Monday, July 30, 2007

74. Finally -- Part Four

Like the "purloined letter" of Poe's edifying detective story, the musical evidence has been sitting in full view all along, so readily available as to be effectively invisible. While music is not really a "universal language" as once claimed, many different kinds of music are enthusiastically appreciated and even cultivated in our society, to the point that recordings of some of the most esoteric musical practices from the most remote corners of the world have been widely available for many years. In the words of Alan Lomax,

So far as we know, every branch of the human species has its songs. Indeed, singing is a universal human trait found in all known cultures as a specialized and easily identifiable kind of vocal behavior. During this century, especially in the past twenty years, recordings of song have been made in every quarter of the globe in all sorts of cultural settings. Probably singing is the only human behavior which has been documented so generally and in a form so adaptable for laboratory research. A recording can be played again and again for judges, and their observations can be compared to those obtained from repeated auditions of other recordings. Thus a modern library of musical tapes provides ideal material for a comparative study of social communication (from "The Stylistic Method," in Lomax et al., Folk Song Style and Culture, AAAS #88, 1968, p. 3).

Because of its unique properties and extraordinarily important social role, as Lomax observes, music has been widely documented in a manner that is special, totally unlike any other type of cultural behavior. His Cantometric method was designed to take advantage of this cultural treasure trove. But you needn't be a Cantometrics expert to listen and judge for yourself regarding any sort of claim anyone might want to make with respect to this very special sort of evidence. Indeed, Cantometrics was designed to reflect the sort of judgements untrained listeners make when listening to music, regarding things like the social interaction of the performers, the roles they play, how smoothly and precisely they blend, how fast the music is going, how repetitive it is, the degree of loudness, ornamentation, vocal tension, rasp, accent, etc. Such judgements are usually made unconsciously, but they can readily be brought into consciousness and put to use when comparing different performers, compositions, styles, genres, etc., something most music lovers often find themselves doing when discussing their favorites with friends.

Naturally, there is a difference between comparing styles with which one is familiar and evaluating recordings of music from other cultures, with traditions very different from ones own. I've devoted an entire post (no. 27) to this problem, and as I wrote "A lot would depend on ones familiarity with all the other major traditions of world music, as a basis for comparison." Nevertheless, as I also wrote, "with the aid of my comments I do hope it's possible for most here to listen with enough sympathy and understanding to follow the gist of my argument."

While there is no substitute for the sort of systematic comparative study afforded by a methodology such as Cantometrics, the characteristics of Pygmy and Bushmen music are so distinctive and striking that even the most inexperienced and untrained listener ought to be able to recognize what is essential -- and appreciate why so many have found, to quote Charlotte Frisbie, "overwhelming similarities" between the two. Here are some of the most important things to listen for, as I described them back in post 7:

the use of yodel; the interlocking of voices, to produce an intricate counterpoint; a frequent tendency for one part to be completed by another part, with the effect of a melody tossed back and forth between two or more voices, a practice similar to what, in Medieval Europe, was called "hocket" (or "hiccup"); the extraordinarily well matched and fluent blending of the voices; intricate, precisely executed, polyrhythms; the predominance of meaningless vocables, usually open vowels, such as "oh" or "ah"; highly repetitive, but also varied, melodic structures, based on short motives (but with an underlying melodic phrase as an implied, but often unheard basis); frequent wide melodic leaps; almost complete lack of embellishment; a continuous flow of interwoven sound with no pauses.

And now, finally, so you can judge for yourself, I'll provide examples, some of which you've already heard, though others will be new. By the way, try to ignore the drumming you'll hear from time to time, because drums are not indigenous to either Pygmy or Bushmen music, but introduced through the influence of neighboring Bantu peoples. Let's begin with an Aka Pygmy Divining Song, as recorded in the Central African Republic by Simha Arom. The opening gives you a good opportunity to hear the characteristically open throated, relaxed and fluid sound of a typical Pygmy voice. Note the unusually wide melodic intervals between each note and the next, produced largely through alternation between mid-range "chest" tones and high, hooted "head tones," so characteristic of Pygmy yodelling. Listen carefully as a second voice enters, interlocking quite elegantly with the first.

For comparison sake, the next example is from the Ju'hoansi Bushmen, (also known as !Kung), living near the border between Namibia and Botswana, as recorded by Emannuelle Olivier: The Eland. This time the voices are female, but the basic effect sounds, to me at least, remarkably similar, with wide intervals, prominent use of yodel, open-throated, fluid voices and equally elegant interlocking "counterpoint."

For the benefit of the trained musicians among you, I'll mention that, according to Olivier, Bushmen music is not conceived polyphonically, but as a set of simultaneously sung variants of a fundamental "master" melody, realized in different "tessituras." In other words, Bushmen music appears to be based on a highly idiosyncratic mix of polyphony and heterophony -- as will be borne out in most cases by careful listening. This is an observation of great significance, as I see it, because, according to both Michelle Kisliuk and Susanne Furniss, Pygmy polyphony is similarly based on "master" melodies, organized in an almost identical manner as in Bushmen music. And, as is apparent from many transcriptions, by Kisliuk, Furniss and others, as well as careful listening, Pygmy "counterpoint" tends also to be a very similar mix of polyphony and heterophony, with many parts closely based on the "master" melody, in a manner remarkably similar, it would seem, to what happens in Bushmen music. Strangely, both Olivier and her associate Furniss, have come to a very different conclusion, an issue I've already mentioned here and that I am planning to address in an upcoming essay.

Now for some more examples. Here is an Elephant Hunting Song, by Mbuti Pygmies, living hundreds of miles away from the Aka, in the Republic of Congo, recorded by anthropologist Colin Turnbull. Next, from another Ju'hoansi Bushmen group, living some distance from the first, in the village of Dobe, in northern Botswana: //Kaa (from the CD Mongongo, recorded by John Brearly). Hocketing is particularly apparent here, with each singer contributing only one or two notes to produce an intricately interlocked resultant. Here's yet another Bushmen group, the Qwii, also from Botswana, but considerably farther south: Mantshwe. Compare with this, from yet another Pygmy group, the BaBenzele, Song After Returning from a Hunt -- note the hocketing between voice and two one-note pipes at the beginning.

I plan to wind up our discussion of the Kalahari Debate in the next post, discussing the significance of the musical evidence generally, which as I see it, and as in the very similar case of the Mikea, is decisive.

73. Finally -- Part Three

The real problem with the Kalahari debate, aside from some of the more dubious ideological claims, was/is the fragmentary and inconclusive nature of the evidence. The "revisionists" have interpreted the archaeology one way, the "traditionalists" another. All sorts of assumptions were made on both sides, but with little real basis in fact. The extraordinary evidence provided by the geneticists, far more extensive, complete and reliable than the archaeology, was largely ignored by both sides. When Alan Barnard belatedly acknowledges that evidence, he feels compelled to remind us that "the relation between [the] Urkultur [implied by the genetic research] and the cultures of today’s so-called ‘indigenous peoples’ is no greater than that between this Urkultur and the cultures of all peoples" (see post 69). But this is also an assumption, with no basis whatsoever in anything more than "reasonable" conjecture.

Similarly, when Richard Lee, weighing in for the traditionalists, writes that "common social patterns among a number of hunter-gatherer societies around the world, including egalitarian decision-making and communal religious practices, may shed light on behavior in earlier times, . . . although such analogies probably cannot extend beyond several thousand years," he too is whistling in the dark. In the absence of a comparative methodology that would permit such hypotheses to be tested, the traditionalist argument fares little better than that of the revisionists.

Thus, while the genetic evidence points unmistakeably to the Bushmen as true indigenes with a clearly defined genealogical identity, the cultural question has remained up in the air. From the standpoint of conventional ethnology, there is simply not enough evidence. The mantra goes something like this: since we can't go back in time to observe how people were living 100,000 years ago, we can't do more than speculate regarding any aspect of their culture. I strongly disagree. Because the musical evidence, hitherto all but completely ignored, can function like a time machine of sorts, and can in fact help us settle some of the
most contentious aspects of the Kalahari debate.

My argument can be briefly summarized via quotations from earlier posts. First, with respect to music in general:

1. music is, "like language, a . . . fundamental, if not elemental, cultural FORCE."

2. "we have very good reason to believe that music, or at least certain musical traditions, are far more conservative than just about any other aspect of culture, certainly more than language."

3. "there are certain musical style families whose distribution suggests that they have, indeed, remained essentially unchanged over extremely long periods of time, large geographical areas, and very different types of environment."

4. "Unlike language, in which original utterances are continually being produced, music tends to repeat the same utterances over and over, in the form of set pieces that have names and in many cases composers."

5. "Language may be seen, in fact, as a force for change, while music seems to operate as a conservative force, continually linking a society to its ancestors and its origins."

6. "It looks very much to me as though musical style (and possibly dance style as well) is in fact by far the most conservative cultural force in human society, persisting both as a "neutral marker," largely unaffected by environmental and social forces surrounding it (with important exceptions, of course), and, what is more, an actively conservative force, working to preserve the most precious and timeworn traditions of the society that treasures it."

Second, with respect to the cultural "pedigree" of the Kalahari Bushmen:

7. In 1956, Gilbert Rouget, then director of the Ethnomusicology program at the Musee de l'Homme, in Paris, wrote: "If, as it is traditional to do, one should consider the Pygmies and the Bushmen as belonging to two races entirely distinct, how can one explain the troubling relationship between their music and their dances? It cannot be a phenomenon of convergence, the resemblances constituting a system too complex and too coherent to allow for an explanation of this order. A reciprocal influence is also to be rejected, being given the distance as much geographic as climatic which separates the ones from the others. Is it necessary to believe, then, that the Pygmies and Bushmen are of common stock, and that their dance and music represent the remainder of a common cultural heritage?"

8. "We have two populations consisting of nomadic hunter-gatherers with the simplest of material cultures, no permanent residence, no iron or steel tools (until very recently), without domesticated animals, moving about on foot, and located in what amounts to three very distant parts of the African continent, the Pygmies in the forests of both West and Central Africa, the !Kung Bushmen in the desert of southern Africa. Yet they have musical traditions that, for most of the musicologists who have studied them, are so close as to be almost indistinguishable. Since the genetic evidence so strongly suggests that both groups stem from the same root, it would make a great deal of sense to conclude that the similarity of musical practice must stem from the time when their ancestors were part of the same population, a history that may go back at least 76,000 but possibly 102,000 years, according to Chen et al."

9. "We can only conclude that this particular musical tradition must have been passed down from generation to generation over a period of at least 76,000 years (assuming the genetic estimates are correct) essentially unchanged -- a conclusion that, if corroborated, would totally transform our notion of cultural evolution and the role of tradition in its history."

Never mind me, however. Next time I'll let you judge for yourself.

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.

Friday, July 27, 2007

71. Finally (part one)

The "Great Kalahari Debate" revolved around two basic issues: 1. whether or not certain Kalahari "Bushmen" groups can be regarded as genuine foragers who remained largely isolated for most of their history and adapted to outside pressures without losing their identity; 2. whether or not certain aspects of primordial hunter-gatherer culture could have survived into the Twentieth Century among such groups. The genetic research appears to have resolved the first question -- in the affirmative (see previous post). But no amount of genetic research can, in itself, resolve the second.

Barnard's assertion that "the relation between [the 'Urkultur' of the earliest "modern" humans] and the cultures of today’s so-called ‘indigenous peoples’ is no greater than that between this Urkultur and the cultures of all peoples" is widely held today among many anthropologists. Indeed, it only stands to reason that all sorts of changes must have taken place among all human lineages over the last 150,000 years, even the most isolated. And there is no lack of evidence for that. If the ancestors of the Bushmen were the original inhabitants of southern Africa, their lifestyle would have been quite different in a great many ways from that of their Kalahari descendants, marginalized to the desert by the "Bantu expansion," and thus forced to adapt to one of the most difficult environments on Earth. An important question remains, however: did they alter their lifestyle entirely at this point, or make only those changes absolutely necessary for survival?

A balanced treatment of the entire issue was presented in the journal Science News, back in 1989, at the height of the Kalahari debate: "A World That Never Existed: researchers debate the pervasive view of hunter-gatherers as a window to humanity's past." Here are some relevant quotations:
Few anthropologists now believe there are hunter-gatherers who have lived totally isolated from outside influences. But critics of traditional ethnographic studies, such as [Thomas] Headland and [Lawrence] Reid, contend these groups provide at best a limited view of prehistoric behavior patterns. Others, such as [Richard] Lee, say hunter-gatherers often hang on to their basic social organization through long periods of contact with outsiders and can provide important information about the evolution of human culture. . .
"It's obvious there are no pristine hunter-gatherers," says Lewis R. Binford of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. "But to say you cannot generalize in any way to the past because modern behavior is unique is, in essence, an attack on science." . . .
The usefulness of the !Kung [the most studied Bushmen group] as evolutionary models is now under attack by a member of the original Harvard team. At the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology last year, Nancy Howell, now of the University of Toronto, said the researchers neglected and avoided evidence that the !Kung are not Stone Age survivors.
. . . [C]ommon social patterns among a number of hunter-gatherer societies around the world, including egalitarian decision-making and communal religious practices, may shed light on behavior in earlier times, Lee says, although such analogies probably cannot extend beyond several thousand years.
Lee thinks critics such as Howell and Schrire mistakenly portray "all science as myth-making" by assuming that scientists' cultural preconceptions inevitably overwhelm careful empirical efforts to reconstruct prehistoric behavior.
Responds Schrire, "Such assertions are based more on an act of faith than on elegant research."
What emerges from such discussions generally is, first, the many reasons for assuming that people such as the !Kung Bushmen have preserved ancient traditions despite their many adaptations; and, second, the lack of solid evidence that such is in fact the case. Even Richard Lee, the Harvard professor most strongly associated with the "window to the past" viewpoint, acknowledges that "such analogies probably cannot extend beyond several thousand years" [see above].

Thursday, July 26, 2007

70. Additionally . . .

Believe me I do not feel comfortable tossing these extremely politically incorrect terms around. Not that I usually have a problem with political incorrectness. But Urrasse? Urkultur? pedigree? On the other hand, the truly delicious irony entailed by the much denigrated and abused Bushmen having a pedigree definitely appeals to me, I find some real poetic justice therein. As for Urrasse and Urkultur, well, how about "first people," and "original lifestyle," does that sound better?

Wait a minute, you're saying, what about this pedigree thing, how do the Bushmen have a pedigree, what's that all about? Aren't all of us descended from the same group of "first people," assuming there were actually such a group? Yes, we are all descended from the same ancestors, assuming the correctness of the "Out of Africa" theory. But that hasn't prevented the experts from singling out certain "indigenous" peoples as genealogically special. And the Bushmen are in the forefront of this totally mind blowing development.

Here's what no less an authority than James Watson, discoverer of the double helix, has to say: "Another interesting finding confirmed by the mtDNA and Y chromosome data is the position on the human family tree of the San [Bushmen] of southern Africa. Theirs is the longest, and therefore the oldest branch on the tree" (DNA: The Secret of Life, Knopf, 2003, p. 243). Watson is, of course, aware that we're all descended from the same deep ancestry: "If we trace lineages back to the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans, my lineage is about 5 million years old, and so is a San's. In fact our two lineages are about the same for most of those eons; only 150,000 years ago did the San lineage separate from other human lines" (p. 244). Why did it separate, what does that mean? "It appears, from the genetic evidence, that after an initial migration into southern and eastern Africa, the San remained relatively isolated throughout history. . . The Bantu expansion displaced the San to marginal environments like the Kalahari Desert" (ibid.).

So much for one great chunk of the Great Kalahari Debate. While the archaeological evidence remains sparse and inconclusive, the genetic evidence is abundant and clear. The claim by Wilmsen and Denbow that "'Bushmen' and 'San' are invented categories and 'Kalahari foragers' an ethnographic reification drawn from one of several subsistence strategies engaged in by all of Botswana's rural poor" [see post 64] is inconsistent with the genetic evidence. The Bushmen cannot be dismissed as a motley group of poor folk who happened to be living in the Kalahari just like everyone else in that region, and fell back on hunting and gathering after losing their day jobs. According to the genetic evidence, "the San remained relatively isolated throughout history," including their long period of marginalization in the Kalahari. But this is exactly what the revisionists claimed not to be the case, that they were not isolated, but an indistinguishable part of the greater historical processes roiling around them, that their identity as indigenous hunter/gatherers is an essentialist illusion, "relying ‘on obsolete anthropological notions and on a romantic and false ethnographic vision.’" [see post 64.] If that were the case, the genetic evidence would reflect it. It does not.

We now have only one more piece of the puzzle to complete, the cultural part. Which involves the musical part -- and the power of music to provide us with evidence that, for me at least, is every bit as compelling as the genetic evidence.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

69. Yet Even More and More On You Know What

We are now, I think, better prepared to deal with what I've called Alan Barnard's "epiphany," as expressed in the concluding section of his essay, "Kalahari revisionism, Vienna and the ‘indigenous peoples’ debate" (see post 66):

Recent interdisciplinary work among Darwinian anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists, archaeologists, linguists and geneticists hints that there really was an Urrasse, and there really was an Urkultur . . . Both are represented in the ‘anatomically modern’ Homo sapiens population that gave rise to the ‘Out of Africa’ migration about 80,000 years ago. This migration spread early symbolic culture; let us call it Urkultur. However, the relation between this Urkultur and the cultures of today’s so-called ‘indigenous peoples’ is no greater than that between this Urkultur and the cultures of all peoples.

What's especially surprising is Barnard's use of the term "really." He uses it twice. This is a word rarely found in the anthropological literature, except as a rhetorical device ("does he really expect us to believe . . . "). Also surprising is his sudden and totally unexpected resurrection of the universally denigrated terms Urrasse and Urkultur, the latter having been dismissed by him earlier in the same essay as "a legitimate, if problematic, anthropological concept [whose] usefulness in anthropological theory has long since passed." Clearly Barnard has taken himself by surprise and seems not at all sure of what to make of such a completely unexpected turn of events. For once, it would seem, a typically postmodern ideological dispute has been trumped by, of all things: evidence. Remember that?

"The evidence" was supposedly what the Great Kalahari Debate hinged on from the start. All sorts of evidence was presented -- but it was archaeological evidence and, as is well known, archaeological evidence is so sparse, so shaky (think of all the disputes, re-assessments, hoaxes), so difficult to understand, that almost any interpretation is possible. Though the archaeological evidence was, not surprisingly, deemed "insufficient" (see post 66), that really didn't seem to matter. It certainly didn't prevent the "revisionists" from persisting with their attack, on the same ideological grounds that had no doubt prompted it in the first place.

Now, suddenly, evidence of a completely different sort presents itself, extensive evidence, hard evidence -- above all, scientific evidence, straight from, of all places, the biology lab. And what this evidence, reinforced and enriched by archaeology, ethnology, linguistics, etc., tells us is that there really might have been an Urrasse after all. And if there was an Urrasse, then that Urrasse would have to have had some sort of Kultur -- which would have made it an Urkultur. Really.

It's time now to examine the last sentence quoted above, Barnard's attempted "out": "However, the relation between this Urkultur and the cultures of today’s so-called ‘indigenous peoples’ is no greater than that between this Urkultur and the cultures of all peoples." He is wrong. I've seen similar arguments regarding the genetic evidence that go something like this: if we are all descended from the same "founding" group, then I am no farther removed from that group genetically then the members of some "indigenous" tribe, in Africa, New Guinea or wherever. Very ironically, there is a difference between "you" and some such tribal group -- as for example: the "indigenous" inhabitants of the subject of our "Great Debate," the Bushmen of the Kalahari. They have a pedigree. "You" don't.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

68. Even More Still on the Kalahari Debate

As any good student of Derrida should realize, there is an important difference between deconstructing a concept and demystifying or debunking it. A deconstruction can be extremely revealing, even devastating, but is never definitive, never adversarial, never final. A demystification, on the other hand, in "exposing" a concept as simply false or deceptive, ends by reinforcing the fundamental opposition that gave rise to it in the first place. Thus, in attempting to "debunk" the "essentialism" behind notions such as authenticity and indigeneity, the Kalahari revisionists launched a puritanical crusade, a postmodern inquisition that only succeeded in re-establishing Western hegemony in another guise, with devastating consequences for some of the very people they were claiming to liberate.

The extent of the damage is the topic of an eloquent book, Theory in an Uneven World (Blackwell, 2003), by Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan, who writes quite bitterly of its effects on Third World cultures in the first chapter, "Postmodernism and the Rest of the World":

If modernity functions as a structure-in-dominance that regulates and normativizes the relationship between the West and the Rest, postmodernism, despite the so-called break from modernity, sustains and prolongs this relationship. . .(p. 5)

For the deconstructive attitude towards Identity to attain universal purchase, postmodernism sets up something called “essentialism” as the ideal straw enemy. In spite of prolific scholarship in the areas of “essentialism” and “strategic essentialism,” it is still not clear what essentialism is precisely, or why it holds such a dominant position in contemporary debates in theory, cultural studies, postcoloniality, and gender and ethnic studies.Why is essentialism bad, why are essentialists naive/stupid and/or evil, and why has anti-essentialism secured a monopolistic hold over theoretical–moral virtue? (p. 14)

. . . the postmodern counter-memory quite conveniently forgets the history of essentialism as it has been foisted on the non-West. It was during the modernist regime (in collusion with colonialism) that traditions were invented by the colonizer on behalf of the colonized, and as Lata Mani had demonstrated brilliantly in the context of sati, the so-called authority of indigenous traditions was created and constructed by the colonizer to legitimate and inferiorize indigenous traditions, all in one move. This so-called authority was really not representative of indigenous practices and worldviews. (p. 16)

This last sentence is especially important and deserves further discussion. If the "indigenous" identities imposed on subject peoples by the modernist "essentialism" of their masters were unrepresentative, i.e., inauthentic, as Radhakrishnan claims, then the reasonable way to redress this wrong would not be to attack essentialism per se but to take the trouble to understand and promote what is representative and authentic. Under the postmodern regime, however, where authenticity itself is understood as tainted by essentialism, there can be no such redress, with the result that the baby of authentic indigeneity must be tossed out with the bathwater of inauthentic colonialist "essentialism."

67. Still More on the Kalahari Debate

Before more closely examining Alan Barnard's epiphany concerning Urrasse und Urkultur (see previous post), I'd like to spend a bit more time on some of the issues he's raised regarding both "indigeneity" and "essentialism." (Those of you with a low tolerance for such theorizing may want to wait till the next episode, when I'll be concentrating, finally, on my main topic, the music.) I'll begin by offering some more apt quotations, first from "Reflections on Culture and Cultural Rights," by Bruce Robbins and Elsa Stamatopoulou (South Atlantic Quarterly, 103(2-3)), 2004):
“Intriguingly,” the editors of Culture and Rights observe, “in the 1980s, at the very moment in which anthropologists were engaged in an intense and wide-ranging critique especially of the more essentialist interpretations of the [culture] concept, to the point of querying its usefulness at all, they found themselves witnessing, often during fieldwork, the increasing prevalence of ‘culture’ as a rhetorical object–often in a highly essentialized form–in contemporary political talk.” Just as "we" discover that culture is constructed, fluid, and ever-inventive, "they" begin to articulate demands for rights in terms of a cultural identity asserted to be primordial and fixed.

Here's another, from the same source:
According to David Scott, the so-called “natives” have every reason to suspect these newfangled anti-essentialist ideas, indispensable though such ideas may seem to Western academic theorists, himself included: “For whom is culture partial, unbounded, heterogeneous, hybrid, and so on, the anthropologist or the native?” (101).2 The new concept of culture as hybrid, heterogeneous, and processual is “merely the most recent way of conceiving and explaining otherness, of putting otherness in its place.”

Next, from one A. Lattas, as quoted in an especially insightful and searching Internet essay of 2001, "'What Matter Who's Speaking?' Authenticity and Identity in Discourses of Aboriginality in Australia," by Carolyn D'Cruz (

A discourse is always informed by relations of power and the way whites essentialise Aborigines cannot be rendered equivalent to the way Aborigines essentialise themselves for the simple reason that our ['white'] essentialism, which is part of a structure of domination, is not the same as the essentialism operating in a structure of resistance. Essentialism should not be essentialised, rendered inert and pregiven . . ., but needs to be historicised and contextualised. Essentialism operates and means different things in different contexts.

As d'Cruz explains, Lattas is articulating a position sometimes called "strategic essentialism," whereby "indigenous peoples" are seen as entitled to embrace an essentialist view of their own "indigenousness" but only in the context of political struggles against established nations and other institutions of power, apparently a concession to the postmodern need to appear politically engaged. This is basically the same point being made by all the authors I've just been quoting. For d'Cruz, however, this strategy begs an important question: who is it that will be "properly" identified as "aboriginal" during such political encounters and thus entitled to a "strategic essence," and who will be excluded -- and on what grounds? To make her point more concretely, d'Cruz quotes from a well known "aboriginal" author, Mudrooroo Nyoongah:

. . . to suggest that an important Aboriginal theory of identity, an important social reality, may be weighed against European theories of identity, and then dismissed for being politically dangerous and a useful tool for racists seems almost pernicious, especially when for many Aborigines, Black, Brown, or Brindle, it is the Aboriginal 'essence' which makes an Aborigine and it is this essence which states, restates, informs and reforms his/her and our culture and social reality.

The irony here is that Mudrooroo's "authenticity" as an aboriginal has been challenged on the grounds that he in fact has no aboriginal "blood," but stems, genetically, from a mixed European and African ancestry. Can he, therefore, speak at all regarding Aboriginal "essence" or must his entire statement be discounted on the grounds that he doesn't share that "essence"? I for one, happen to like his statement, I'll go on record as in full agreement with it. And I'll go a bit farther, perhaps, than Mudrooroo might have intended, because it's awfully difficult to see how any assertion of indigenous "essentiality" can be effective even as a strategy if it carries no existential weight, if its claim to authenticity is "always already" undermined from the start by a theoretical context violently opposed in principle to any such claim. So, in response to all of the above, I'll assert that the whole issue of essence and essentialism is problematic from the start, way beyond the point where one might want to claim, in the words of Lattos, that it "operates and means different things in different contexts." As I see it, essence is like the hot coal in the Zen koan that you can neither spit out nor swallow. It's not something one can simply decide to do without, for whatever reason, "good" or "bad." It's what Derrida would call (and probably has called) an aporia -- a paradox that is, in its very "essence," unresolvable.

Monday, July 23, 2007

66. More on the Kalahari Debate

The "Great Kalahari Debate" was focused, ostensibly, on archaeological evidence and the interpretation of same. On that score, an independent review by archaeologist Karim Sadr was conducted, as reported in the pages of the journal Current Anthropology ("Kalahari Archaeology and the Bushman Debate," vol. 38, 1, Feb. 1997, pp. 104-112). Sadr states his conclusions at the outset: first, "it will be shown that Wilmsen and Denbow's [revisionist] reconstruction of Bushman-Bantu relations is based on insufficient evidence"; second, "it is concluded that much basic archaeological work remains to be done" (p. 105). As becomes clear from Sadr's detailed review, the archaeological evidence is often scant and always difficult, if not impossible, to interpret. Sadr writes as follows in his concluding paragraph: "What emerges most clearly from this review is that Late Stone Age and Early Iron Age archaeology in Botswana are still in their infancy. . . Perhaps all the energy that has gone into debating the Kalahari's past would have been better spent in gathering evidence" (p. 111).

From reading Sadr, one might conclude that the "Great Kalahari Debate" would end either in defeat for the revisionists or, at best, a stalemate. As now seems clear, however, the debate was never really about evidence at all, as should have been apparent at the outset from so much of the language in which the revisionist position was couched. Terms like "reification," "essentialist" and "romantic" belong to the realm of ideological, not archaeological, debate -- at least not in the traditional sense of archaeology, which has now, like so much else in the academic world, been transformed by the extraordinary triumph of "postmodern" revisionism-in-general.

The progression from (traditional) archaeology to ideology is traced by Alan Barnard, in the article I've already quoted (see post 64), who goes all the way back to the "Vienna School" of the early Twentieth Century and the associated Kulturkreis (culture-circle) thinking that had such a strong, and, in the opinion of subsequent generations of ethnomusicologists, baleful, influence on so many of the pioneers of "comparative musicology." A key concept for this group was the notion of Urkultur, variously translatable as "primal culture," "primordial culture," or "original culture." For Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954), one of the leaders of the "Culture-Circle" school, "the mechanism of cultural transmission was more migration than diffusion, and through migration, he believed, the various forms of Urkultur had spread throughout the world" (p. 6). Such notions were rejected some time ago by literally all archaeologists, ethnologists, ethnomusicologists, etc., as hopelessly romantic and naive. For Barnard, however, the Urkultur

is an anthropological concept that would not die. More resilient than the Kulturkreislehre or the Kulturkreise themselves, Urkultur remained. To my mind it remains still in anthropology, and its significance would seem to be on the rise in recent decades, notably with the emergence of modern huntergatherer studies, the revisionist critique and the current political and anthropological concerns to which Kuper . . . refers. Certainly it is implicit in our present-day discourse in the idea of ‘indigenous peoples’. The ‘native’ has indeed returned" (p. 6).

There follows a long and sometimes confusing discussion, where Barnard appears to vacillate among different construals of the term "indigenous," depending on whether one is speaking anthropologically or legally -- or from the standpoint of a "western" academic or the standpoint of a -- well, an "indigenous" person. As his thoughts are, for me, especially interesting and relevant, I'd like to present some particularly interesting quotations here:

To reject ‘indigenous people’ as an anthropological concept is not the same thing as rejecting it as a legal concept, or rejecting it as a useful tool for political persuasion. . .
Nevertheless, ‘indigenous people’ is not really an anthropological concept, or at least not a very good one. Although close to the notion of Urkultur, ‘indigenous people’ is if anything less salient and certainly messier. It is an ideological and social construct recognised by those who claim the status, by anthropologists who support their cause and no doubt by the educated public at large. Kuper is quite right that ‘indigenous peoples’ is, in some respects, more like the racial categories of apartheid than it is like anthropological ideas on ‘race’, whether past or present. Yet, under apartheid, anthropologists sympathetic to the plight of individuals sometimes went to court as expert witnesses to challenge the government classification of those individuals. . .
Urkultur was a legitimate, if problematic, anthropological concept. Yet its usefulness in anthropological theory has long since passed. If the phrase ‘indigenous peoples’ is simply a postmodern way of saying Urkultur, then it may be best to let anthropology and the ‘indigenous peoples’ movement go their separate ways. If, however, we recognise the political nature of the phrase and jettison its old-fashioned anthropological associations with the ‘primitive’ and the ‘perpetual’, there is hope.

Barnard begins the last section of his essay, labeled "Conclusions," with a review of some of the most important historical issues he's covered and soon appears ready to wrap things up. Suddenly, however, out of nowhere, he introduces new, completely unexpected, and indeed astonishing material, as follows:

Recent interdisciplinary work among Darwinian anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists, archaeologists, linguists and geneticists hints that there really was an Urrasse, and there really was an Urkultur . . . Both are represented in the ‘anatomically modern’ Homo sapiens population that gave rise to the ‘Out of Africa’ migration about 80,000 years ago. This migration spread early symbolic culture; let us call it Urkultur. However, the relation between this Urkultur and the cultures of today’s so-called ‘indigenous peoples’ is no greater that that between this Urkultur and the cultures of all peoples.

One has the impression that someone, at the last minute, must have reminded Barnard of a simple fact of Twentyfirst Century anthropological life essentially ignored throughout the entire length and breadth of the "Great Kalahari Debate" and all the subsequent brouhaha over "essentialism," "indigeneity," etc.: the revolutionary work of the genetic anthropologists, which now threatens to bring not only revisionism but postmodernism itself to a screaming halt.

That's all for now, folks. I'll be back soon with more to amuse and astonish you. :-)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

65. Zwischengesang

The Kalahari debate has turned out to require more prep. time than I'd originally planned on. You know where I'm going with this, natch, since, as avid readers of this blog :-), you already know my position regarding the origins and meaning of Bushmen music. You might well guess that, as I see it, the whole Kalahari debate was a mistake, a silly quarrel that could have been avoided had the participants been willing to pay serious attention to the musical evidence -- as decisive as in the case of the Mikea. But the situation of the Bushmen is more complex and more interesting than that of the Mikea, with some wrinkles I still need to iron out.

And the underlying ideological issue(s) that fueled that debate, and continue to fuel related debates of the greatest importance, centering on terms such as "indigeneity," "authenticity," "identity" and "essentialism," are, to say the least, rather tricky to sort out. I've already given such matters a good deal of thought, but want to take some time to give them just a little bit more before attempting my own in-depth analysis. So please stay tuned. I hope to have something for you by tomorrow or the next day. We'll see.

Friday, July 20, 2007

64. The Power of Music -- 2. The Great Kalahari Debate

The bare essentials of the debate we'll be considering here have been summarized rather efficiently by archaeologist Andrew B. Smith:

The Ju/’hoansi have become central to what is known as the ‘Great Kalahari Debate,’ which revolves around the relations between the Bushmen and the outside world. . . There are two visions of the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen (and it must be recognised that the debate revolves around them alone):
1. That of Richard Lee and the Harvard Kalahari Group who say the Ju/’hoansi, studied between 1950 and 1965, give an idea of independent and relatively affluent hunter/gatherers;
2. That of Ed Wilmsen and others who regard the Bushmen in general, and the Ju/’hoansi in particular, as a dispossessed proletariat marginalised by outside economic interests.

The argument started with Schrire’s (1980) critique of Bushman studies, and elaborated by Wilmsen who attempted to show that the pristine vision of the Bushmen portrayed by Lee & DeVore in the first hunter-gatherer conference in 1966, and published as Man the Hunter in 1968, was not only misleading, but a
downright manipulation of the data. Instead, argues Wilmsen in his (1989) book Land Filled with Flies, the evidence shows that the Bushmen were in contact with the outside world, and worked as herdsmen, possibly for the last 1500 years. ("Ethnohistory and Archaeology of the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen," in African Study Monographs, Suppl.26: 15-25, March 2001, p. 16.)

Smith has softened the edge of what was to prove an extraordinarily sharp and highly acrimonious head to head dispute. In an essay entitled "Paradigmantic History of San Speaking Peoples and Current Attempts at Revision" (Current Anthropology v. 31, 5, 1990), Edwin Wilmsen and James Denbow make their position clear from the outset: ". . . a 'Kalahari San debate' has arisen around the question whether foragers are genuine or spurious. . . We consider the question itself spurious, arguing that 'Bushmen' and 'San' are invented categories and 'Kalahari foragers' an ethnographic reification drawn from one of several subsistence strategies engaged in by all of Botswana's rural poor" (p. 489).

While the dispute seems to have peaked in the 90's, its repercussions are still very much with us, as we learn from Alan Barnard's recent (2006)essay, "Kalahari revisionism, Vienna and the ‘indigenous peoples’ debate":

‘Traditionalists’ in the Kalahari debate regard the people called Bushmen, San or Basarwa as exponents of a hunting-and-gathering culture and essentially isolated until recent times, while ‘revisionists’ regard them as an underclass and historically part of larger social formations. The debate came to a head in the late 1980s with the publication of Wilmsen’s Land filled with flies (1989). This book shattered the prevailing ethnographic image of San society as ancient, relatively static, and at the same time adaptive. In Wilmsen’s view it was not so much adaptive as transformed by centuries of contact with Iron Age, Bantu speaking, agro-pastoralists: "Their appearance as foragers is a function of their relegation to an underclass in the playing out of historical processes that began before the current [second] millennium and culminated in the early decades of this [twentieth] century. The isolation in which they are said to be found is a creation of our view of them, not of their history as they lived it" (Social Anthropology (2006), 14, 1, p. 2).

As Barnard points out, this debate served as prologue to a broader controversy involving the supposedly ideological origin of certain notions too easily taken-for-granted, apparently, by too many anthropologists. The focus of his essay is on the position of the former editor of Current Anthropology, Adam Kuper, who, as recently as 2003, challenged "the idea of an ‘indigenous people’ as being ‘essentialist’ and relying ‘on obsolete anthropological notions and on a romantic and false ethnographic vision’" (p. 2).

More on all this fascinating stuff next time.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

63. The Power of Music --1. The Case of the Mikea

As should be evident from just about every post on this blog, I like to think big, take the long view, and seek out all sorts of far reaching connections, however unlikely they might seem. As a result, my ideas may appear, at least to some of the more timid souls among us, just a bit far fetched, speculative -- or what is, in some circles, far worse: ambitious. So at this point I feel the need to pull back a bit from the sort of far reaching connections I've been exploring, to demonstrate how powerful methods drawn from comparative musicology can be when dealing with simpler, more locally defined issues.

I'll start with what could be called the "Mikea question." The Mikea are small statured hunter/gatherers living in the tropical forest region of southwest Madagascar, whose history has been a subject of debate for some time. The peoples of this large island, off the eastern coast of Africa, are all thought to have arrived via sea voyages from Indonesia, somewhere between the 7th and 8th Centuries, AD. All, including the Mikea, speak Malayo-Polynesian, not African, languages. However, there have always been legends regarding the so-called "Vazimba," popularly thought to have been the original inhabitants of central Madagascar, driven to the western coast when the first seafarers arrived from Indonesia centuries ago. Among the local tribespeople, the Mikea have been identified as the descendents of the Vazimba.

But certain investigators have called the local traditions into question. According to anthropologist Daniel Stiles, "Some have proposed that the Mikea are people who fled to the bush to escape domination and exploitation by the late 17th and 18th century Sakalava dynasties and the 20th century French colonialists . . . , and that there were no people living in the Mikea forest prior to the 17th century." ("The Mikea Hunter-Gatherers of Southwest Madagascar," in African Study Monographs, 19(3), November 1998, p. 131.) Taking various aspects of the Mikea's situation into account, including historical documents, archaeological remains, including "humanly worked hippopotamus bones" dating from ca 2000 years ago, cultural features, linguistics, and one small bit of musical evidence, the use of leg xylophones, Stiles arrives at the following rather tentative conclusion: ". . . I think it unlikely that the Mikea are direct descendants of the people who worked the dwarf hippo bones 2000 years ago. I do think, however, that some ancestors of the Mikea have been living in that area since well before the 17th century . . . " (p. 132).

In a more recent article, from the comprehensive and highly authoritative Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, the team of Robert Kelley, Jean-Fran Ois Rabedimy and Lin Poyer, are far less tentative. In their essay, "The Mikea of Madagascar," they state, in no uncertain terms, that "there is no evidence for any . . . claims" that the Mikea are aborigines or Vazimba. "The Mikea are not ancient hunter-gatherers, although we do not know when forest foragers appeared. . . . Today's Mikea may be descendents of Masikoro villagers who retreated into the forest to escape Merina and Sakalava, or who fled during the anti-French rebellion in 1947" (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999, p. 215).

More recent still is an as yet unpublished paper by Roger Blench, whose pathbreaking research we've already encountered: "New palaeozoogeographical evidence for the settlement of Madagascar" (courtesy of the author, dated June, 2007). Reviewing the bone evidence, along with evidence suggesting the early introduction of rodents and other fauna into the island, combined with various other signs of prehistoric settlement, in addition to some compelling linguistic clues, Blench points to the Mikea as the most likely descendants of an indigenous, pre-Indonesian, population, suggesting that their ancestors could have crossed the channel to Madagascar some 2300 years ago, which would indeed identify them as the fabled Vazimba.

In addition to being a linguist and archaeologist, Blench is, as we know, an ethnomusicologist, who, in passing from one type of "palaeozoogeographical evidence" to another, inserts the following brief statement:

Another intriguing piece of evidence will probably appeal only to musicologists, but the Mikea have very distinctive music, quite unlike their Malagasy neighbours. OCORA (1997) shows that the music is typified by vocal polyphony, hocket techniques and falsetto voicing. This type of musical structure is characteristic of the pygmy or Twa populations of Central Africa and to a certain extent, the Khoesan [Bushmen] and quite atypical of the Malagasy, whose Austronesian type music is monodic. The likelihood of such similar music evolving by chance is minimal, in world terms, and provides another pointer to an origin with mainland forager populations.

I hope Blench won't mind my quoting from his unpublished essay, still open to revision, but what he's written above is too important to simply paraphrase. First, I want to say that Blench's thoughts on Mikea music are, as the British would say, "spot on." Second, I must add that for me the musical evidence is so compelling as to be in itself the deciding factor. So Blench's downplaying of the musical aspect in a brief passing statement, as something that "will probably appeal only to musicologists," is seriously disheartening.

In a private email responding to my complaint, Blench explains as follows: "I think the musicological argument is a good one, but having presented this type of argument at prehistory conferences, people typically blank out on it and feel it is not the same sort of argument as one about pots or stone tools. Hence my comment." Clearly the world of archaeologists, prehistorians, anthropologists, etc. is not yet prepared for arguments based on musical evidence, probably because they are not used to hearing them. But also because ethnomusicology currently lacks a generally accepted comparative methodology capable of coordinating and analyzing such evidence with any degree of scientific rigor. As I see it, Cantometrics is capable of filling that role, as I hope certain materials I've presented both in my essay and this blog have demonstrated. Sadly, however, the current consensus among ethnomusicologists is in favor of neither Cantometrics nor any systematic approach to comparative research in the field of non-Western music, with the result being the all but total indifference to musical issues among social scientists, historians, etc. Thus Blench's dilemma is as understandable as it is regrettable.

To fully appreciate his comments on Mikea music and its meaning, let's listen to a pair of clips taken from the same CD to which Blench refers: first, another portion of the hocketed, yodeled vocal example I've already played: Koiky2. Compare with the Bushmen Giraffe Medicine Song we heard a while back. Next, let's hear once more an example of Mikea reed pipe hocket: Kiloloky. The combination of yodeling and playfully hocketed, interlocked polyphony, both vocal and instrumental, tells us beyond any doubt that this music and these people originate in mainland Africa, among other hunter-gatherers, such as the Pygmies and Bushmen, and not from among Austronesian speaking immigrants who arrived from Indonesia in the 7th or 8th century, who have a completely different culture and musical style.

A simple comparison of recordings would not, in itself, be sufficient, however. Only in the context of a truly comprehensive overview of the sort I've been trying to establish both in my essay and on this blog, combining the resources of Cantometrics with a variety of other methodologies and viewpoints, both "emic" and "etic," is such an argument likely to be convincing. Nevertheless, as should be clear to anyone who's been following these presentations with some degree of attention, the musical evidence ought to be all anyone needs to solve the riddle of the Mikea. Clearly they are what they have, for centuries, been thought to be: the indigenous inhabitants of Madagascar, the legendary Vazimba.

Monday, July 16, 2007

62. An African Signature?

Now, as promised, examples of hocketed wind ensembles from some other parts of the world. First, from the Ede people of Vietnam, a recording of a hocketing ensemble labeled as "flutes," though I suspect they're actually pipes or panpipes: Flute Polyphony (from Musique Du Monde -- Vietnam --Anthology Of Ede Music). Compare this with the Mikea example in the previous post. Also for comparison sake, let's listen to some vocal hocketing, also from the Ede, on the same CD: AeRei. Next, Melanesia: the Buma people, on the island of Malaita, in the Solomons: Panpipes of Buma (from Spirit of Melanesia). On the same island live the 'Are'are people, whose remarkable panpipe traditions were so thoroughly studied by Hugo Zemp. This recording of an 'Are'are panpipe ensemble is from the CD, Sounds of Bamboo, recorded by Buaoka & Sekine.

Now for my most "spectacular" leap, all the way to Central America. Compare the 'Are'are panpipes we've just heard with this hocketed "flute duet" (sounds like panpipes to me) from the Cuna Indians of Panama (Primitive Music of the World, Folkways). I haven't said much yet about the "American connection," but trust me, there is one -- there has to be. But not by the direct route, via some sort of Pacific Ocean voyage, there's no evidence for that. No, if we find pipes and other hocketed wind ensembles in the Americas -- and we most certainly do -- they must have arrived the hard way, just like everyone else, via Beringia, in the far north. There's a lot more on that in my essay, but for now I'll just let you listen to the music and scratch your heads.

Here's an even better head scratcher, another 'Are'are panpipe piece, only this one sounding surprisingly Andean, both rhythmically and melodically: Au-ripi (from The Sound of Bamboo). Note, by the way, that in this case the parts seem more layered than, strictly speaking, interlocked. While all 'Are'are ensembles involve hocketing, in the sense that some instruments supply notes not available on others, to produce a complementary effect, some types of performance are closer to rhythmic unison, others overlayed, as in this example, and still others truly interlocked, as would be more typical for African wind ensembles. The same three types of hocket can be found in South and Central American wind ensembles, with rhythmic unison most common in Andean music.

Now for some hocketing trumpets, or in this case "bark horns"; first from the Aitape, of the northern coast of New Guinea: Pig Hunting Song. Compare with these bark horns from the Piaroa Indians of the Upper Orinoco, Venezuela (from The Columbia Library of World Music, Venezuela). Here's a somewhat different sounding hocketed wind ensemble, consisting of "clarinets," from the Wayapi of Guiana: Les Toucan (recorded by Jean-Michel Beaudet).

Now for another leap, this time in the opposite direction -- since, as we now know, Europe too was first settled by African immigrants. Let's listen once again to the remarkable Russian women recorded by Olga Velitchkina, whose piping sounded, to her, like "Babenzele Pygmies." It sounds like that to me also! This piping tradition stems from a region of eastern Europe that was settled continuously throughout the last Ice Age and is in the vicinity of several archaeological sites dating from the Paleolithic. Here's another example of panpiping, from a closely related tradition in Lithuania: Tututis (from Lithuania The Country of Songs).

Now for some Lithuanian trumpets (see the photo of the trumpeters in suits near the top of this blog) from the same CD. Here's another Lithuanian trumpet ensemble, called a Ragai: Tytytitit. For comparison sake, listen again to the Banda Linda trumpets from Central Africa.

That's all I've got for today. So what do you think? Is there an "African Signature" linking all these far flung traditions via the original "Out of Africa" migration(s)? Or am I hallucinating?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

61. The Winds of Africa

I want at this point to let you hear some examples of African hocketed wind ensembles, as described and mapped by Roger Blench, which I've been focusing on since post 38. First, an ensemble of hocketing free pipes (with voices) as performed by Ouldeme people of the Mandara Mountains of Cameroon: Checki Vendelar (from Flutes of the Mandara Mountains, Ocora). Here's another example from the Mandara Mountains, this time a Mofou trumpet ensemble: Walay mepli sla (from Flutes of the Mandara Mountains, Ocora). Next, a recording by Simha Arom of a Banda Linda trumpet ensemble from the Central African Republic. And here's an example of voices hocketing with panpipes, from Mozambique: Nyanga. Finally, from the Mikea hunter/gatherers of Madagascar, an ensemble of hocketing reed pipes: Kiloloky (from Pays Mikea, Ocora).

Next time we'll listen to some similarly organized wind ensembles from other parts of the world, along the "Out of Africa" trail.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

60. What's Next?

In future posts I want to go more deeply into matters such as the nature of musical syntax and musical structure generally, including the meaning of what is called "phrasing" -- and the roots of all these elements in "early music." I also plan on taking us through the entire history of music, from the paleolithic right to the present, following the course of a particularly significant musical "lineage" I like to call "the great tradition." For now, however, what I'm planning is a survey of the distribution of tuned pipes and other hocketed ensembles bearing the "African signature" in various parts of the world, including as many recorded clips as I can manage. So please stay tuned.

Friday, July 13, 2007

59. Overview -- Concluded

17. Beginning with the last section of post 46, I introduced the most speculative and problematic of all my various inquiries with the presentation of one version of a bit of Chinese history well known to many musicologists, the myth of the "Yellow Bell." I find several aspects of this story particularly meaningful, though the connection with my research is far from obvious. First, it is an origin myth, the story of the origin of music through the construction of a bamboo pipe, precisely tuned to match either a human voice (in one version of the story) or the call of a bird. Second, it takes us a very long way into the farthest reaches of Chinese history, so far back that, as musicologist Fritz Kuttner suggests, the origin of the myth becomes as mysterious as the origin of the events it describes. Third, it tells the story of how a simple act, the construction of a reed pipe, becomes the basis for many other developments of great sociocultural importance, such as: a highly sophisticated system of musical tunings and scales; a philosophy harmonizing heaven and earth through the opposition of male and female principles (yin and yang); a basic unit against which all things must be measured; a system of harmonic ratios leading to the development of a mathematical system along lines quite similar to that of the Pythagorean school of ancient Greece.

18. Inspired by a remarkable insight of the great Picasso, who stated "art is a lie that makes you see the truth," I attempt to create a myth of my own that might help me locate the truth pointed to by the "lie" of the Yellow Bell myth. Progressively, through posts 46 to 49, I work my way through various versions of the Yellow Bell story and various interpretations of its meaning, until, in post 50, I am ready to expound my own version. According to my myth, neither the Yellow Emperor nor the Yellow Bell were Chinese, but must have been African, in which case the myth must be taken very seriously indeed. Why? First because the origins of the myth itself go back so far into the depths of Chinese prehistory that the notion of "China" could not yet have existed; second, because all the evidence points not to Asia but Africa as the place where tuned pipes originated; third, because, as we have already learned, traditions can persist far longer than is generally thought possible; fourth, because certain basic elements of the story, such as the bird associations, the classification of each pipe as either male or female, the tuning in fifths produced by overblowing, and the production of a pentatonic scale, fit so well with all sorts of other information, both cultural and musical, on the nature and role of tuned pipes among all sorts of tribal and "folk" peoples, both in and "out of" Africa; because, in short, there is so much that rings true about this "myth" once we move the locale to Africa and the time to something much closer to the year 000001.

19. From post 51 on I concern myself with certain clues suggesting that, "Yellow Bell" or not, the invention of tuned pipes could have had something to do, not only with the origin of music, but language as well. If we review the evolutionary process I've proposed, leading from primate duetting/chorusing to yodeled hocket, characterized by discrete pitches, it's not difficult to see how the development of hocketing pipe ensembles, tuned to the same discrete pitches, would be a very natural and simple next step. The development of language, on the other hand, must have been a far more complex and time consuming process. Yet, as Hugo Zemp points out, the existence of tuned pipes already implies the existence of some type of music theory, which in turn implies the existence of language, if not full blown, then at least in some prototypical form. So, according to my myth, language could have been born from the objectification (literally, reification) of musical tones in the form of tuned pipes. This would account for two important elements of language as we now know it: the birth of phonemes (vocable classes) from the equally "emic" pitch classes produced by pipe tunings and scales; the birth of the signifier/signified relation in the relation between each pipe and the pitch class it signifies. Moreover, each set of pipes could be said to signify a particular scale.

20. There is one more issue to be dealt with: as we learn over and over again from the study of cultural context, tuned pipes (and other, similarly hocketed instruments) are frequently characterized as either "male" or "female" in a wide variety of cultural settings from a wide variety of locations, from Africa to China, to Indonesia, Melanesia, South America, etc. If tuned pipes did, indeed, play a significant role in the early development of language, then it's possible they could have played an equally important role in what we now call the "construction of gender."

Is there any way of testing any part of what's covered in my "tuned pipe" myth, from the association of pipes with the origin of music, notation and music theory, to the origins of language and even gender? Probably not. On the other hand, since a great many pieces in my little box of clues do seem to fit together rather neatly, I feel confident there could be something to it, certainly enough to warrant further exploration along similar lines.

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.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

57. Overview -- continued

7. What I've covered up to this point is IMO fairly solid. The evidence for the Pygmies and Bushmen sharing a common root, genetically and musically, is, to borrow Charlotte Frisbie's term, "overwhelming." The evidence for the survival of P/B style, as an "African signature," among certain indigenous groups along the "Out of Africa" route, is also strong -- more important, thanks to the new alliance among archaeologists, linguists and genetic anthropologists, it can be tested. With post 21, however, I turn my attention even farther backward to speculate regarding the origins, not of one particular style, but music itself. From this point on the evidence, though plentiful, is less easy to interpret -- and any interpretation far more difficult to test. We are clearly quite deep into the realm of speculation here. What's occupying my mind at this point is really more like a set of clues, or puzzle pieces, than anything else; the great question being: can these clues be pulled together in such a way as to provide a reasonably coherent circumstantial case?

8. The most intriguing clue is the similarity between a particular substyle of P/B, what I've called "Shouted Hocket," and the duetting and chorusing of certain primates. This leads to three basic questions: 1. can we indeed regard the various types of shouted hocket as a single style family? 2. if so, then what reasons do we have, aside from certain surface similarities, for considering that style family as a survival of primate vocalization? and 3. can this style be seen as prototypical for more complex forms of hocket/interlock -- in other words can it really function as a link between primate vocalizing and human music making?

9. The first question leads to a rather detailed examination, beginning with post 26, of a particularly interesting variant of shouted hocket, the so-called "throat-singing" of certain Siberian and Inuit groups, as studied by Jean-Jacques Nattiez, who demonstrates that both the Siberian and Inuit practices can be regarded as essentially the same, despite important differences in meaning and context. I then demonstrate, in posts 29-31, how the same type of logic can be more broadly applied to many other, closely related, types of shouted hocket in many other parts of the world, including Africa.

10. With respect to the second question, Nattiez' research provides us with another potentially important clue, as the "panting style" he found in throat-singing can readily be identified with similar practices, also found among circumpolar peoples, associated with both hyperventilation and shamanic trance. In posts 32-34 I discuss very similar types of "panted" vocalization found elsewhere, in, for example, the Ju'hoansi Tcoqma ritual, the chanting of Maasai warriors, and the Balinese Ketjak, where hyperventilation can lead to unconsciousness and trance. This type of shouted hocket, characterized by "panting style," is then compared with the "pant-hoot" type of vocalization commonly found among primates.

11. The third question is addressed beginning with post 35, leading to a consideration of the transition between "shouted" or "panted" vocalizing and what we would more usually consider as singing, i.e., music "proper," involving the use of discrete pitches. This reveals yet another potentially significant clue, involving a commonly found component of P/B style: yodel. Yodel is an especially interesting type of vocalizing as it can be produced so easily by accident, as a simple "break" in the voice. This is especially likely to happen when one is shouting, and, indeed, there are instances of shouted hocket that border on, or shade into, yodel.

12. It is possible, therefore, to posit a continuity from primate "barking" or "pant-hooting," in the context of duetting and/or chorusing; to a similarly structured type of vocal interplay ("shouted hocket") as performed by humans; to shouted hocket with intermittent breaking of the voice (as in the Bisorio and Bosavi examples); to "shouted" hocket with yodels mixed with shouts (as in the Dani and Huli examples); to more intricate types of yodeled vocalization, involving the interlocking of brief melodic fragments. Thus what we now understand, traditionally, as "music" could have been born in the transition from a shouted interplay to a yodeled interlocking of parts, the most significant difference being the introduction of discrete pitches via yodel.

56. Our Story So Far -- An Overview

I started this blog with the intention of presenting an overview of my research, but at this point it looks like we need an overview of the overview. Over the last few weeks especially, I've been trying to develop a simple, step by step argument, but by now some of these steps may be missing from your brain. Mine too. So let's review:

1. Fundamental are the remarkable similarities, stylistic, structural and conceptual, among the musical practices of (most of) the various Pygmy and Bushmen groups scattered through vast regions of central and southern Africa, as discussed in section 5 of this blog. I failed to mention that the literature dealing with this issue, including the theories of Rouget and Lomax, was thoroughly reviewed in a 1971 paper by Charlotte Frisbie (Ethnology v. 10, no. 3), who concluded as follows: "The comparative analysis of Bushmen and Pygmy music shows overwhelming similarities . . . [I]n view of the attributes of music which make it a valid tool in reconstructing culture history, these findings would present a serious problem to anyone who tried to deny an earlier historical connection between the two groups." I must add that the prevailing view is not shared by everyone, and that, as I mentioned in post 39, two of Arom's students, Susanne Furniss and Emmanuelle Olivier, have concluded that the basic concepts behind the music of the two groups are in fact "radically opposite." Needless to say, my interpretation of their research is "radically opposite" to theirs, but this is not the place to deal with such a dispute. A refutation has already been published in the same issue where my essay appears, and I am currently preparing a more thorough one, to be published, I hope, without too long a delay.

2. The next important piece of evidence stems from the genetic research, as discussed in post 6, which over and over again points to certain Pygmy and Bushmen groups as representing the oldest, most ancient populations on Earth, with an estimated date of divergence running from roughly 76,000 to over 100,000 years ago.

3. Taken together, the musical and the genetic evidence point to a time tens of thousands of years ago when the ancestors of both groups must have been part of the same culture, perpetuating the same musical tradition -- a tradition that appears to have been handed down essentially intact to their descendants of the present day. If that were not the case, and the ancestral style had been significantly different, that difference would almost certainly have resulted in differences between the two groups that would be apparent now. While some differences do exist, they are not, at least in the view of the great majority of investigators, of any fundamental significance.

4. We can conclude from the above that, contrary to the opinion prevailing today among ethnomusicologists and anthropologists alike, certain cultural practices can be perpetuated essentially unchanged over remarkably long periods of time. Whether there is something special about music in this respect remains to be seen, but, as I argue in post 9 ("Is Music a Neutral Marker?") that may indeed be so. In any case, this new and rather surprising finding requires us to recalibrate our thinking regarding the possibility of similarly archaic musical survivals among indigenous peoples in all parts of the world (see post 11, "Standard Candles").

5. I then presented a Phylogenetic Tree (posts 12 - 19) which encapsulates much of my thinking on the history and distribution of several musical style families -- reinforced by, though not completely dependent on, certain Cantometric findings. This must be understood as a somewhat speculative overview, tentative and subject to revision. I've presented it here basically for the sake of clarity, so it would be easier for me to discuss certain relationships I find particularly interesting.

6. In post 20, "P/B Survivals," I used the Phylogenetic Tree as a starting point for a discussion of a key aspect of my research, the survival of certain elements of Pygmy/Bushmen style beyond Africa -- what could be called an "African signature," to be found in many places along the path most investigators see as most likely for the "Out of Africa" migrants. The presence of P/B style in places such as southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Island Melanesia suggests a strong musical-cultural link between the "Out of Africa" migrants and the ancestors of the Pygmies and Bushmen, with so much of the evidence, both genetic and musical, pointing, once again, to a common root.

(to be continued)

Monday, July 9, 2007

55. Masculine Feminine

I've already mentioned the extremely interesting, and in my opinion highly meaningful, association of so many of the hocketed ensembles I've been discussing, in so many different parts of the world, with gender. In tradition after tradition, among indigenous peoples from Africa, southeast Asia, China, Indonesia, New Guinea, Island Melanesia, even Central and South America, we find hocketing and/or interlocking ensembles of tuned pipes, panpipes, trumpets, horns, and also certain types of idiophone, such as slit drums, stamping tubes, even the metal gamelans of Java and Bali, where certain instruments are considered "male" and others "female." If we were to assume that any of these remarkably similar musical practices developed independently, it seems too much of a coincidence for them to have independently come up with this particular terminology as well. For me, as you should know by now, this looks like yet another important clue, one of many strongly suggesting that all these ensembles could not be the result of independent invention, but must have a common origin -- an origin that now, thanks to the many dramatic developments in the fields of population genetics and genetic anthropology, we can trace with some degree of confidence to Africa.

Once we "bring it all back home" (as the saying goes) to Africa, taking into account all the evidence we've been considering in the last several posts associating tuned pipes with the origins of both music and language, it's tempting to take our speculations a bit further into the realm of the gender distinction itself. In other words, can the myth I've been weaving tell us something meaningful about the origin of gender as well, as both a social construct and one of the fundamental oppositions basic to language?

The first thing to consider is the question of how certain instruments came to be given gender labels in the first place. If we are willing to accept the hypothesis already offered here, that the ensembles originally emerged either in the wake of, or in tandem with, hocketed vocalizing, then a very simple and straighforward explanation presents itself. Indeed it's quite easy to see how those instruments playing parts normally sung by women could be labeled "female," and those playing typical men's parts, "male." This works especially well when we consider that the higher pitched instruments are smaller. And indeed, in most cultures still perpetuating such traditions, the higher pitched, smaller instruments tend to be the ones labeled "female," the lower pitched, larger ones, "male."

Keeping in mind what's already been said regarding the possible role tuned pipes might have played in the origin of language, with respect to both the "phonemic" and symbolic realms, I'm willing to go even farther out on the same limb by suggesting the following: if the special role tuned pipes might have played in the formation of language be taken into account, then their division into male-female pairs may well have been a part of that same process. If a tuned pipe was understood as a signifier, then each such pipe would have signified not only a particular pitch, but also a particular gender: it would have been heard as either "male" or "female." If we are indeed somewhere close to the origins of language at this point, then the central significance of the gender distinction to language (and culture generally) might have, at least in part, a "musical" explanation.

What I've been up to here, by the way, is not simply the weaving of some sort of fanciful, "imaginative," theory based on whatever notions happen to come into my mind that seem "interesting" or "promising." Nor have I attempted something akin to what one is finding more and more with respect to the origins of language and music in the literature stemming from cognitive science, where experiments on subjects from more or less the same sociocultural background as the experimenter are extrapolated into speculative, highly abstract theories, meant to be "universally" applicable, but in fact based on very narrowly limited evidence, with an all but total disregard for the nature of music as it is actually practiced by real people in the world around us.

It's important to remember that what I've been doing is based on a very close and thorough examination of evidence, both musical and cultural, drawn from a truly vast array of different practices and customs from a great variety of different cultures in all corners of the world -- and it is my atttempt to make sense of this evidence that has led me to present the various theories, however speculative, that I've been putting before you here. What every scientist and/or scholar tries to do is offer a model within which the evidence he or she is considering can be reasonably understood -- and critically evaluated. I believe that this is what I have done -- and will continue to do. Whether this is in fact the right model remains to be seen.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

54. On the Origin of Tuned Pipes Music Theory and Language -- part 2

I have made, elsewhere, the argument that musical "tonemes" can be regarded as closely equivalent to linguistic "phonemes." The tonemes are already, by theoreticians, called "pitch classes," and the phonemes could, via a very precise analogy, be called "vocable classes." (See my paper, "A Field Theory of Music Semiosis," in Eunomios -- .) Semioticians refer to this "emic" level, which controls how we hear the basic elements prior to putting them together into meaningful words, as "second articulation." What is truly remarkable is that both music and language (and its derivatives, such as various types of writing) seem to be the only types of communication/expression having second articulation. Paintings don't have it, photographs don't have it, motion pictures don't have it, etc. It is also of great interest that language also has first articulation, i.e., the ability to articulate "morphemes," such as words, that carry denotative meaning -- and music does not.

This suggests to me that music may have been prior to language, a necessary step in its development, by means of which a basic refining process, from the raw acoustics of the "etic" to the refined, culturally conditioned tonemes and phonemes of the "emic," took place. And the development of tuned pipes shows all the signs of a passage from the "etic" to the "emic" of precisely this kind. Once humans began making sounds perceivable as discreet pitches, that could have been the beginning of an emic awareness that could have led to language and all the many other elements of culture, from kinship systems to mathematics. The beginnings of music in the hocketed interplay of newly discovered "tonemes" could have served as a kind of laboratory in which second articulation was experimented with and refined.

There is more -- because, as I argued in an earlier post, tuned pipes also represent a system of music notation, which is already a kind of language. When a single pipe is understood as standing for a particular toneme, it is functioning as a signifier, with the toneme as its signified, in which case we have a complete sign system, if not a fully functional, syntactially organized language. But there again, music, which has been described as the syntactic art par excellence, might have had much to contribute in that realm as well.

So, according to my myth, or my hypothesis, as you prefer, what was invented when the "Yellow Bell" was first created was not only tuned pipes, and the theory of their tuning, but, at the same magical moment, enough of what was to become language as was necessary to produce such a theory.

(I NEVER said this was going to be easy.) :-)

53. On the Origin of Tuned Pipes Music Theory and Language

What hasn't yet been considered is the possibility that blown pipes need not have been preceded by language if their invention were intimately associated with its origin. This possibility, the possibility that music and language share the same roots and developed in tandem, is what I intend to explore in this post.

What I'm suggesting, is that the process described in the Yellow Bell story, leading to the development of a set of tuned pipes, could have been essentially the same process that led to both the theory behind such a tuning system and those basic elements of language necessary to formulate such a theory. To understand the above admittedly puzzling notion, it's necessary to ask, first of all: what is a musical tone?

This is an extraordinarily difficult question, far trickier than one might suppose. What we have been conditioned to hear when we sing, or play an instrument, is very different from the purely acoustical phenomena produced, as displayed on an oscilloscope or sonogram. For one thing, the tones of music are not individual tones at all, but complexes of sound, with many elements, beginning with a set of overtones, combined with certain resonances, instabilities, possibly some degree of nasality, harshness, breathiness, raspiness, etc. What we appear to perceive, is, in other words, very much a social construct rather than a given of nature, regardless of what one might want to argue with respect to the "naturalness" of the overtone series.

This leaves the question of whether music is actually heard "the same way" by individuals from different cultural backgrounds -- the short answer being that it is not. Not any more than individuals brought up to speak English can hear, say, Japanese in the same way a native born Japanese person can. But, just as there is something in the basic principle behind all languages that remains essentially the same, there is also something in the basic principle behind all types of music that remains essentially the same. In linguistics, it is the distinction between what is called the "phonemic" and "phonetic" aspects of verbal expression. The phonemic refers to what we hear based on certain fundamental sets of oppositions, or "articulations," put into play by each individual language. The phonetic is what we actually hear acoustically, most of which we are not consciously aware of. There is no generally accepted equivalent terminology for music, but there ought to be. Charles Seeger used the term "toneme" to name the musical equivalent of the linguistic phoneme, i.e., what we hear based on the fundamental sets of oppositions, or "articulations" put into play by each individual tonal system, as opposed to what we actually hear acoustically, most of which we are not consciously aware of.

As you may have noticed, there is a strong analogy at work between what happens when we percieve a musical tone "tonemically" and when we perceive a linguistic vocable "phonetically." In my opinion, this is not a coincidence, but an important clue to the nature of both music and language -- and the relation of one to the other.

52. On the Origin of Tuned Pipes and Music Theory

In his essay, "Aspects of 'Are'are Musical Theory" (see post 48), Hugo Zemp, after demonstrating that the 'Are'are people of the Solomon Islands do indeed possess a theory of music, produces the following very intriguing quote, from Marcel Mauss: "A theory of music exists everywhere there are panpipes. Distinctions are made between lengths of pipes, and there is evaluation of absolute pitch for tones, of intervals." (The last phrase is a bit confusing, but the meaning should be clear: pitch relations are evaluated with respect to the intervals they produce.) This is followed by a more extensive quotation from George Herzog, associating the development of "native theories" with the presence of "an object or instrument on which an otherwise abstract system can be observed in visible operation . . . "

I doubt whether these authors had the myth of the Yellow Bell in mind, but it would seem to illustrate very well their point: that the invention of tuned pipes (including but not limited to panpipes) implies from the start a theory of musical tones -- in the Chinese case, the theory of the 5 (ultimately 12) Lü.

Where my myth differs from all of the above, however, is in my hypothesis that a system based on overblown tuned pipes could have developed from, or in close association with, overblown vocal tones (yodels), which could have developed, in turn, from some form of pre-homo sapiens or pre-human hooting, in the context of a shouted hocket tradition akin to primate duetting/chorusing. What this implies is that the emergence of tuned pipes, and thus music theory, could have antedated the development of language.

Zemp would certainly not agree, especially as his whole argument is based on the ability of the 'Are'are to explain their music by speaking about it. If we assume, nevertheless, that tuned pipes may have emerged prior to language, via the very simple step by step process outlined in earlier posts, we are left with the problem of how something so systematic as a tuning system could be produced in the absence of a theory. Or, to put it another way, doesn't the existence of tuned pipes, even in the absence of a language that could explain them, already imply the existence of some sort of music theory? How, in the absence of some sort of theory governing the evaluation of pitches and the intervals produced by them, could early humans have arrived at such a system in the first place? And yet, as I've been arguing, it's not difficult to trace a very logical direct link between pre-homo sapiens vocalizing, homo sapiens vocalizing based on that, and the blowing (and overblowing) of pipes based on that. The constructors and tuners of such pipes would have needed, at that point, to be only one small step beyond their pre-homo sapiens ancestors.

What I'm leading up to here, is the following conundrum: if the existence of tuned pipes implies the existence of music theory, and it's impossible to conceive the existence of any theory in the absence of language, then is it really necessary to assume that the development of language must have preceded the origin of such pipes? Or is there some other possibilty that hasn't as yet been considered?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

51. On The Origin of Tuned Pipes and Music Notation

I am now, finally, in a position to provide an answer to the puzzler: what was the first music notation and what did the notes look like? The first music notation appeared with the invention of tuned pipes. The system of pipes is in itself the equivalent of a notation system. What each note looks like is a single pipe. I.e., once you have a situation where two diffferent tones are produced from two different pipes, regardless of how they are tuned, then each pipe ipso facto becomes a signifier for the tone it will produce when played. To notate a melody you would line them up and then point to one pipe at a time in the same sequence as the melody you have in mind. Whether this was actually done or not is beside the point. If in principle it could have been done, then it was a system of notation.

You may object that an important aspect of notation is that it is permanent, whereas the process I just described is ephemeral and requires memorization. That would be true for the notation of a melody, yes. But each set of pipes can also be regarded as the notation of a scale. And as such it would have some permanence, at least as much as an inscription on parchment or paper. If the original pipes are then used as templates for the production of new pipes, we have a very durable notation system indeed, comparable to the digital encoding processes of today, which in principle could be perpetuated indefinitely.