Wednesday, June 20, 2007

36. Arriba!

As I argued in my "Echoes" essay, there are many reasons for tracing the musical traditions of the original "Out of Africa" migrants back to Pygmy/Bushmen style ("haplogroups" A1 through A4 on my Phylogenetic Tree) -- and there are in fact a great many instances of strikingly similar practices, both vocal and instrumental, to be found among indigenous peoples living in enclaves along more or less the same route they are thought to have taken, anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Moreover, as I have been arguing in the last several posts, it would seem that the P/B variant I've labeled A1, or "Shouted Hocket," is widely enough distributed among such groups, and has enough distinctive features in common with certain types of primate vocalizing, to be taken seriously as a possible survival of some pre- or proto- musical practice of our pre-homosapiens or possibly even pre-human ancestors.

The question then would be "what came next"? And, as I suggested in the previous post it looks very much like the very interesting and distinctive practice of yodel might provide us with a valuable clue. Yodeled hocket can be found along with or in place of shouted hocket in at least some of our A1 examples, the most significant difference being its use of discrete pitches. While yodeling can of course be considered a musical practice, it can also be regarded simply as a type of vocalization -- and is indeed used not only for musical expression but also signalling, in which case it becomes a special case of shouting. We might therefore consider yodel to be just one simple step away from the "shouted" or hooted vocalizing of primates. Which would be a fairly simple and straightforward way to think about how the use of yodeled pitches could have turned some sort of hooted duetting or chorusing among our ancestors into something we can today recognize as music "proper."

Once pitches are introduced, by the way, then all sorts of other possibilities emerge, because pitch relationships are goverened by harmonic relationships and harmonic relationships have a very important triple identity: as musical, mathematical, and also semiotic entities. So once early AMHs (Anatomically Modern Humans) began to play around with discrete pitches, initially just for fun I'd imagine, they are not only on the way to music, but also math and language. I'll probably have more to say about such possibilities in future, though I've already touched on some of it in my essay.

Consulting once again my Phylogenetic Tree, we see that I've placed style family A2, "Interlocked Hocket" as the next higher branch, implying that A2 can be understood as derived from A1. Note that A1 is characterized by the following musical traits, or "haplotypes": Hk (Hocket), CV (Continuous Vocalizing), It (Iterative), Y (Yodel), N ("Nonsense" vocables), RT (Relaxed Throat). A2 shares most of these traits, Hk, CV, Y, N, and RT, but not It, meaning that unlike the simple back and forth pitched or unpitched iterations so characteristic of shouted hocket, each voice uses more than one pitch, i.e., is melodic rather than iterative. In addition, three new traits are introduced: Int (Interlock), WI (Wide Intervals), and P (Phrased vocalizing). While shouted hocket can to some extent be regarded as a form of interlock (and has often been coded as such, cantometrically) the interlocking aspect is very simple, more like a rapid interchange, whereas the interlocking we find in A2 is more complex and can in fact be quite elaborate. While A1 is so iterative that we rarely hear any intervals at all, but just repetions of a single "hoot," shout or pitch, A2 does have intervals, which are usually coded as "Wide," i.e., anything from intervals of a third to a fifth or more, up to and beyond the octave. While this might seem like a considerable "advance" from an evolutionary perspective, yodeling actually makes such intervals easier and more natural to produce than the smaller "diatonic" intervals we are used to in the popular and concert music of the West. The symbol P, for Phrased, reflects the fact that most of the musical traditions represented by A2 are apparently organized according to the presence of an underlying musical "phrase," though this is often far from obvious. This can get us into fairly deep waters technically, so I won't go into too much detail at this point, but it's important to understand that A1 appears to have no structure aside from simple re-iteration of more or less the same sounds endlessly. A2 represents a considerable "advance" (if you will) as it does often involve a kind of musical "syntax" built around the repetition and/or variation of a basic musical unit -- or "phrase."

In the sense that A2 is in fact very similar to A1 in many respects, but also quite different in others, richer and more complex, suggests that there could be an evolutionary relationship between the two styles. The fact that both tend to be found among the same populations in Africa appears to strengthen this hypothesis.

Thus, if the duetting, chorusing and pant-hooting of certain primates might be understood as some sort of pre- or proto- music, and the shouted hocket of A1 as a kind of "missing link" taking us to the threshold of music "proper," then with A2, "Interlocked Hocket," we might be able to claim, however tentatively and provisionally, that we may finally, in some sense, have arrived at our long sought goal, humankind's earliest musical utterance.

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