Sunday, December 30, 2007

117. Concept, Style and Structure . . .

My music-theory oriented paper on Pygmy and Bushmen music (in response to Furniss and Olivier) is finally available. Here's how I just announced it on the Ethnomusicology mailing list:

A preprint of my recently completed essay, "Concept, Style and Structure in the Music of the African Pygmies and Bushmen: A Study in Cross-Cultural Analysis," is now available, in pdf format, via the Eunomios website: Here's the abstract:
The highly distinctive contrapuntal vocalizing of the so-called "Pygmies" and "Bushmen" of Africa has been a topic of considerable interest to musicologists for some time. In comparative studies, many striking stylistic and structural similarities among almost all such groups have been observed. Surprisingly, however, recent research by ethnomusicologists Susanne Furniss and Emmanuelle Olivier has led them to a very different interpretation: though the two traditions may be "acoustically" very close, they must be regarded as, nevertheless, "radically opposite" due to a fundamental difference in "conception." This unexpected and challenging conclusion, based on the distinction they draw between the stylistic features of a musical tradition and the conception underlying it, encouraged me to undertake a thorough re-examination -- part ethnomusicology, part music theory, part hermeneutics -- of the musical structures underlying both traditions and the manners in which such structures may be understood and interpreted. In this paper I draw upon insights into the nature of Pygmy and Bushmen music afforded by the research of Furniss and Olivier to argue against their interpretation of its meaning. In the process, I hope to demonstrate how extraordinarily close, conceptually and otherwise, the two traditions really are.

While the above might, on the surface, appear to represent a typical academic dispute, of interest to only a few specialists, I can assure you, this one is different. For one thing, my intention is not only to challenge my "opponents," but also to call attention to their extraordinarily valuable and important research, from which I have learned a great deal; with which I am, for the most part, in enthusiastic agreement. Indeed, Furniss's detailed and painstaking analysis of a single Aka "song," (included in Michael Tenzer's recent collection, *Analytical Studies in World Music*) has, in my opinion, and in spite of certain points open to question, taken our understanding of African Pygmy music to a whole new level.

For another thing, the old question regarding the relationship between the Pygmies and the Bushmen, their music and their history, remains of central importance, not only to ethnomusicologists, but archaeologists, ethnologists, population geneticists, linguists, historians, etc. If I am right, and the research of Furniss and Olivier (not to mention Kisliuk and England, on whose work I also draw rather heavily) demonstrates, on the basis of detailed musical analysis (and contrary to their own interpretation), how remarkably close the two traditions actually are, such a conclusion, coupled with equally compelling stylistic evidence gleaned (by Alan Lomax and myself) from Cantometrics, and fortified by all the remarkable new genetic research on human "deep history", would represent possibly the first solid evidence of (non-material) cultural survival dating all the way back to the Upper Paleolithic.

Finally, if I am right, a whole set of assumptions now held by the great majority of ethnomusicologists would be seriously called into question, most notably, 1. music can be understood only in its immediate social context; 2. it is inappropriate, improper, unscientific, etc., to extrapolate backward from the present to the distant past.

I would welcome any comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc., that anyone on this list might have with respect to any aspect of my paper, the work of Furniss and Olivier, or any of the issues raised above. The Eunomios Forum is accessible from their home page, at Responses can also be posted on this list, or to me personally.

Needless to say, I also welcome responses posted as comments to this blog. But read the thing first, OK? :-)

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