Cantos De Aves Do Brasil

Fritsch frontjpg.jpg I recently learned that some birds have been found to be able to isolate and control different parts of their vocal tract independently, allowing them to sing simultaneous double tones or alternate between frequencies very rapidly. I'm not sure about the particular species below, but I think it's safe to say that numerous birds on this album are at least using similar 'mad avian skills' to sound like synthesizers.


This album, recorded by celebrated ornithologist Johan Dalgas Frisch, (and first released on the Sabia label in 1961), was once in the Top 50 of Brasil's popular record sales. President João Goulart actually gave JFK a copy when he came to visit (click on thumbnail below for photographic evidence). Talk about a country with its musical priorities in the right place!

Fritsch back.jpeg

This collection of recordings isn't readily available in the states, but if you can't track down a used LP or torrent, it looks like you can buy it from this site in Brasil.

This post is a special 'avian edition' of a series about music that disorients the senses. I've found that some of the most amazing and jarring auditory illusions are not the usual scientifically distilled or synthesized ones, they're often found in folk music and made by people's voices. Of course, in a way, it makes perfect sense - the vocal chords are some of the most complex and advanced musical instruments in existence. They are ubiquitously available, and we've been experimenting with them for longer than any other sound-making implement.


  1. Ha! I was momentarily stunned to see a headline written in portuguese here in BB.

    We certainly do have lovely singing birds here. I fondly recall a house where we used to live, in a small town, with large front yard and back yard, where in the mornings I would wake up to this almost chaotic ensemble of birds. It felt so good.

    I grew up taking care of little stray birds, hurt or lost, mostly sparrows and kiskadees, which we call bem-te-vi (it translates to something like “I see you well”). I even took care of a little hummingbird, fed him through the flowers in our garden for days, but it eventually perished, and was buried under our guava tree.

    Good times. I feel almost childlike right now.

  2. Wow. This is a strange, unexpected blast from the past. Dalgas used to call my house in the early 1980s; he and my Dad were working together on a project tracking migration patterns of Purple Martins between Illinois and Brazil. I used to struggle to understand his super-cool and thick accent when I was just a little boy. My Dad went to Brazil a couple of times, and so there are all sorts of pictures in our rural, middle of nowhere house where I grew up… of my Dad and a bunch of Brazilians hanging out in Brazil, and chief among them is Dalgas wearing wide brimmed hats.

    Didn’t expect to see his name.

  3. OMG I listened to this album a lot as a kid in the 70s! Fond memories. My parents probably still have it somewhere in the house. I still remember clearly the deep voice saying, “canto do uirapuru,” and then the super nice uirapuru’s singing. That was my favourite bird in the album.

    But the crazy araponga was cool too

    Yay, Mr Frisch on boingboing!

  4. Years ago, I visited Guadaloupe, my first time to the Caribbean. The first night I stepped out to go to dinner and heard a variety of birds singing in the bushes. Immediately, I knew where all the polyrhythms in tropical music come from. All the different birdsongs all at once made a music all its own.

  5. Ahh!! I love bird field recordings. Thanks so much anon for sharing! And the Uirapuru is great!!


  6. forgot to mention it was reissued by Japanese label EM Records a few years back. a bit pricey, but totally worth it if you’re into this kinda thing

  7. Birds who utilize different parts of their syrinx don’t necessarily make particularly funky sounds. The relatively mundane song of the Northern Cardinal uses 1/2 of it’s vocal apparatus to make the high tones in its swooping song and 1/2 to make the low tones. Young cardinals who haven’t yet learned to use the different parts together smoothly sometimes have a little hiccup in the middle of the rising and falling waves of the song.

    If you want your mind seriously blown about the complexities of bird song, check out Donald Kroodsma’s Singing Life of Birds, that includes this info and so much more. The extreme slow motion recordings of the flutey song of the Wood Thrush are some of the coolest Space Music you’re likely to hear.

  8. *facepalm*

    So I played the sample, and my dog and cat, both of whom are usually happy to ignore any noise that comes from the TV, stereo, or computer, became quite alert and started looking around to see where the loud chirping was coming from.

  9. Don’t quote me, as I’m not an avian biologist, or biologist, or scientist of any sort, or…, etc.

    But…, I heard a radio programme a year or two ago on the subject of birdsong* and I seem to remember that the two tone thing is pretty standard for your average birdie**.

    While humans have a larynx, a voice box between mouth and where the two lungs join into the wind pipe, birds have a syrinx (sp?) meaning that they have effectively two voice boxes, one for each lung before the airway joins into the one wind pipe. Hence their ability to make two sounds at once, or appear to change tone very rapidly, making sounds that the poor old human with his mere larynx cannot.

    * Bless BBC 4! What don’t they cover in their programming schedules?
    ** Evidence I am no Avian Biologist, they would never use the term “birdie”!

  10. I don’t know anything about this cd but the merchant site clearly says in Portuguese that it is not available – In addition I do know that whenever I’ve tried to buy Brazilian music CDs direct the merchants write me they cannot send CDs to the USA because of some kind of pricing agreement with the recording companies.

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