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PETER ELSON: The ability to hear every creature's sweet music; It is part of the courtship ritual for many.


A COUPLE of weeks back, I wrote about the scientific study to match music from a particular country to its speech patterns. American researchers found that, indeed, there was a similarity in form between the work of say Elgar and Vaughn Williams and the way we spoke, just the phrasing and rhythms of French could be matched in the music of Faure and Ravel. Following my column about this, Norah Clewes, of Chester, wrote to say that she has been totally deaf since the age of 16. Then, nine years ago, she had a cochlear implant which has had a stunning effect on her life. She writes: 'It has proved to be almost a miracle for me. It does not give completely normal hearing but, after so many years of total deafness, it is wonderful to hear words spoken and to be able to hold a normal conversation.' However, the most surprising result for her is how much she is now able to enjoy music, although not everybody is able to get this benefit from the cochlear implants. She adds: 'Earlier this year, Denis Fitzpatrick, a scientist who has himself had a cochlear implant, gave a talk to our support group about his research on music and implants. The research was centred mainly in Munich, Manchester and North Wales.' Dr Fitzpatrick reported that his research fitted in with the results of the American scientists. He said that, when it came to emotional tests for normal hearers, the British and Germans gave different answers about what their attitude was, to what they had heard. Out of about 33 pieces that were played, there were about four pieces that differed extremely radically when rated by the British and Germans. As yet, there is no particular reason why this should be so, except perhaps that national preferences are somehow responsible. My thanks to Norah Clewes for bringing this intriguing matter to our attention. On a not entirely unrelated subject, new research reveals the desire to serenade loved ones by romanticallyinclined males is not a trait restricted to males.

So what you are probably saying It's part of the courtship ritual for many creatures. The difference here is the appearance of the violin.

Scientists have found that the club-winged manakin of South America has specially adapted feathers to create a sound similar to that of a violin. The intricate sounds are part of a complex sexual selection process. The highly-colourful bird can make its bizarre violin-like hum by rubbing together its feathers. The manakin is, in any case, an extraordinary bird. During courtship, it can vibrate its wings at more than 100 cycles a second - faster than a humming bird.

Such was its impression on Charles Darwin that he mentioned their unique music in his 1871 treatise of sexual selection, The Descent of Man. While he was intrigued by their amazing noise, he had no idea how it was created.

The bird's song was only revealed by the use of industrial ultra-high speed video cameras to study the manakin's flight, running at a 1,000 frames per second. The male manakin has one feather with a pick and an adjacent one with ridges and an enlarged hollow shaft. When it slams its feathers together at high speed, the pick moving on the ridges acts like a bow on the strings of a violin. Many other birds make wing sounds - pheasants, grouse, humming birds, birds of paradise and many other kinds of manakin.

Peacocks have evolved their striking plumage so that males can attract females. But even they cannot compete in terms of development with the club-winged manakin. Dr Kimberley Bostock, of Cornell University, who led the research, says: 'In general, if an adaptation is really weird, and out there, it is produced by sexual selection.' And I suppose that's a good excuse for quite a number of weird things that are 'out there
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 15, 2005
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