Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Monday, September 23, 2013
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Monday, September 9, 2013
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Monday, July 29, 2013
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
"According to general present concepts the smallest number in any gypsy ensemble which can still be considered complete is four: two violins (one of them playing a kontra, that is an accompaniment), a cimbalom and a bass." The earliest known example being that of Panna Czinka (female), who died in 1772. (Bálint Sárosi, Gypsy Music, p. 71.)
Is it unreasonable to extrapolate backward from the practice of traditional gypsy bands of today to that of gypsy bands with precisely the same makeup in the 18th Century, as described above? Especially interesting in this regard is yet another Sárosi quote, this time from his essay, "Gypsy Musicians and Hungarian Peasant Music" (Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 2 (1970), pp. 8-27):
Sunday, July 14, 2013
By the second half of the 18th century, figured bass was almost entirely eliminated, except in sacred choral music, where it lingered until well after 1800: Beethoven's Mass in C major (1807), for example, has a figured bass part. (Figured bass - Wikipedia)
Monday, July 8, 2013
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Yet it should not be thought that the "tonal revolution" was a sudden thing, just because it has swung so suddenly into our historical purview. . . What is suddenly made literate and visible can be cooking behind the curtain for centuries, and in this case certainly was. [ibid.]Richard Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, Vol. 1
We see, in the music of certain late 15th and early 16th Century court dances of southern Europe, the apparently sudden emergence of a tonal complex foreshadowing developments that were to eventually dominate almost all notated music of the 17th and early 18th Centuries (i.e., the "Baroque Period"). What was this tonal complex? First and foremost, the institution of a tonal system built around a distinctive and all important bass part, which, aside from recitative, adhered closely to a steady beat, defined a highly regularized metric, and supported clearly defined chord progressions based largely on the tonic, dominant and subdominant triads of the major and minor scales. Put these together and we have the essential elements of what ultimately came, in the 20th Century, to be called "rhythm section," and, for the Baroque Period, Basso Continuo.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Why? Not because of any influence streaming from the dancing and singing of Native Americans to European colonists -- the cultural differences are simply too great, and there is no trace of any significant influence of that sort anywhere in Europe for centuries. But the Americas were also the scene of a mass migration of African slaves to the newly founded colonies, and, as we well know from the proliferation of so many hybrids in Latin America, the Caribbean and North America, African music and dance has always had a magical effect on the European psyche.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
In secular vocal music tonality emerged, especially as it opened itself to popular sources of inspiration; but in the instrumental dance literature it had the strongest representation right from the beginning of the century.Edward Lowinsky,
Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth Century Music , 1961, p. 75.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Monday, June 24, 2013
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Friday, June 21, 2013
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Back in the early 1960's, I worked as Alan Lomax's collaborator/assistant on the "Cantometrics" project (see posts 4, 76, et seq.), devoted to the comparative study of world music. One of the many experts we consulted was the noted Swedish folklorist and musician, Gordon Tracie, a specialist in the study of Scandinavian fiddling and dancing traditions. During the course of a long interview, Tracie played a recording of a dance as performed by traditional fiddlers, which, as he pointed out, sounded quite fast to the untrained ear. He then demonstrated, by dancing along, that actually the tempo was slow -- but only someone thoroughly familiar with this tradition would be able to find the correct beat.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Wait, first let's hear just one more example of "free form jazz," this time from the repertoire of the inimitable Sun Ra:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Monday, June 10, 2013
Rolling Stones -- "Satisfaction" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoxRFOr_sQ0)
"Satisfaction" begins with a very distinctive riff in guitar and bass that's become justifiably famous. Like the bass riff in their version of John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillun" (see previous post), it has a quality that sounds, to me at least, typically African. Unlike the previous examples, however, the riff does not continue unchanged throughout. Once Mick enters with the vocal, it's necessary for the bass and guitar to conform to the more or less standard chord progression that underlies the melody, with a chord change on every 4/4 measure. After the initial statement of the melody, however, the riff returns for an extended vocal-instrumental refrain that, once again, owes a lot to John Lee Hooker. After it returns, the riff sort of takes over the song for a while, and in this section, with the repetition of the words "I can't get no," the music is temporarily freed from the domination of typically European "common practice" harmony and phrasing, and takes on a decidedly African quality.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Slovak Folk Dance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_ugZSz7On0)
Friday, June 7, 2013
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
It will surprise many of you to learn that, in the meantime, I "secretly" started yet another blog, on what might seem a completely different topic: the "poetry" of economics, inspired by an American folk song made famous by Bascomb Lamar Lunsford: Mole in the Ground. Because, yes, I am not only a musician and musical scholar, but also, like my mentor the late Alan Lomax, someone with a deep interest in politics, both in itself and as reflected in the arts. As I see it, the study of music, or any other aspect of culture, can never be completely divorced from politics, and if you read my book carefully, you'll certainly find it there.
What I want to do now is turn to another aspect of politics and the arts, i.e., the politics of the arts -- specifically the politics of music. And I'll begin by sharing a couple of very interesting youtube videos.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
I could have gone with publication-on-demand, and there are several companies that now offer this service. But that would severely limit distribution, and I want my ideas to be disseminated as widely as possible. And since there is very little chance of making much money on such a book, why not make it available for free? That's when I hit on the idea of publishing as a blog. Blogging makes a great deal of sense to me, especially since so much of the book concerns music, and placing it on a blog enables me to include as many links to musical examples as I'd like. Blogging also encourages people to comment, offer criticisms, make suggestions, etc., and I like that idea very much. An interactive book! Why not?
Finally, by presenting it as a series of blog posts, I can release one chapter at a time, which means I can start getting it out now, editing and polishing each chapter as it comes up in the queue. And readers can read it a chapter at a time, rather than suddenly being confronted with an entire volume. If Charles Dickens could publish his books in serial format, why shouldn't I?
So. Everyone is invited to head over to the new blog, Sounding the Depths, and check it out. And by all means, whatever your thoughts might be and whatever questions you might have, post them as comments. Since this is a work in progress, I will be open to making changes based on reader input.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Meanwhile, during the summer months I managed, finally, to dig some old reel to reel tapes out of the attic, and make decent digital copies. I even managed to complete an unfinished work that had been on my mind for over 40 years! I was so pleased to once again hear these early electronic music compositions that I decided to put together a web site where I could share them with friends and other interested parties. And while I was at it, I decided to make several other compositions of mine also available via the same site: The Music of Victor Grauer. Anyone interested is invited to check it out, but I'll warn you: some of these pieces are long and require fairly intense concentration as well as considerable patience. On the other hand, certain rituals held by indigenous peoples can go on for days and nights at a time, while the longest work on my website lasts "only" 45 minutes. :-)
Monday, September 13, 2010
that in non-tonal quantity languages such as, Estonian,To further test this hypothesis, the authors performed experiments with Finnish speaking subjects, to determine the effects of certain tonal configurations on their perception of lexical difference. For them, the results of these experiments "are clear: whether the first syllable has a falling or a level (high) tone is a robust online cue to . . . lexical identity in Finnish" (p. 4).
Finnish, Japanese, and Serbo-Croatian, tonal differences affect
speakers’ judgments of vowel length, in so far
as the available evidence can be taken to suggest that the speakers
of these languages tend to categorize syllables or words as long
more often than short when the target syllable has a falling rather
than a level tone. (p.2)
In a Discussion section, they elaborate on the meaning of their results:
In contrast to the usual assumption that there is a clear-cutIn short, "our results showed that pitch information is an important co-index of the quantity opposition in Finnish." On this basis, they make a rather startling claim: "Consequently, . . . our results imply that in terms of the production and perception mechanisms, pitch in Finnish is probably in all respects like pitch in any prototypical tone language, e.g., Mandarin Chinese" (p. 5).
conceptual distinction between tone and non-tonal quantity
languages, we have put forth the idea that, cognitively, these two phonological systems could perhaps be seen as two variants of . . . the same underlying mechanisms. In addition to reviewing the available evidence that we thought would point this way, we carried out two experiments investigating whether pitch information would affect perception of length and thus word recognition in a language with a par excellence example of a quantity-based lexical-phonological system. The answer based on the two experiments was a clear affirmative (p.4).
In more general terms,
we would like to argue that rather than a
discrete categorical classification of languages into tone languages
and non-tone languages, a more fine-grained account is needed
that takes into account the extent to which (in this case) pitch
information is actually used to distinguish phonological categories
in processing. This would not only sharpen our criteria of tone
languages, but would also provide a more realistic, more refined,
explanandum for studies of linguistic evolution. (p. 6)
With regard to tonogenesis - at least in some cases - itThe authors never go far as to question the tonogenesis dogma per se, but their work certainly raises many questions regarding its validity as a "unidirectional link" in linguistic evolution.
may be that tone in the phonetic sense has been present all along
and only surfaces phonologically when other linguistic factors force
the change. Importantly, our results suggest that there is no
unidirectional link from perceptual sensitivity to pitch information
to the emergence of a tone language. (p. 6)
What I find especially intriguing in this research is the fact that two of the three European languages they cite as typical "quantity languages," Finnish and Estonian, are Uralic languages, thus among the very few non-Indoeuropean languages on that continent. Since the establishment of Indoeuropean throughout almost all of Europe appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, and Uralic is widespread among languages spoken by indigenous peoples scattered through vast regions of northern Europe and Asia, it seems likely that the Uralic complex could predate Indoeuropean and thus might represent an earlier stage of lingustic evolution.
Indeed, according to a very interesting paper by Mario Alinei (Interdisciplinary and linguistic evidence for Palaeolithic continuity of Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic populations in Eurasia, with an excursus on Slavic ethnogenesis, 2003), a new theory of Uralic origins
was advanced about thirty years ago and is now universally recognized by linguists as well as archaeologists: it is called the Uralic Continuity Theory (UCT) and claims anI don't want to pursue my speculations too far, since my knowledge of historical linguistics is very limited and I might well be on the wrong track entirely. Nor are such speculations really necessary with regard to the overall argument I've been presenting over the last few posts. Nevertheless, I do find the link between tonal languages and non-tonal quantity languages very interesting and definitely worthy of further investigation. As I wrote in my response to Maju's comment,
uninterrupted continuity of Uralic populations and languages from [the] Paleolithic (Meinander 1973, Nuñez 1987, 1989, 1996, 1997, 1998)
According to this theory, which historically represents the first claim of uninterrupted continuity of a European people from [the] Paleolithic, Uralic people must belong to the populations of Homo sapiens sapiens coming from Africa, who occupied mid-eastern Europe in Paleolithic glacial times . . . and followed the retreating icecap in [the] Mesolithic, eventually settling in their present territories . . . (pp. 12-13)
If the earliest language was indeed tonal, as I strongly suspect (due to the saturation of tone languages in Africa, and the lack of evidence for "tonogenesis" on that continent), then the association these linguists found between tone and quantity could represent a first step in an evolution from tonal to non-tonal language. . . . I'm now wondering whether Uralic languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Saami were among the "native European" language families displaced by the advent of Indoeuropean. If so, then the close association with tone language demonstrated in this paper would make a great deal of sense. . . The evolution from a tone to a quantity language would have been the exact opposite of the "tonogenesis" so confidently assumed by so many linguists.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Since linguists are in agreement that tonogenesis represents some sort of universal process through which all tonal languages are generated from non-tonal ones, the abundance of tone languages in Africa, plus the lack of evidence for tonogenesis anywhere on that continent, should represent something of an embarrassment -- but apparently not. From what I've read in the surprisingly extensive literature on tonogenesis (not to mention many other topics in linguistics), linguists seem much too preoccupied with the discovery of universally valid principles and far too little concerned with the messy contingencies of history, as reflected in the worldwide distribution of the traits they study (the WALS project being a notable, and very welcome, exception).
Given the preponderance of tone language in Africa, it seems likely that the original Out-of-Africa migrants must have also spoken a tone language. And since this is generally understood as the founding group, both genetically and culturally, for all peoples outside of Africa, it seems likely that non-tonal languages could only have arisen via a process that must be regarded as the reverse of tonogenesis, i.e.: tonoexodus.
When I "coined" this term in a tongue-in-cheek comment on the previous post, I wasn't aware that it was already in circulation. And, yes, some linguists have considered the possibility of what they too have named (with a straight face, apparently) "tonoexodus":
Tone systems are not static. A language can acquire tones and then increase the complexity of this tone system but it can also decrease the number of its tones and ultimately become non-tonal. These two processes, acquisition and recession of tones, have been termed tonogenesis [Matisoff 1970, 1973) and tonoexodus [Lea 1973). Cases of tonoexodus are rare and it is not clear what the intermediate historical stages between the tonal and non-tonal stages are. (CONSONANT TYPES, VOWEL HEIGHT AND TONE IN YORUBA, by Jean-Marie Rombert, 1977, p. 174.)I suspect that "cases of tonoexodus are rare" only because 1. linguists aren't looking for them; and 2. they tend to focus on very specific processes within specific languages, rather than taking the big picture into account. I've seen countless studies of "tonogenesis" as it appears to have developed in a single language, but have noticed not one study of the topic as applied to the worldwide distribution of tone.
But the (apparently revolutionary) notion that tone language came first, is only part of the story. Because if the first language was a tone language, then it seems only logical to go a step farther to consider whether it might have consisted exclusively of tones. Or, to be more accurate, specific tones presented in specific rhythms, which also happens to be a way of defining music. In a comment on the previous post, Marnie reminds us that a great deal of content in a great many African languages can be conveyed by the "talking drum," limited exclusively to differences of tone and rhythm. She asks the very sensible question, "is it possible that pitch and rhythm developed together in our earliest languages?"
In response to my previous post, I received an email from a very perceptive reader, Alex Petrov, who provided a link to this extremely interesting Wikipedia article on Whistled Language. I had always assumed that so-called whistled "languages" were merely elaborate signalling systems, but there is clearly more to it than that:
A whistled language is a system of whistled communication which allows fluent whistlers to transmit and comprehend a potentially unlimited number of messages over long distances. Whistled languages are different in this respect from the restricted codes sometimes used by herders or animal trainers to transmit simple messages or instructions. Generally, whistled languages emulate the tones or vowel formants of a natural spoken language, as well as aspects of its intonation and prosody, so that trained listeners who speak that language can understand the encoded message.Especially interesting is the observation that "In continental Africa, speech may be conveyed by a whistle or other musical instrument, most famously the "talking drums . . . As two people approach each other, one may even switch from whistled to spoken speech in mid-sentence." If so much in so many African tone languages can be communicated by tone and rhythm alone, then it is only logical to wonder whether any of the other features of such languages are necessary -- and whether their existence could be undersood as the initial stages of a progression from a language of pure tones to a tonal language, and from there to a non-tonal language -- i.e.: tonoexodus.
Whistled language is rare compared to spoken language, but it is found in cultures around the world. It is especially common in tone languages where the whistled tones transmit the tones of the syllables (tone melodies of the words). This might be because in tone languages the tone melody carries more of the "functional load" of communication while non-tonal phonology carries proportionally less. The genesis of a whistled language has never been recorded in either case and has not yet received much productive study.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
What is quite surprising . . . is that there are no documented cases of tonogenesis in Africa, despite the wide variety of languages . . . and the widespread presence of tone on the continent. (George Tucker Childs, An Introduction to African Languages, 2003, p. 86.)Since almost every single language in sub-Saharan Africa is tonal, "widespread presence" is something of an understatement. To illustrate, let's take a look at the world map of tone languages produced by WALS, the World Atlas of Language Structures:
The red and pink dots represent tone languages, the white dots non-tone languages. As is clearly evident, Sub-Saharan Africa is simply saturated with tone languages, with only two or three exceptions represented in the enormous WALS sample. It's interesting to note that a similar degree of tonal saturation is depicted for Southeast Asia and Melanesia. I've discussed the possible meaning of this very odd distribution in an earlier post, but it need not concern us here.
What does concern us at this point is the overwhelming genetic and archaeological evidence that's developed over the last 20 or 30 years pointing to Sub-Saharan Africa as the locus for the development of "modern" humans (homo sapiens sapiens), who are thought to have migrated from there to the rest of the world roughly 60,000 to 80,000 years ago. Since most historical linguists now agree that all human languages must have had a common ancestor, then, if the Out of Africa model is correct, that ancestor could only have originated in Africa. And since just about every language in Africa (including Khoisan, considered by many to be the oldest surviving language) is a tone language, then there is clearly something very wrong with the widespread assumption that the earliest languages must have been non-tonal, and linguistic tone could only have been produced via "tonogenesis."
Which returns us to the experiments by Diana Deutsch (see previous posts), and the surprisingly strong correlations she found between tone language and absolute pitch. Unlike some of the other common features of language and music, such as interactivity, cooperation, phrasing, etc., the use of discrete pitches is the only one generally regarded as uniquely musical. And the puzzle we've been considering, of how such tones could have developed, and, more important in the context of the present discussion, what sort of adaptational advantage they might have posed, can now be seen in an entirely new light.
Based on the evidence presented above, the following sequence may now be considered:
1. Interactive "hooted" vocalizations of early primates and pre-humans, along the lines of the "duetting" and "chorusing" of certain contemporary ape and gibbon populations. The adaptational advantage of such behavior would most likely be the facilitation of both long distance communication and cooperation.
2. The development from the above, among early humans, of precisely pitched vocalizations. Among the various means by which this may have come about, one stands out as particularly suggestive as far as adaptation is concerned. Since many birds sing using discrete pitches, there would have been an advantage for humans in learning how to imitate bird songs as a lure. This could have been accomplished through the morphing of pre-human "hooting" into precisely pitched yodeling. Since yodeling involves a process akin to the "overblowing" of wind instruments (such as pipes, flutes, etc.) to produce discrete overtones, it might have been the simplest means by which humans would have become aware of certain basic pitch relationships. Another possibility might have been the discovery that simple reed pipes or hollow bones could be blown into in such a way as to produce discrete pitches that in many cases could be used as bird-call imitations. Since each reed or bone could only play a single note, it would require close cooperation on the part of a group to imitate multi-pitched bird songs. Reed ensembles of this type are still widely found in Africa and elsewhere among indigenous peoples, and such performances are in many cases associated with birds and their calls. Vocal ensembles organized along similar lines may have developed either independently or in imitation of the wind ensembles.
3. Since bird songs are precisely pitched, hunters with absolute pitch would have been more effective than those without it, giving a selective advantage to those with absolute pitch.
4. On the basis of the above, admittedly speculative, sequence, it's not difficult to see how both vocalizing and playing with discrete pitches could have led to the development of a language of sorts, based exclusively on tonal relations. For one thing, each such musical sequence would have symbolized a specific species of bird. For another, it's possible to see how, for those with perfect pitch, each pitch could have been perceived as an easily identified semiotic "module," very close, in fact, to a linguistic phoneme, which it could have anticipated.
5. If the earliest "language" consisted essentially of discrete pitches, then we can see how, for early humans, the development of musical awareness would have had a powerful adaptational advantage (now lost, of course). This would also explain the widespread presence of tone languages in the continent where early humans developed, since the use of tonal phonemes would have persisted even after non-tonal elements were added.
The above is highly speculative of course. A great deal depends on whether or not Deutsch's results, based on research among East Asians, can be replicated with African subjects.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
This overlap makes sense, because language and music have a lot in common. They are both governed by a grammar, in which basic elements are organized hierarchically into sequences according to established rules. In language, words combine to form phrases, which join to form larger phrases, which in turn combine to make sentences. Similarly, in music, notes combine to form phrases, which connect to form larger phrases, and so on. (pp. 38-39)
I'm a bit skeptical regarding the many examples of baby-mother interaction she provides, because, like so many others in her field, and in cognitive science generally, she assumes that all babies and mothers interact similarly, based on research typically limited to American and European subjects. Before attempting to universalize such evidence, it's important to compare it with evidence from non-Western societies, as well as various indigenous groups from a wide range of different world areas.
The above reservations do not apply to her most remarkable and exciting results, regarding a completely unexpected and indeed very surprising correlation between absolute (or "perfect") pitch and tone language. She made the astonishing discovery that among students who had received musical training by the age of five, fluent speakers of Mandarin, a tone language, were far more likely to have absolute pitch than a comparable group of students who grew up with English or some other nontone language. We're talking a huge difference, of 92% of "very fluent tone language speakers," as opposed to only 8% of English speakers. To determine whether the correlation were primarily genetic rather than linguistic, she tested East Asian students who grew up speaking a non-tone language and discovered that they too scored only about 8%. The correlation seems definitely associated with tone language rather than genetic inheritance.
Another important discovery concerns the pitch sensitivity of tone language speakers generally. It's always been assumed that the pitches of tone language are relative and not absolute, yet Deutsch learned that
not only were Vietnamese and Mandarin speakers very sensitive to the pitches that they hear, but they can produce words at a consistent absolute pitch. . . We found that their pitches were remarkably consistent: when compared across days, half of the participants showed pitch differences of less than half a semitone (p. 42).
In the next post, I'll explain why I attach such importance to these results.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Is there any evidence for this? Yes:
1. The long-range "proto-musical" interactive hooting of Bonobos, as described by Hohmann and Fruth (see Post 330), appears to function as a type of communication and as such, might certainly confer an advantage with respect to both predators and prey. Since Bonobos appear to have so much in common with the ancestral humans I've defined here as HBP, or Hypothetical Baseline Population, and since their duetting and chorusing have a dynamic so similar to the hocketed vocalizing of Pygmies and Bushmen, it seems reasonable to assume that early humans could have been communicating vocally in a similar manner.
2. The fact that musical pitches and rhythms are perceived not simply acoustically but also semiotically, in terms directly parallel to the phonemic organization of literally all forms of speech (as outlined in the previous post), strongly suggests a historical connection between the two modes of communication.
3. Since music is "phonemic" in the above sense and speech is both phonemic and symbolic (in terms of the so-called signifier/signified relation), it seems reasonable to conclude that phonemic awareness must have preceded symbolic awareness.
4. If, as I have argued in many places on this blog and elsewhere, the musical style of the Pygmies and Bushmen is essentially the same as that of the common ancestor (HBP), then it's difficult to ignore the fact that the vocal music of both groups is dominated by meaningless vocables, with only very brief interjections of meaningful text. As a play of "phonemically" articulated tones, linked syntactically, but with little or no morphological content, it's not difficult to imagine how such a practice might have preceded the development of meaningful speech.
5. The fact that music is not only "phonemic" but also has an important syntactic dimension, tells us, first, that music represents an evolutionary "advance" over primate vocalizations, which appear to lack anything more than the simplest syntactic organization, and, moreover, suggests the possibility that linguistic syntax may have developed from that of music.
An important study of the relation between music and language has just been published in Scientific American Mind: Speaking in Tones, by Diana Deutsch. Her article contains many very interesting observations, based on some of the most recent developments in psychology, cognitive science and linguistics, including some remarkable findings especially relevant to the question at hand that I'll be discussing in the next post.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
This image can be found at the Wikipedia Commons website, along with the audio file that was used to produce it.
Note that each pitch is represented, not by a single line, but a vertically aligned array of short horizontals, each representing a separate "overtone." This is what is known as the "spectrum" of the sound, and all sounds, musical or otherwise, have a spectrum.
What we see in the spectrogram is a reasonable image of what we actually hear, in strictly acoustic terms. But, obviously, this is not anything like what we hear psychologically, which for most of us will be a simple series of "notes." Contemplating the difference between a sonogram image of a musical performance and what it is we think we hear, can give us an idea of the degree of psycho-cultural processing we perform when we listen to music. Musical notes are, in fact, not simply acoustical but also semiotic, i.e., acoustic phenomena filtered through a symbolic system.
To clarify, I'll take the liberty of offering an extensive quote from my paper, Echoes of Our Forgotten Ancestors:
(to be continued . . . )
As linguist Roman Jakobson once noted, “[t]here is...exactly the same relationship between a musical value and its realizations as there is in language between a phoneme and the articulated sounds which represent this phoneme in speech” (1987: 456). In other words, a pitch class (or a time point class) and a vocable class (phoneme) operate in more or less the same way. In semiotic terms, music, like speech, possesses second articulation [i.e., the ability to break sounds into distinct phonemes]. But unlike speech it lacks first articulation (morphology, the basis for the signifier/signified relation).
A basic principle behind what we usually understand as music is in fact this field of tonal and/or rhythmic values which can produce pitch and/or time-point classes, i.e., “second articulation” (see Grauer 1993, 2000). This is not something to be taken for granted. Music is (traditionally) not made from raw sounds (with apologies to John Cage) but from sounds that are (with a nod to Claude Levi-Strauss) “cooked.”
To put it yet another way (with a further nod to Jacques Derrida), that famous “supplement,” music notation, was in some sense always already there, in the form of the tonal/metric “force fields” which give rise to the values, or notes, “inscribed” in music from the start. The existence of tuned pipes, either free or bundled into panpipes, is early evidence of this, as such pipes can already be regarded as a form of pitch notation, each pipe standing for a given note, the whole set for a particular scale.
What all this suggests is that early music may well have set the stage for language by providing a kind of laboratory for phonological and semantic experimentation. It is perhaps only a short step from the play of sung “nonsense” vocables and the construction of tuned pipes to the birth of signs. While one might need to rely on “native speakers” to puzzle out the phonology of a given verbal language, the “phonology” of music is, apparently, already given to us—i.e., we ourselves may already be “native speakers” of any and all (traditional) musical “dialects.” This could explain why we are able to enjoy, and also notate, so many different kinds of music (p. 43).
*By "working definition," I mean a definition that would seem to apply in the great majority of cases, but not necessarily all. Additionally, while it's been argued that a great many peoples have no word for what we call "music," it is also true that in almost all cases, there are words for singing and words for the playing of instruments. Thus, for the purposes of my "working definition," music can be understood in the context of either singing or playing or both together.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
There is another hidden assumption worth discussing here as well, the assumption that Darwinian adaptation is strictly biological. As I understand it, the basic unit of adaptation is not the gene but the organism (and/or population) as a whole (see Mayr, What Evolution Is). If, for example, one population is better organized socially than its neighbors, this would confer on them a selective advantage potentially as effective as anything biologically determined (such as, for example, physical strength).
Dissanayake continues with some further speculations under the heading, THE ADAPTIVE FUNCTION OF PARTICIPATION IN RITUAL/MUSIC. As in so many other cases, among so many others who have considered such questions, what is really being discussed is the context in which musical behavior occurs, rather than the very specific nature of musical performance per se.
In sum, while there is much to be said about the adaptational efficacy of certain practices associated with music, such as social cooperation, ritual behavior, etc., there is nothing in any of the theories developed along such lines that distinguishes the sort of behavior that can be associated with music from what actually happens when people sing or play instruments (or, for that matter, dance). Thus, while cooperation per se undoubtedly constitutes an effective social adaptation, and musical cooperation may well serve to enhance its efficacity, there is nothing about singing or playing clearly defined pitches and/or clearly delineated rhythms that, as far as we know from either ethnographic or historical data, would appear to have conferred any significant competitive advantage on human individuals or groups.
Which returns me to the first of the alternatives proposed in Post 328: music may have prepared the way for the development of language.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Don't get me wrong. In itself, learning to cooperate certainly conferred enormous advantages on humans. Evidence of effective cooperation, in strictly practical terms, among virtually all human groups abounds. Nevertheless, despite evidence that human singing may have originated in the highly cooperative, interactive vocalizations of certain apes and gibbons, it remains difficult to understand what there was, or is, about vocal cooperation per se that could have provided either primates or humans with a competitive edge. The hallmark of cooperation may be interaction, but what was there, specifically, about vocal (or even instrumental) music that would have made this highly distinctive type of behavior effective enough to be selected for according to the classic Darwinian model? While it's certainly possible that musical cooperation might have been helpful in encouraging humans to cooperate, it's not difficult to think of other, much simpler, types of cooperation that could have had the same effect.
Merker has suggested that rhythmic entrainment may have been "selected for as a means for signal competition in the context of mate selection during rhythmic chorusing," (Op. Cit., p. 8) but there is no evidence for such a function among either humans or apes. In a fascinating, but also rather fanciful, recent paper by Ellen Dissanayake, entitled If music is the food of love, what about survival and reproductive success?, the author concentrates on certain musical features of mother-infant interactions. Significantly, she points to "interactive behaviors" between mother and child that
take place . . . sequentially, in bouts of 1.5 to 3 seconds, on a time base, so that each partner in the dyad reacts and responds contingently to the other’s signals within one-half second or less, anticipating and participating in an ongoing, changing, cocreated engagement. I propose that the dyadic coordination developed in mother infant interaction is likely a precursor of human music in which individuals mutually coordinate their voices and body movement in temporally and dynamically structured sequences (my emphasis, p. 177).
Since, as we have learned, a very similar type of interaction, also "paced at roughly 2 Hz" (Merker, Op. Cit., p. 7), i.e., two times a second, is characteristic of Bonobos, Dissanayake's observations seem remarkably consistent with the notion of a possible link between human and Bonobo vocalizations, reflected in the structure of the mother-infant bond.
Dissanayake moves on from there to consider "A HYPOTHETICAL PROGRESSION FROM PROTO-MUSIC TO MUSIC" based on the invention of "ceremonial ritual":
Like music and the other arts, ritual ceremonies occur universally in human societies. Indeed, the arts and ritual tend to occur together. Although human ceremonies are not instinctive — and indeed are culturally highly varied and complex — I propose that they build upon the proto-musical capacities and sensitivities that developed during human evolution to create and reinforce the mother-infant bond. . . . Emancipated from their maternal-infant origins, the elements of what eventually became music were probably first developed and elaborated by individual cultures, ancestrally, in religious practices (ritual ceremonies), which served to unite groups temporally and hence emotionally, as their proto-musical sources did for mother-infant pairs (p. 178).
As I see it, this sort of thinking, however interesting, and indeed suggestive, becomes far too vague far too quickly. We are still left wondering what it is about either mother-infant interactions or ceremonial rituals that caused something so distinctive and complex as musical behavior to emerge.
(to be continued . . . )
Since I haven't been able to find any Bonobo examples, and since their hooted "duetting" has been described as "gibbon-like," this video will have to do for now. For some examples of interactive human vocalizing of a somewhat similar type, see Post 22.
As far as function is concerned, Hohmann and Fruth state that their study
supports the general, assumption that high-hoots are part of a system of signals that facilitate communication between members of different parties. The small number of observations available on locomotion and vocal activity of different parties suggests that the calls affect movements and, thus, may regulate proximity between single individuals, groups, or parties. . . [Thus] high-hoots may be the major device to regulate and to maintain the social network of the community. (p. 780).If this is the case, and if primate duetting-chorusing is in fact "proto-musical," as the striking similarities with the "shouted hocket" of so many indigenous peoples suggests (as per the comparisons on Post 22), then the close cooperation associated with this type of vocal interaction might well have conferred an adaptational advantage on both early humans and their pre-human ancestors by enhancing social integration.
I must confess, however, that I'm not completely convinced. While interaction of this sort might well promote social stability and enhance the ability of a group to act in close coordination, I see no reason why either social stability or coordination would require the relatively precise synchronization so characteristic of both Bonobo or Gibbon vocalizations and human music-making. While primates and humans are capable of varying degrees of cooperative activity, none of these species appear to gain any sort of competitive advantage from acting in strictly synchronized concert. Aside from certain types of military drill, which are almost certainly a relatively late development, human "entrainment" of this sort appears to be limited exclusively to certain types of musical performance and dance.
Thus while the interactive element of Bonobo and human "proto-musical" and musical behavior might have conferred an adaptational advantage related to cooperation, it's much harder to see any such advantage accrueing from the precisely synchronized "entrainment" associated with it. Loosely coordinated cooperation would seem to have been equally effective as far as the survival of any of these species is concerned. It's also very difficult to see what adaptational advantage the more or less precise tuning of specific pitches, an essential element in almost all human music, might confer, since the sort of close cooperation required in deploying such pitches in either polyphony or unison appears to have no correlate in any other aspect of human behavior associated with cooperation per se.
There is one other possibility we have not yet discussed however, and this will be the principal topic of my next post.