Thursday, July 12, 2007

58. Overview -- part 3

13. In post 35 I noted an interesting similarity between the type of vocal "overblowing" we call "yodel" and the practice of overblowing on certain wind instruments. Beginning with post 38, I delved more deeply into this relationship and its possible implications for musical evolution. Fortunately, I was able to draw upon an excellent study of hocketed polyphonic wind ensembles in Africa, by noted linguist and ethnomusicologist Roger Blench -- especially useful is a map he provides illustrating the distribution of such ensembles on that continent. Posts 38-44 focus on the possibility that these ensembles could be intimately associated, both structurally and historically, with P/B vocalizing. Distribution maps, drawn from population studies of Pygmy groups by Cavalli-Sforza, and queries of the Cantometrics database for the presence of interlock and yodel, appear to conform quite closely both with one another and with Blench's map of hocketed ensemble distributions. A musical analysis, featuring a transcription of Pygmy vocal hocket by Michelle Kisliuk, is presented in post 42 as evidence that P/B style vocalizing may well have been the model for the development of instrumental hocket. Blench points to a center of vocal and instrumental polyphony in southwest Ethiopia that could also be of importance, especially since both archaeological and genetic research suggests an origin for "modern" humans in this region.

14. Beginning with post 45, I decided to continue in three directions at once, in an attempt to deal with three closely related aspects of the situation summarized above: 1. the history of P/B style, vocal and instrumental, within subsaharan Africa; 2. the presence of very similar practices as an "African signature" among various indigenous groups in Asia, Indonesia and Melanesia; 3. most intriguing, but also most speculative, the possibility that certain elements of P/B, notably precise pitch relationships, and the use of tuned pipes, could have paved the way for the development of language.

15. With respect to 1, I drew upon musicological research by Kwabena Nketia, pointing to the significance of hocket in the vocal and instrumental traditions of subsaharan Africa generally, and the genetic research of a team led by Chiara Batini suggesting that the ancestry of the western branch of Pygmies and the present day Bantu, who now populate most of subsaharan Africa, can be traced to a single source population, dating back to between 60 and 30 thousand years ago. Both reports tend to confirm earlier Cantometric results suggesting that P/B style can be considered prototypical for much that we find in the music of SSAfrica as a whole.

16. With respect to 2, after a general discussion, in post 46, of the large body of evidence for the presence of P/B along the "Out of Africa" path, a table is presented representing "All Groups in Greater Melanesia Where Interlocked Vocalizing Has Been Found in the Cantometric Database." This area, which includes both the large island of New Guinea and the smaller islands in its vicinity, known collectively as "Island Melanesia," is of particular interest for several reasons, notably the large number of surviving indigenous groups, the presence of the "African signature" among many of these groups, and the significant amount of linguistic and genetic research that's been done in this region. According to the table, all the groups in New Guinea exhibiting vocal interlock, an important feature of P/B, with only one exception, are "highland" groups. Since the New Guinea highlands have been identified by archaeologists, linguists and geneticists as representative of the original population, dating back to anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, this result, as discussed in posts 47-49, appears to rather dramatically reinforce the "African connection" theory presented in my essay.

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