Wednesday, June 13, 2007

30. 000000 to 000001 part 3

As Nattiez demonstrates, the circumpolar "throat-singing" tradition he's identified can be understood as a unified style family despite being interpreted differently in different social contexts, as either a shamanic practice or a game. It's important to understand that Nattiez achieves his results phylogenetically, by working his way backward, with the aid of archaeological, linguistic and genetic evidence, to a "protoform" for all manifestations of this style, a common root dating to thousands of years in the past. Is it possible for us to connect all or at least some of the other types of "shouted hocket" we've been considering, from Melanesia, Indonesia, South America, Africa, etc., via the same protoform? And if so, would the association Nattiez has found with shamanism still be relevant?

As should be clear by now, a significant amount of additional research into both the musical practices and cultural background of all the groups we're considering would be necessary before any solid conclusions could be drawn. Nevertheless, there is a great deal we are in a position to consider at this point, if only provisionally. If all these instances could indeed, in one way or another, turn out to be associated with shamanism, that would certainly strengthen the connection. But as Nattiez has shown, it's not necessary for the social function, the signified, to remain the same, since the same signifier may, over time, come to take on different significations. What's most important, it seems to me, is the ability to trace the various manifestations of the "signifier" we are examining back to a single source phylogenetically, i.e., historically. If we could do that, then I think we might at least be able to develop a convincing circumstantial case. The presence of shamanism in certain contexts might indeed provide an important clue, but its absence may not matter at all.

Let us therefore consider the protoform deduced by Nattiez. This must be understood not simply as a theoretical construct but a real musical style, practiced by real people at a certain time and place, i.e., both historically and geographically. What could this musical practice have been? How would it have differed from the throat singing of today? What sort of people could have been singing in this manner? And where could they have been living? Taking historical linguistics as his guide, Nattiez associates the protoform with the time when three language families, Eskimo-Aleut, Chuckchi-Kamchatkan and Altaic were, according to certain linguistic theories, one and the same -- a connection reinforced by certain genetic evidence produced by the noted population geneticist Luca Cavalli-Sforza. (I'm delighted to note, by the way, that Nattiez has preceded me not only by considering the genetic evidence but also by suggesting that the musical evidence might actually have a bearing on the way the supposedly "more scientific" linguistic and genetic theories are evaluated.)

Where Nattiez was guided by the linguistic and genetic evidence pointing to a circumpolar root culture 4,000 or 5,000 years old, I am allowing myself to be guided, at least for now, by the far more ambitious "Out of Africa" theory, with characteristic time spans ranging into the tens of thousands of years. I am also being guided by the "standard candle" (see section 11) afforded by Chen's estimate of at least 72,000 years for the branching of the Aka Pygmies from the hypothetical founding group of homo sapiens sapiens, several thousands of years prior to the estimated date of Bushmen divergence. As I've already argued, the extraordinary similarities between the vocalization styles of the Pygmies and Bushmen, combined with the genetic results, warrant a complete rethinking of our sense of how long a particular musical tradition may persist unchanged, at least as far as its most salient stylistic elements are concerned.

There is no reason to assume, therefore, that Nattiez' throat-singing protoform is only 4 or 5 thousand years old, simply because the divergence of some language families might date to that time. As it is now possible to argue that musical style can be a far more conservative force than language, the stylistic nexus studied by Nattiez might well be rooted far more deeply in the mysteries of our human past.

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