The Alphabet A Satin Bowerbird Collaboration

Bundanon, April 2008

I am trying to teach you that this alphabet of ‘natural objects’ (soils and rivers, birds and beasts) spells out a story . . . Once you have learned to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it or, with it.
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac  (1949)

Bowerbird experiment letters
Bowerbird alphabet


This intervention was designed to draw out the creative interconnectivities between a male Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhyncus violaceus) and Homo sapiens. Previous studies have examined the complex behaviour of male bowerbirds in the building and decoration of bowers, and artists have been fascinated by their concern/obsession for objects as aesthetic ‘treasures’.

The 26 letters of the alphabet, cut from blue card and painted blue on the reverse, were scattered randomly in the garden of a painter, the late Arthur Boyd, which overlaid the territory of a male Satin Bowerbird. The ‘reading’ of the alphabet by the subject was recorded over a two week period, at the end of which over half of the alphabet had been collected to decorate his bower. Each letter corresponded to a word referencing a miniature essai. This strategy enabled the investigator to display a range of human knowledge in an effort to recognise convergences between fields as different as science, history, anthropology and literature, convergences revealed by play and research, poetry and the imagination. From this perspective, the experiment enquires why human culture threatens the future of so many other species, including birds, in case the subject ever asks why?

This intervention is of uncertain provenance, genealogy, it was undertaken in the spirit of poetic adventure. It’s said that the Abstract is the most important part of a scientific paper. However, I am suspicious of the abstract. “Herder argued against the primacy attributed by Enlightenment philosophers to universal principles and abstractions, and defended the concrete, the particular, sense experience, quality over quantity, and diversity against the pressures within modernity towards uniformity.” (Arran Gare, ‘The Postmodernism of Deep Ecology . . .) Of course nothing could be more opposed to the notion and phenomenology of a poem than an abstract (or precis).

A short Video of this experiment is available.

The Results of the experiment

One of 26 texts in the Bowerbird’s library A – for Aesthetics


This experiment is a poet’s attempt to weave all three into a text that is original and unoriginal. In pre-literate societies, the practice of poetry was centred on memory and confidently took on all subjects; the poet was entertainer, archivist, propagandist and even seer. There is no need to fall for Romantic ideas of the Orphic, divine inspiration, or madness, though plenty of poetry was written in Callan Park, Sydney and the McLean Hospital, Massachusetts: Francis Webb, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, among others. The ‘poet as hero’ echoed by Romantic thinkers continues, and Gary Snyder attacked the notion of a priesthood of poetry.[i] Nor do I support formalist suggestions that poetic language is a distinct use of language or that poetic diction is not necessary to a poem. [ii]  There are no defining characteristics of literature and no workable definition of good literature/art, not even Ezra Pound’s, ‘By good art, I mean art that bears true witness, I mean the art that is most precise.’ [iii]For this experiment to work, it helps if one accepts poetry as a rich cognitive activity and the poet as a maker of poems, using language in interesting and often provocative ways to breathe light into corners we often ignore, have forgotten or choose to avoid.

Cognitive science has discovered language to be inherently and ordinarily poetic. Poetic figures like metaphor are ordinary and not problematic for cognition, as Raymond Gibbs argues, ‘human cognition is fundamentally shaped by various poetic or figurative processes.’[iv] Lakoff and Turner insist that, ‘Metaphor is a tool so ordinary that we use it unconsciously and automatically, with so little effort that we hardly notice it.’[v] What is important for their argument (and mine) is that, ‘Great poets can speak to us because they use the modes of thought we all possess.’[vi] – Not because of the Muse, genius or other extraordinary factors.

Our epistemological inheritance is Greek which developed in three stages, the later ones merely creating a palimpsest over the previous, beginning with:

  1. mythos: stirring tales of origins and ecologies (Hesiod’s Theogony, Genesis) stimulating the arts and poetry, which was followed by;
  2. historia: history subsumed to curiosity as to how the world is the way it is, but both lost out to;
  3. logos: logic and causal explanation. Logos expelled metaphor and fable. Through logos science asserts ontological authority (as the Church once did through mythos).

In addition there is a primary mode, the direct experience, the phenomenology of what we know, and of what we do, embodied skills, habits, perceptions. The environmentalist Aldo Leopold published A Sand County Almanac (1949) to encourage others to experience nature directly. This pioneering text is so influential for contemporary environmentalism because Leopold realised that such experience is enriched through ecological awareness and knowledge. Science focuses on the world we live in despite its language of substitution and mathematics.[vii] Logos has its place; science is a valuable pursuit and being a human activity is also an aesthetic activity too often ignored by the arts and humanities. All are creative and use similar ways of manipulating tropes to lead us into new ideas. Science demands agreement that it could not have been otherwise, but sometimes strays from its province; we need to be scientific literates to guard against scientism.[viii]

This experiment was designed to share appreciation of a wild Satin Bowerbird, with the staff of Bundanon and fellow artists in residence. We are connected intimately to each other, other biota and the planet, but through our social, cultural and even aesthetic concerns, are failing to act responsibly and share the planet.

We can’t escape from our human bound perspective, but there are grades of anthropomorphism and we can be generously aware of ecological and scientific parameters, and the limits of our understanding of animal behaviour. Randall Lockwood identifies various categories of anthropomorphism, including allegorical (fables; animal characters as people, usually didactic – Shrek, Bambi) and personification (humans project onto animals), suggesting only ‘applied anthropomorphism’ is useful.[ix] Do we need an excuse to watch animals? How close can we get to them? Through hunting or through eating them? Or keeping them as pets? Or simply being in their presence?

How much do we need to know? Allen Carlson believes nature to be rich in aesthetic values, but nevertheless argues scientific knowledge helps us categorise nature, in the way art historians classify art, thus increasing aesthetic appreciation, assisting us to know what to look at, what to pay attention to.[x] Patricia Mathews writes, ‘For example, once we learn the norms for a species, we learn to pick the object out, learn what features to look at, what features may vary, and which features are rare, all of which functions to focus our aesthetic appreciation.’[xi] I can attest to this from birdwatching.

A Natural History of Bowerbirds

Bowerbirds are a monophyletic family of 8 genera (some authorities cite 6), 20 species, and 23 additional subspecies in Australasia.[xii]  Twelve species are found in New Guinea (10 endemic) and 10 in Australia (8 endemic). They are passerines of the Corvidae family and most closely related to Lyrebirds and Australian tree-creepers. Nearly all build bowers, but the monogamous catbird, a close relative, instead He prepares a 1-2 m wide display ground with fresh leaves cut and laid upside-down.[xiii] Two species of bowerbird have display courts, but no bower; neither are monogamous. Toothbill Bowerbirds interact over long distances have leks and attempt to rape the females; Archbold’s Bowerbirds chase females demonstrating athleticism, but without violence.[xiv] Gerald Borgia has hypothesised that the ancestor of the lineage of modern bower builders began by displaying on a decorated ground court.[xv]

Jared Diamond spread coloured gambling chips around the cone-shaped bowers of the Vogelkop Gardener Bowerbird and found that the birds’ favourite colours were blue and purple followed by orange, red and yellow, with white the least favoured. One possible explanation why the birds chose the least visible colours in the gloomy forests is that blue/purple objects are harder to find and thus rare and ‘expensive’. It is well known that females of other species appreciate rare and expensive gifts.[xvi] However, this aesthetic behaviour appears to be species specific. Male Spotted Bowerbirds favour gathering small green Solanum berries to decorate their bowers, which are common, yet the number of berries accurately predicts variation in mating success.[xvii] For other species, females are attracted to more than the bower and its treasures.[xviii]

Gail Patricelli notes of Satin Bowerbirds: “They favor rare, blue ornaments, and males steal them from each other, so a blue-adorned bower signals that its holder has been enterprising and tough.”[xix] Thus males cannot wander too far from their bower and are limited to site-specific courtship, which is elaborate and lengthy giving females the opportunity of directly comparing male assets. Despite racy black plumage with an iridescent purple-blue sheen, and the hard labour and creativity on show in the construction and decoration of the bower, they face frequent rejection. Females select the best gangster, thief, stand-over man. They are slightly smaller, their intense lilac eyes watch the male puff his feathers, strut and buzz his weird electronic calling (the same display against rivals). The species is also painterly, chewing natural materials such as leaves, bark and fruits (berries of blueberry ash and geebung, and blue Dienella sp.) and painting sticks and the inside walls of the bower with the dyed saliva. I did not witness this artful activity which takes place during the breeding season from mid-Sept to December.[xx]

A male starts his display at first sight of a female by picking up a twig or leaf or ornament in his bill and drooping his wings, pumping out a loud series of electronic whirs and buzzed with his head feathers aroused. If the female appears interested he demonstrates his excitement by strutting dancing a jig sideways in front of the entrance to the bower, bobbing enthusiastically while raising and lowering his wings. Females respond favourably by crouching slowly and spreading quivering wings. Using robot, Patricelli found that the female plays an active role; successful males have to be responsive to female moods. She retreats from too vigorous displays.[xxi]

After mating in the bower the female flies away to build a nest and lays a clutch of two eggs. The male resumes a bachelor lifestyle and takes no part in nest building, defending his mate’s nesting territory, or in raising his young. In fact, he immediately starts looking for a new sexual partner. Male Satin Bowerbirds only become sexually mature at seven years old, when they acquire their satin saturnine looks. Younger males go for a Burberry look, combinations of greens, grey and browns, and creamy underparts identical to female plumage, though immature males have pale beaks, females wear dark ones. Mature males often court and try to have sex with these young males (who may learn courtship ritual through such role-reversal).[xxii]

Can bowerbirds tell us anything about why humans are obsessed with art? Geoffrey Miller argues that Darwinian sexual adaptation explains the evolution of human art (and altruism). He claims art has the same characteristics of sexual selection, namely, fitness indicating cost; involvement in courtship; heritability; variability; and sexual differentiation. Many studies have examined male ornamentation (usually bodily) and how they may signal male breeding virtues and qualities, but Miller mistakenly suggests female bowerbirds select males purely on aesthetic grounds.[xxiii] So the display of knowledge that follows in the Keys would be sexually motivated according to this argument. An empirical study by an evolutionary psychologist of the relationship between artistic practice and sexual success may start with Picasso or a Sunday painter, but would quickly bog down in other factors, such as fame, money, social standing, attractiveness, penis size, sense of humour, or cooking skills all the way to star sign

Case Studies

Were after apples – what they liked best, an
Instant sharpness. But a bowerbird, like us,
Loves more than what it likes . . .
Susan Stewart, ‘The Bowerbirds’[xxiv]

1. Ian Hamilton

Ian Hamilton has studied Golden Bowerbirds in Queensland; Leo Davies who spent some time in the field with him in 1978, comments, “His methods, both fieldwork and notation, seem, at first sight, indistinguishable from the fieldwork and records of a scientist. He sees the bowerbird’s work as worthy of admiration for itself, no matter what the Darwinians might have to say about it. Ian found himself becoming a bowerbird. He began picking up sticks in the streets and parks near his home . . . he began building bowers. . . . Like any artist Ian is sometimes unable to explain and understand all that he does. In this respect, his latest work is perhaps not all that different form his performance works of the late 1970s and early 1980s which involved fluorescent tubes and lasers . . . His one key idea he has repeated to me many times is “Time Allows the Elaboration of Basic Urges and/or Forms.” Davies continues, “Ian Hamilton . . .  has drawn many parallels between the creative processes of Bowerbirds and artists and over the years the ongoing extinction of these birds has come to be a symbolic representation and reminder of the harsh ramifications of human activity on the natural world.” [xxv]

2. A collaborative project, ‘Birdlife’

An artist from the most isolated city on the planet emailed me a year or so back, wanting a copy of a paper I had written on the poetics of bushwalking. I came across news of her new project online this morning, as the mist tongued the valley sides and kookaburras cleared their throats. “At the risk of stretching ornithological metaphors too far before we’ve even taken flight on the subject, it has to be said that there is something rather birdlike about visual artist Perdita (Perdy) Phillips and experimental writer Nyanda Smith as they discuss their current collaborative project, ‘Birdlife’. . . . (Evidently, both of them have been influenced by the foraging habits of the Bowerbirds that are central to Perdy’s current SymbioticA project.)” [xxvi]


“A few drops of ink, a sheet of paper as material for the accumulationand co-ordination of moments and acts, are all that is required.”
Paul Valéry [xxvii]

“The factors are
in the animal and
or the machine […]”; they “involve [….] a discrete or continuous sequence of measurable events distributed in time […].”

Charles Olson, ‘The Kingfishers’

The 26 letters of the alphabet were cut out of blue card, painted blue on the reverse, and scattered at random in each garden bed around Bundanon House and studio, the territory Arthur Boyd shared with a male satin bowerbird (sample size n = 1). The letters could have been distributed by innumerable alternative strategies, alphabetical, mathematical modelling, formal chance procedures, or by association with particular plants and garden features, etc. Each letter corresponded to a word beginning with that letter; the word represented a concept / discourse elaborated in a miniature essai.

An inventory of the bower’s treasures was undertaken immediately before the experiment commenced, and subsequently twice daily over the course of the first week, and daily in the second week. The study design was impetuous, the data analysis is rudimentary and the process of writing it up has digressed from standard practice. The notion of tight focused description originated in scientific texts only from the beginnings of the 16th C. and has been a matter of debate since. And as the historians of science Shapin and Schaffer argue, no text no matter how detailed could capture the embodied skills important to experimentation.[xxviii]

I am coming into your garden with such a different set of experiences, expectations, bundles of skills and knowledges to those who live and once lived here, the archaic. In my Western tradition, knowledge is explicit (techne and skills used to survive, socialise even play ignored for a demand for cause and effect, writing and mathematics, and expanding the archive of experiment and history.[xxix] I come as a poet and part-time birdwatcher.

I would describe any moment when I coincided with a bird as a lucky one. There were no guarantees with bird-watching – you might not see anything, the birds were free to come and go. When you did see something, the good fortune of the moment and the vivid presence of the bird in front of you banished any thought about how it had got there or where it might be tomorrow. Sight is perhaps the least historical of our senses. Wonder doesn’t have a past or invite us to give a history to what we wonder at.  Tim Dee[xxx]

Yet my method was tied to opportunities of close encounters with the subject, close up, without ever disturbing its visceral Brechtian theatre. At the same time, the artwork becomes part of the environment like Richard Teitelbaum’s ‘Threshold Music’ that blends music performance with the environment, so that the work is camouflaged and ‘audience’ only realise it has been music after it stops (or not at all).[xxxi]

The texts weave (textere, to weave) diverse but interrelated themes on human and animal culture, shuffling cards from both the Apollonian and Dionysian packs. In his letter Ars Poetica, Horace argued: “in weaving together your words you will have / great success if your exciting juxtapositions / make the common word suddenly new.”[xxxii] These texts follow Horace looking for pleasure and pedagogy and poetry.

If I came with nothing, no pen no paper

no camera nothing and began with an empty frame

forgot that overused word poetry and slowly


filled in the world with a trompe l’oeil

of filigree branches, paths, beds, inclusive

continuity on a sheet of paper.


Impossible, even if I close my eyes

and stuff leaves into my ears and grasses

up my nostrils and stand incredibly still


I’m always floating inside a spinning constellation

of ideas and oscillating images, a colourful theatre

of the inner intellectual life and the visceral.

The Results of the experiment

Bundanon, single man's hut
Bundanon, single man’s hut, behind the experimental area

[i] Gary Snyder attacks poets who claim, ‘the primacy of language and the primacy of poetry. They have virtually made a religion of their art, a religion based not what they have in common with other people, but on what they do that sets them apart.’ Snyder, The Practice of the Wild: Essays, San Francisco, North Point Press, 1990, p7.

[ii] What Roman Jakobson called the ‘poetic function’ or ‘poeticality’: “Poeticity is present when the word is felt as a word and not a mere representation of the object being named or an outburst of emotion, when words and their composition, their meaning, their external and inner form, acquire a weight and value of their own instead of referring indifferently to reality.” Roman Jacobsen, ‘What is Poetry?’ in Language in Literature, Ed K. Pomorska & S. Rudy, Harvard UP, 1987, p378.

[iii] Ezra Pound, ‘The Serious Artist’ in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, Ed. T. S. Eliot, New York: New Directions, 1968, p44.

[iv] They reveal what he calls the ‘poetic structure of mind’, The Poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding, Cambridge UP, 1994, p1. He cites his own empirical research by measuring total time of understanding a passage and eye movements that measured the total time taken to understand a passage. He discovered that metaphors are comprehended just as quickly as literal sentences. (p100) He claims ‘cognitive science cannot approach adequate explanations of human mind and behaviour until it comes to terms with the fundamental poetic character of everyday thought.’(p454). He also (in Chap 7) argues metonymy as essential cognitive process. Dan Sperber and Wilson also note, ‘In order to interpret a metaphor, we do not need to perform any special cognitive relations, but simply search our existing knowledge for the context in which the metaphorical expression will achieve maximum relevance.’ Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson, Relevance. Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986. Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier state, ‘For the most part, conceptual integration is a routine, workaday process that escapes detection except on technical analysis. It is not reserved for special purposes, and it is not costly.’ in ‘A Mechanism of Creativity’, Poetics Today Vol 20:3, 1999, p397.

[v] George Lakoff and Mark Turner, 1989.

[vi] George Lakoff and Mark Turner, Preface, 1989.

[vii] ‘There is now little doubt that scientific communities choose among available theories not only for their empirical performance, but in part also on the application of aesthetic criteria of assessment. Examples of such features are the form of a theory’s simplicity; symmetrical properties; and its susceptibility to analogical interpretations (such as by mechanical analogies).James Mcallister, ‘The formation of styles: science and the applied arts’, in The Question of Style in Philosophy and the Arts, Ed C Van Eyck, J McAllister, R Van De Vall, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p157.

[viii] “I think it goes back to Descartes. He hoped that there would be one way of knowing which would solve all problems. It was a noble hope, and well worth having. Because physics was so successful at that time, he thought that physics was the model and that other difficult problems could eventually be dealt with by reducing them to physics. That doesn’t work because physics is only one way of thinking, a tremendously abstract way of thinking, and we need many other ways of thinking about human problems.” Mary Midgely, interview with Liz Else, New Scientist, 3.11.2001. That absolutism was dependent on theology, he wrote in his last letter to Henry More in the summer of 1649: “Moving force is the force of God Himself conserving as much displacement in matter as he put in it at the first moment of creation.” Quoted by Philip Clayton, The Problem of God in Modern Thought, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000, p73.

[ix] ” . . . the use of our own personal perspective on what it’s like to be a living being to suggest ideas about what it is like to be some other being of either our own or some other species.” Randall Lockwood, ‘Anthropomorphism Is Not a Four-Letter Word’, in Perceptions of Animals in American Culture. Ed. R. J. Hoage. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution P, 1989. p49. I’d note that science shares with an eco-aesthetic a minimalisation of anthropocentrism.

[x] Allen Carlson calls this approach ‘Cognitive Naturalism’. See ‘Appreciating Art and Appreciating Nature’ in Landscape, Natural Beauty, and the Arts, Eds., S. Kemal and I. Gaskell, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993, p199-227, reprinted as Chapter 7 of Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art and Architecture, London: Routledge, 2000. Stan Goldlovich lists natural items of aesthetic interest, but argues that they cannot be graded (unlike art which art historical approaches do grade), ‘Valuing Nature and the Autonomy of Natural Aesthetics’, British Journal of Aesthetics, V38:, 1998, p184.

[xi] Patricia Mathews, ‘Aesthetic Appreciation of Art and Nature, British Journal of Aesthetics, V41:4, Oct 2001, p398-99. She concludes, ‘the appreciation of nature is no less rich or complex than that of art.’ p410.

[xii] Ailuroedus buccoides, White-eared Catbird; Ailuroedus melanotis, Spotted Catbird; Ailuroedus crassirostris, Green Catbird; Ailuroedus dentirostris, Tooth-billed Catbird; Archboldia papuensis, Archbold’s Bowerbird; Archboldia sanfordi, Sanford’s Bowerbird; Amblyornis inornatus, Vogelkop Bowerbird; Amblyornis macgregoriae, Macgregor’s Bowerbird; Amblyornis subalaris, Streaked Bowerbird; Amblyornis flavifrons, Golden-fronted Bowerbird; Prionodura newtoniana, Golden Bowerbird; Sericulus aureus, Flame Bowerbird; Sericulus bakeri, Fire-maned Bowerbird; Sericulus chrysocephalus, Regent Bowerbird; Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, Satin Bowerbird; Chlamydera guttata, Western Bowerbird; Chlamydera maculate, Spotted Bowerbird; Chlamydera nuchalis, Great Bowerbird; Chlamydera lauterbachi,  Yellow-breasted Bowerbird; Chlamydera cerviniventris, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird.

[xiii] Sibley CG, Ahlquist JE (1985) ‘The phylogeny and classification of the Australo-Papuan passerine birds’, Emu 85:1–14.

[xiv] A few species gather into small clusters of territories, called leks. Each male defends a territory within the lek, which may be quite small. The gathered males display in a frenzy when females appear. Females wander through sizing up displaying males and eventually mates with the male of their choosing.

[xv] Gerald Borgia, ‘Comparative behavioral and biochemical studies in bowerbirds and  the evolution of bower building’, in Biodiversity II,  Eds. M. Reaka, D. Wilson, and E.O. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, 1996, p273-4.

[xvi] “Bowerbirds: blue-chip playboys.” The Economist (US) 310.n7587 (Jan 28, 1989): 83(1). Diamond J (1988) Experimental study of bower decoration by the bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus, using coloured poker chips. Am Nat 131:631–653

[xvii] Joah R. Madden, ‘Bower decorations are good predictors of mating success in the spotted bowerbird’, Behavioural ecology and socio-biology, 2003, vol:53, No5, p269-277

[xviii] “Bower quality and male ultraviolet plumage coloration were significantly correlated. By using multiple regression analyses, we show that bower quality predicts ectoparasite load and body size, whereas ultraviolet plumage coloration predicts the intensity of infection from blood parasites, feather growth rate, and body size.” Stéphanie Doucet and Robert Montgomerie, ‘Multiple sexual ornaments in satin bowerbirds: ultraviolet plumage and bowers signal different aspects of male quality’, Behavioural Ecology Vol.14 No. 4: 503-509, 2003.

[xix] Susan Milius, ‘Cheap Taste? Bowerbirds go for bargain décor’, Science News 17Jan, 2004; Vol:165, No:3, p38.

[xx] See Clifford B. Frith, Dawn W. Frith, Eustace Barnes, C. M. Perrins, Michael McGuire, The Bowerbirds: Ptilonorhynchidae, Illustrated by Eustace Barnes Contributor C. M. Perrins, Michael McGuire, Oxford University Press, 2004, p373-4.

[xxi] Patricelli fabricated a robot female dressed in alluring plumage. When the robot stood in the bower, the male exercised a cautious, rather subdued display, wooing carefully to avoid flustering the prospective mate. If the robot crouched slightly, the male displayed more flamboyantly. When the robot squatted and fluffed her wings, the male became very excited, puffing up, flapping, and buzzing loudly. The male believed the female was ready to make baby bower birds. She notes, “The male bowerbirds would actually try to mate with the robot – they’re not very picky it turns out. But I would scare them off pretty quickly, since I didn’t want the males to damage the robot.” She explains, “We programmed the robotic bowerbird to have three behaviors. It looks back and forth – this is just to make it look more natural, it crouches downward, and it fluffs up its wings, which signals that it’s ready to mate.” Mackenzie Tysell, ‘Romancing with Robots: An Interview with Gail Patricelli’ Explorit’s quarterley Science Centered Newsletter. (undated)

[xxii] Patricelli GL, Coleman SW, Borgia G (2006) Male satin bowerbirds, Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, adjust their display intensity in response to female startling: an experiment with robotic females. Anim Behav 71:49–59. Patricelli GL, Uy JAC, Walsh G, Borgia G (2002) Sexual selection: male displays adjusted to female’s response. Nature 415:279–280

[xxiii] Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, Doubleday, 2000, p267–270. For example, Stéphanie M. Doucet and Robert Montgomerie note, “Bower quality and male ultraviolet plumage coloration were significantly correlated. By using multiple regression analyses, we show that bower quality predicts ectoparasite load and body size, whereas ultraviolet plumage coloration predicts the intensity of infection from blood parasites, feather growth rate, and body size.” ‘Multiple sexual ornaments in satin bowerbirds: ultraviolet plumage and bowers signal different aspects of male quality’, Behavioral Ecology Vol. 14 No. 4: 503-509, 2003.

[xxiv] Susan Stewart, ‘The Bowerbirds’, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 9/22/2004

[xxv] Leo Davies, Bowerbirds and the Art of Ian Hamilton, Artlink » Vol 25 no 4, p44-6.

[xxvi] Francis Italiano. Collaboration and publishing Birdlife’, ArtSource Newsletter Text and art Autumn 2008 pp. 5-6

[xxvii] Paul Valéry, Degas, Manet, Morisot, trans. D. Paul, PrincetonUniversity Press: Princeton, NJ, 1960.

[xxviii] Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and The Experimental Life, Princeton UP, 1985. The earliest scientific papers give a short clear account of a particular experiment at a particular time and place and were widely circulated, however Robert Boyle still tended to report every strange occurrence and circumstance. By the early 18th C, scientists began to describe only what they themselves could produce reliably, despite continuing interest in the miraculous and inexplicable.

[xxix] “European thought rests on the assumption that the behaviour of objects – physical, animal, and human – can be understood in terms of straightforward rules. Westerners have a strong interest in categorization, which helps them to know what rules to apply to the objects in question, and formal logic plays a role in problem solving. East Asians, in contrast, attend to objects in their broad context. The world seems more complex to Asians than to Westerners, and understanding events always requires consideration of a host of factors that operate in relation to one another in no simple, deterministic way. Formal logic plays little role in problem solving. In fact, the person who is too concerned with logic may be considered immature.” Richard Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why. New York: Free Press,  2003, pxvi.

[xxx] Tim Dee, ‘Flying Words’, History Workshop Journal 61 (2006) 243-248

[xxxi] Teitelbaum’s Threshold Music “dates from winter  1974, when the composer was living north  of Toronto. “It’s the quietest place I ever lived,” he  recalled. “It was a valley — kind of a flat bowl- shaped valley, sort of like a parabolic reflector.  There was a highway about five miles away.  The sound of the cars on that highway sort of filtered through the hills. It was an amazingly  beautiful sound. I started trying to play with it. I started playing a Japanese Buddhist bowl gong, playing very, very softly.” Those efforts to match distant sounds with nearer, live sounds yielded Threshold Music. Its premise is that the live instrumental ensemble must play softly, matching any low-level ambient sounds in the performance space.” Craig Smith, ‘Serenading me softly: Santa Fe’s electroacoustic festival’, The New Mexican’s Weekly Magazine of East by South west March 4 – 10,

[xxxii] Horace: The Odes, Epodes, Satires, and Epistles, Frederick Warne, 1892. Aristotle was not known in the Middle Ages; Horace was the primary influence. His epistle to Piso and his sons (c.19-18 BC) became known as Ars poetica. These maxims for a young poet was influential in 18th Century Europe, partly because of its conservative theses (in the Middle Ages Horace was influential, Aristotle unknown). His most influential thesis is that the best poetry has dual responsibility to the useful (particularly moral, i.e. didactic) and the pleasing. The poet needs training to write good poetry and achieve wisdom. His instrumental poetics recommends elevated poetic diction for tragic subject matter and a more familiar one for satire. Plutarch attributed this idea to Simonides’ Moralia. Horace uses two criteria to champion poetry: pedagogical usefulness and pleasure, useful in that poetry’s pleasures move readers to virtue, rather than argument. Sir Philip Sidney, in his defence of poetry, argued that poetry was superior to the competition: philosophy (which deals with the universal), and history (following Aristotle’s preoccupation with the particular), because poetry addresses abstract concepts through concrete examples – and because (following Horace) poetry marries didacticism and pleasure.

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