Birdsong Variations

The collaborative process of creative evolution.

sparrow perched on bench

I need a new form for this thing I am making. I haven’t found it yet, so here I am watching birds.

The songs of sparrows, apparently, vary broadly in the structure of their final notes, and some will introduce subtle variations with each performance. The songs evolve.

But researchers are quick to point out: it’s not like these bird-composers are free to evolve their songs willy-nilly, in any direction at any time. There are certain constraints, and the evolution of song works within these.

Consider how fledgling birds learn what song is, through imitation. Drift happens primarily during the initial stages of dialect formation, and during the colonization of an island. As songs evolve, so do birds’ preferences when it comes to how they perceive and learn.

I probably don’t need a new form. There is an array of viable traditions. There are possibilities for learning through imitation. But the early birds, before the songs are known and integrated, can’t help themselves. They throw their notes around in every direction. This is how they learn they have voices, and how they might use them. But a voice is not a song. Song is voice in motion, in choreographed patterns, learned in community. We are never as alone as we think we are in what we are making.  

So maybe I don’t need a new form, just more practice in call and response.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

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