In his famous novel Los pasos perdidos, Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier ridiculizes the idea of humans learning music from birds, because, he states, hunters consider birds as food and have no time for their music.
Mozart bought himself a starling because he liked the bird's song, and I have heard that Beethoven based the famous beginning of his fifth symphony in the song of a local bird. As in these two examples, the relationship between avian sounds and human music rings a bell in most of us. However, we seldom think about the reason for the relationship. We know that some birds imitate human songs, and many humans can fool the birds with imitations of their songs. But these are examples of recent times.
How was the relationship in the beginning? Now we know that birds sang millions of years before we evolved. Did we learn music from them? Certainly, it seems unlikely that our beautiful music began from the rough (at least to our ears) sounds of our close relatives the chimpanzees and gorillas.
Even though we currently know that the Ancient Greeks learned from many external and older sources, we still marvel at the fact that thousands of years ago, they asked themselves the same questions. One answer of the old Greek philosophy was: "Yes, humans learned to sing from the birds".
In the middle of 1997, a group of scholars met in the tropical setting of San José, Costa Rica, to pay homage to the old human practice of doing philosophy. The subject was the origin of music, with emphasis on the bird song hypothesis, and the approach was from the points of view of philosophy and science, the latter focusing on the modern branch of biomusicology. Just as sociobiology invigorated sociology a quarter of a century ago, the careful scientific approach of biomusicology revitalized musicology by stating thatmusic is part of human culture and thus, is a valid subject for biology. Biology deals with everything that is alive and in the present time does it with evolutionism as guideline.
This field is too new for widespread opinions, and the strong debate and pioneering spirit make it more exciting. Nevertheless, we avoided groundless speculation and tried to keep a god quality level for presentations, as reader will notice.
This book begins with goal stating (to test a hypothesis about the origin of music) and an approach, presented by philosopher Graham Pont. The next section was written by two biologists, Daniel Briceño on insects and Julián Monge-Nájera on birds. This is followed by an introduction to the mechanics of music by physicist José Araya Pochet, the proposition of a possible link between prehistoric and contemporaneous mental states by flute performer Daniel Fawcett and is closed with a general perspective by philosophers Luis Fallas and Guillermo Coronado.