Most birds are solo artists, but plain-tailed wrens form bands. Male and female wrens sing choruses together, duetting in call and answer form. Songs are 2 minutes long, as compared to the standard human pop song of 3 minutes, and will last for as long as 40 verses. Take that Leonard Cohen with your measly 14 Hallelujah’s! Same-sex wrens sing melodies in near perfect synchronicity, similar to the “double-tracked vocals” in a recorded pop song. The males will sing together, followed by a female melody.
A 2005 article describing the wren’s duets goes by the ridiculous title Antiphonal four-part synchronized chorusing in a Neotropical wren. It sounds like something a robot might dream up, but that’s what they actually called it. You’d think with such a crazy musical title, there’d be some noteheads somewhere in their research, but alas, scientists would rather look at sonograms. All of this pain-staking obsession over an animal’s song, and they didn’t even bother to learn how to play it on guitar. No worries professors, Los Doggies transcribed it below.
The wren’s song is a lot like other birdsong, with its choppy frantic pacing, modulating phrases, and rhythmic suprises. The first two notes form a Major 6 interval, and sound very similar in pitch and feel to the cardinal’s “purdy”. Below, you can hear how the wren sounds with a musical instrument playing along -- a veritable ‘cover’.
On the right, is a sonogram of the song. This is how scientists visualize it. The blue lines denote the males, and red lines denote the females. A double-line is the double-tracked vocals of two wrens in synchronicity. In typical scientific fashion, the authors attempt to reduce these beautifully complex duets to sex and violence.
This must be one of the most complex singing performances yet described in a non-human animal…Why then do the members of a group join to produce a complex chorus? The two hypotheses most commonly put forward for duetting are mate guarding and mutual territorial defence (Hall 2004)…The latter is more plausible, particularly as playback leads chorusing birds to gather round the speaker. The close presence of several birds singing in a coordinated fashion is then very obvious to a human observer and could be especially intimidating to intruding wrens.
I wonder how we would fare under such scientific inquiry, were the motives of human artists reduced to “fucking” and “fighting” or any of the other Biological F’s? A famous pop singer who only plays sold-out stadium gigs, could said to be “only in it for the money”, but this says nothing of the enjoyment of performing music. If these birds suffered alone with their songs, starving and friendless, Vincent van Gogh-like, would their musical motives be more admirable?
Wrens aren’t mere Darwinian machines. They sing for the fuck of it. Just like us. At least I think we do. To be sure we might just have to kidnap little Justin Bieber, puncture his brachial vein for blood samples, color-ring his neck for easy gender recognition, and then show up at his house with boom-box held overhead, blaring out his enemy’s music.