Sunday, July 29, 2007

72. Finally -- Part Two

So where, you ask, does the "power of music" fit into the Kalahari debate? And why has it taken so long to get to this point? As I see it the Kalahari debate represents an especially important test of the claims I've been making on this blog for the central importance of music in human culture and history, and thus the central importance of comparative musicology for our understanding of both. Before I could bring music into the picture, however, it was necessary to elucidate the most fundamental issues behind the debate; to explain why these issues continue to be so important, for our understanding of human culture, past and present, as well as the future of anthropology itself; and, finally, to make the significance of the new genetic research fully apparent.

As for the role of music in this debate, it's important to understand that my approach to the musical evidence is in certain respects quite similar to that of the geneticists. For one thing, both are based on evidence, not assumptions, however "reasonable" they might seem. Both operate by inferring the distant past from evidence gathered in the present. Unlike archaeologists, forced to make do with evidence that is both limited and fragmentary, comparative musicologists and geneticists are in a position to draw upon data sources that are extraordinarily rich and plentiful. Musical styles, like DNA itself, are "digital" rather than "analogue." The objects of archaeological research, like analogue recordings, gradually degrade over time. Musical traditions, on the other hand, like digital recordings or DNA, are renewed from one generation to the next; moreover, elements of both can suddenly "mutate" from time to time, leaving behind traces of their history. Finally, as I've already argued, the characteristics of musical style, like mitochondrial or Y chromosome DNA, can be regarded as "neutral markers," largely unaffected by the sort of selective pressures to which things like tools, clothing, housing, subsistence techniques and even language can be subject.

Before continuing, I urge the serious reader to review some of my earlier posts, first the more general comments dealing with the importance of music (post 2), the archaeology of music (post 8), and music as a neutral marker (posts 9-11); then, more specifically, those posts on the musical evidence most pertinent to the Kalahari debate: 5-7.

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