engagement with their surroundings. Students with strong interests in ecology, neuroscience, and animal behavior are especially welcome, as are students from the performing arts, humanities, anthropology, and philosophy.

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5 credits of Arts and Humanities coursework towards the Areas of Inquiry requirement.