Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The serinette (bird organ) and its hypnotic power over birds


I was intrigued by this passage about the serinette, or "bird organ," in the 2015 book Eco-Sonic Media by Jacob Smith. The following paragraph appeared within a discussion of the training of songbirds—particularly the training of canaries—in 19th century Germany.
[The serinette was a] device that was thought to improve the overall quality of the bird’s vocalizing. Sometimes referred to as a "bird organ,” this odd contraption was about the size of a grandfather clock, with water-filled cylinders put in motion by a weight-and-pulley system similar to the acoustic-recording machines described in the previous chapter. As the weight fell, it pumped a bellows that sent air through the cylinders to produce a number of distinctive sounds, one of which was described as being “a low, plaintive monotone that goes on and on, like the sound of water running over rocks, or the wind’s motion in the trees.” Birds exposed to the machine were said to listen “as if fascinated” and became “gentle and teachable.”
A number of examples of serinettes in action can be found on YouTube, and their intonation ranges from something like that of a bird to that of an instrument like a calliope. I was more interested in the birdlike serinettes and imagine that these are the ones that would most interest songbirds as well. 

And here is an image of a canary that appears to be in a deep reverie or state of fascination, perhaps from listening to a serinette: 

Canary in state of fascination

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