Wednesday, May 23, 2007

12. A Phylogenetic Tree

I'm going way out on a limb (no pun intended) in this post, offering a phylogenetic tree, representing my own best thinking so far, based to some extent on the Cantometric data, but also on other aspects of musical style that I'm aware of -- and some personal, though IMO well informed, inferences. It represents, I suppose, a rough summary of the hypothesis presented in my "Echoes" essay. There are many years of research behind this, so I do think it's meaningful -- but it is also somewhat subjective, i.e., not automatically produced by the raw data. I've been working on this for several months, tweaking it from time to time as new wrinkles occur to me. I've been reluctant to submit it anywhere for publication, 1. because I'm not completely sure how accurate it is and 2. because I may be one of the very few capable of fully understanding (and appreciating) it. Few ethnomusicologists alive today have paid much attention to such issues.

(Click on the tree to enlarge it -- or better yet, right-click and select "Open in New Window")

Note the column on the right, a listing of various musical characteristics, mostly drawn from Cantometrics but not all. In the map I treat these as analogous to what geneticists call "haplotypes," grouped together by analogy with "haplogroups." [Correction (as of July 29, 2007): I now believe my terminology to be in error. The musical characteristics in this column are analogous to genetic markers, i.e., mutations, not haplotypes.] All "haplogroups" beginning with the letter A represent styles or style variants originating in Africa and surviving more or less intact in other parts of the world to this day. All those beginning with "B" represent styles that appear to have originated as the result of a major bottleneck, both genetic and cultural, that occurred during an early phase of the Out of Africa migration. (Bottlenecks are severe reductions in population, due to the splintering off of certain groups or some form of mass destruction due to a catastrophe of some sort, a famine, flood, war, etc.) For more on this, see my essay.

A second display, a set of maps, is an attempt to apply the "haplogroups" presented in my tree to a hypothetical picture of the evolution of musical style according to the "Out of Africa" migration picture featured in my monograph, essentially the one presented by Steven Oppenheimer in his book "The Real Eve."

In the first little map, titled "Out of Africa," all the arrows are red, representing the five variants of the original "Pygmy/Bushmen" style (A1 - 5 on the Phylogenetic Tree) that, as I see it, must have spread along with the original "out of Africa" migrants, following Oppenheimer's coastal route, all the way to Sundaland and beyond, turning the corner around the Moluccas, I guess and then continuing north along the SE Asiatic coast.

Mini-map 2, "Bottleneck Event," is an attempt to picture a catastrophic event that could account for the musical gap we find between Yemen and Myanmar, where little or no evidence of Pygmy/Bushmen style can be found today. According to Oppenheimer, there is a very similar gap in the genetic evidence, though, as I understand, not everyone agrees about this. As I see it, only some sort of catastrophe at some point from, say, 75,000 to 50,000 years ago, can explain all the very different musical styles we find in the world today, especially the styles represented in the phylogenetic tree as B2 and B3 and their derivatives. So this map, unlike any other I've ever seen, is not based solely on continuity, but contains an abrupt break, representing the effects of the bottleneck on the various surviving groups.

Oppenheimer seems convinced that the Toba explosion can account for the bottleneck, but since that theory is controversial, I decided to present an alternative possibility that could have had a very similar effect, a Tsunami centered somewhere south of the "point" of India, occurring sometime between, say, 80,000 and 50,000 years ago. If in fact "Out of Africa" was a coast-oriented culture, then such an event could have wiped out all or almost all the various colonies strewn along the coast of the Indian Ocean -- but spared those who had already made it around the corner, to the coast of E. Asia and some of the Islands to the East of Sundaland. As I see it, this would explain a great deal about a lot of things, not just music.

The other two little maps should be more or less self explanatory, but of course there would be a great deal to say about each and every arrow represented.

All of the above makes a great deal of sense, at least to me. But I'm afraid that to most others it will look extremely speculative, if not meaningless. I would appreciate comments and questions, nevertheless, to help me get a sense of whether or not others are able to find anything interesting or useful in this. I'd also very much appreciate suggestions for improving it, especially from anyone with experience in concocting phylogenetic trees.


gaul armstrong said...

Very interesting. I see now how your research is going in a different direction than I'd imagined. Interesting!

Hucbald said...

Interesting, yet a waste of time from my perspective (And mine alone: No insult intended).

The five elements of pure music - harmony, counterpoint, melody, rhythm, and form - have only ever been properly explored by western culture. The history of western art music - the evolution from monody through polyphony, and then finally to homophony (Roughly 600 AD to 1900 AD) - is a reflection of the proper intuiting of the implications of the harmonic overtone series. No other culture has ever managed this, because no other culture was ever musically literate: There was no sheet music previously, and so no way to precisely bequeath to posterity one's advances. Not only that, but the west and the west alone provided the socio-economic and political institutions necessary for such an evolution to take place.

Though every culture has musical manifestations present in it - and this can be interesting in a trivial way (IMHO, of course) - none but the western one is really historically significant (Ancient Greek if you account for my ancient namesake and his descendants taking from classical writings).

All the rest is just local color for whatever time period. I find it interesting that people put so much effort into stuff like this. It is a curiosity at best. But more power to you: You know your stuff... and I'll put you on my list of interesting music weblogs. ;^)


Huckleberry the Bald

Victor said...

Greetings, Hucbald. It's always a pleasure to hear from someone who disagrees with me. I mean that sincerely, because it gives me the opportunity to go more deeply into certain issues I might otherwise have neglected. But I disagree with you in so many different ways and on so many different levels that it's hard to know where to begin. I'm sure you realize that your viewpoint is one that would now, by most musicologists, ethno or otherwise, be considered not only ethnocentric but also hopelessly outdated. That's OK, by the way. My work is probably also considered hopelessly outdated by some, since I'm trying to revive the "dead issue" of comparative musicology.

Much more is now known about the roots of what you call "western culture" than had been known by music historians of previous generations. For one thing, polyphony and even counterpoint are found in abundance among many indigenous peoples. And much of their music, once it is understood, is by no means primitive by ANY standard. By comparison there is much in OUR musical culture that's primitive, as evidenced by our dependence on notation for the performance of types of polyphonic music that indigenous peoples manage by ear.

For another, we now have a far better grasp of how profound an influence African music has had on the western classical traditions you value so much. Many of the Renaissance and Baroque dance forms that are of such central importance historically have their origin in the dances colonists picked up from African slaves in the Americas. This includes the Saraband, the Chaconne, and possibly all the other dance types employing a ground bass, as the basic principle behind the ground is characteristic of much African music. When you consider the influence that this type of bass oriented music had on the development of the bass-oriented "modern" tonal system, you will see that there could be a good deal that is as yet little understood about the possible roots of European art music in Africa.

When considering the roots of European church and court music one cannot possibly rule out the influence of all sorts of folk (i.e. peasant) traditions. There is good evidence that polyphony itself could be due to such influences. Amost certainly medieval hocket was. A great many dances have peasant origins as well.

I could say a lot more on this topic, but will conclude by suggesting that what you seem to be referring to, really, is the history of music theory, not music per se. But even in that realm, western theory owes a great deal to other cultures, especially Arabic culture.

For me, the truly "Great Tradition" in music is the tradition outlined (for better or worse) in my phylogenetic tree. Western art music represents only one small twig.

Evan said...


Would you also consider it a waste of time to study the languages of cultures that lack a writing system? Certainly, a literate society has many cultural advantages over a non-literate one, but writing is an abstraction (as is musical notation) and its existence doesn't qualitatively change the underlying system it denotes.

In fact, if we only considered languages with written forms as significant, we'd be doing a disservice to the study of the human language faculty, because every language has something to teach us.

I'm a linguist, so that's why I draw this analogy; Victor is taking a similar approach, but with music.

Jeremy F said...


I'm hoping I have misunderstood your comment here - because it insinuates (and implicitly states) some horrible things. However, I probably have not.

No other culture's music is worth studying? It's all just local color? I don't even know where to begin, so I won't. Sounds like you assert that Ethnomusicology is worthless and also a waste of time.

When shared with some friends of mine, they physically recoiled in disgust.

I couldn't let that comment stand, and while Victor and Evan restrained themselves from pointing out the lunancy of your "opinions" (which you try to present as facts), I could not. It disturbs me greatly that such ill-conceived sentiments as yours still crop up from time to time.

Sorry about the rant, Victor, but I had to say something.

zhao said...

sadly, Hucbald is a good measure of popular opinion, and evidence of a greatly impoverished and distorted world view subscribed by the majority, with its roots in racist ideologies of the past few centuries, invented to justify colonialism.