Saturday, June 16, 2007

33. Almost There

In post 28, I asked three questions, all pertaining to my hypothetical style family A1, "Shouted Hocket": 1. is it truly a family, or simply an agglomeration of different practices that happen to sound alike? 2. do any or all the practices included in A1 contain elements that could be regarded as survivals from our pre-homosapiens, or even pre-human past? 3. can A1 be regarded as prototypical for the more complex types of hocket and/or interlock I've identified as A2, A3 and A4? If the answer to all three is "yes," then we will have arrived at the origin of music, and our passage from 000000 to 000001 will be complete. (Could there have been more than one origin? That's a rather tricky question I'll defer for now.)

One thing we've learned from our investigation so far is that there may be at least three subgroups within what I've been calling the A1 "style family": 1. the "throat-singing" practice identified by Nattiez, with certain very specific accoutrements not apparently found outside the circumpolar region; 2. the shouted, gutteral style of hocketed "panting" found among the Bushmen, Maasai and other African groups; 3. all the instances of non-gutteral shouted hocket in various parts of the world, including those for which I've specifically provided examples and at least some or possibly all of those retrieved by my Cantometric search.

Subgroups 1 and 2 are strikingly similar in so many respects that I think it reasonable to group them together as a single family. Nattiez himself tends to minimize the importance of certain features of the circumpolar tradition that might set it apart, such as animal imitations, the presence of dancing and drumming, the relative position of the singers, whether they are seated or standing, dancing or stationary, etc., as these are all associated with specific functions and contexts, thus belonging to the realm of the ephemeral signified, as opposed to the more basic features of the signifier: the intricate interlocking of parts, the "panted" vocalizing on both in- and out- breaths, the continuous flow of sound, etc.

The recordings I've heard from subgroup 3 don't sound particularly gutteral or breathy, and tend to lie higher in the voice. The Balinese "Monkey Chant" does involve trance and probably hyperventilation and some form of shamanism as well. It's difficult to say what role, if any, these factors might play among most of these groups, an assessment that will have to wait on additional research. For now, it's probably reasonable to divide A1 into two subfamilies, A1a, for the gutteral, "panting" styles, and A1b for the styles involving more "normal" use of the voice. It should be noted, by the way, that gutteral vocalizing and yodel are both centered in the glottal area of the vocal cavity.

So, to answer the first question, regarding the status of A1 as a true style family, I'd have to say that, at least as far as subgroup A1a is concerned, there are so many striking points of similarity that yes, even despite the great geographic distances involved, the evidence does appear to support such a conclusion. As for A1b, a comparison of the Aka "esime" with the examples we've heard from Madagascar and New Guinea, and even South America, for which I could play several other very similar examples, reveals striking similarities that would be almost impossible to distinguish in a blind testing -- with the complex, interlocked hocketing of the Balinese example lying somewhere between these and the Bushmen Tcoqma. Moreover, all performances from all groups we've heard in both A1a and A1b, regardless of the differences in voice placement and breathing technique, share a very distinctive type of interaction and overall sound, organized as a continuous, uninflected flow, that strongly suggests, for me at least, a common source. This assessment is reinforced by other factors involving other sorts of evidence that I'll be discussing presently.

In the past such a conclusion might have seemed totally fantastic, and without any support whatsoever. In the light of the genetic evidence, and the completely new picture it presents of humankind's earliest migrations, it is possible for the first time to get a fairly clear handle on how all these different populations in so many very different parts of the world could be related.

Now for the second and most problematic question: is there a basis for thinking that any or all aspects of A1 might have originated in some form of pre-homosapiens vocalizing, as exemplified in the vocalizing of certain of our primate cousins today? With such a question we are definitely in the realm of speculation -- but not without a certain amount of support from genetic science, coupled with some basic principles of evolution.

To answer such a question we need to consider not only the origin of music, but the origin of modern humans, which may well have resulted from a unique speciation event, resulting from a severe population bottleneck.

To be continued . . .

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