Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Webb Phillips Talks To Animals

I was just listening to “Dreams Never End” by New Order on the balcony, and I noticed a bird chirping away in the background. Suddenly, I realized that he was singing along in harmony, copying the rhythmic and melodic structure of the oft-repeated guitar line that forms the heart of the song. He did this just for one measure before returning to his species-typical calls. Admittedly, it was a one-sided conversation, since the prerecorded music never changed in response to the bird.

I immediately searched youtube for “birdsong” in order to attempt to communicate. He made a call. I played the video. He trailed off. Then I heard him start up again, more excited than before, so I paused the video to listen. Eventually he trailed off again, so I hit spacebar again to resume playback. After a few minutes, I became more able to sense when he was about to end a turn, and pause playback at the exact moment that he began his response. Instantaneous turn-taking often occurs in human communication.

Next I played the youtube video “R2D2 noises” for the songbird. He went wild and began to call back with increasing loudness and complexity until he became distracted or fatigued or offended by me not giving him his turn, and then he flew away. Belle & Sebastian’s “(My Girl’s Got) Miraculous Technique” seems to interest and excite him as well.

I contend that these methods will better lead to human understanding of avian communication than raising a bird in isolation and captivity and then training him to say, in English you stupid fucking bird!!, how many green squares there are on a tray, after which is receives a cracker. Birds love to communicate, and don't need human training or the saltine incentive if we just approach the problem with a little respect and humility for our fellow creatures. Having studied monkey behavior for seven years, it seems to me that the current scientific approach to animal communication is closer to this:

Kitten Paws at Frostie The Cockatoo Dancing Onscreen

Than to this:

Frostie Dances With Owner

Ok, so he rushes during the crescendos, but then again, who doesn't?



lilmag said...

Bird vs. R2D2 is really interesting! Actually, it was a bird version of the Turing test ("Turkey test?") that R2D2 seemed to pass :)

webb said...

Hahaha. Turkey test.

little river said...

Didn't that monitor get ruined by that cat? Aside from that, I wonder if the birds who mimic speech have any idea what they are saying at all. There was some evidence of that with the grey parrot who died, but other performances seem to all be just copying sounds with cues for rewards, which is maybe all we humans do on some level. We do amuse ourselves and each other, however.

little river said...

I do find rock music much more animalistic than many other types. Is there any (bird) response to classical? Wind over strings?

Britta Phillips said...

I love this ❤️