Sunday, August 2, 2009

178. Music and Cultural Evolution -- Part 5

Because the Ik are an extreme case, their example gives us an especially clear idea of how relatively complex practices could be lost and replaced by simpler ones. And by the way, I am not claiming that things actually fell out exactly that way at any time in the past, because there are a great many other possible ways in which traditions such as music might change. What I outlined in the previous post was only a possibility, and what I wanted to demonstrate was that something of that sort could have happened -- not necessarily that it did, because we have no way of knowing that.

It's also important to understand that the loss or simplification of certain aspects of culture can be accompanied by the gain and/or development of other aspects. P/B is characterized by a particularly complex type of hocketed, yodeled, "contrapuntal" polyphony, of a sort found relatively rarely, and in a simplified form, just about everywhere else. If this was indeed the music of the "founding group" that existed prior to the separation of the Pygmy and Bushmen lineages, tens of thousands of years ago, then all other forms of group vocalization can be understood in terms of loss and/or simplification.

However, if we think, for example, in terms of the relation between P/B and the prevailing musical traditions of the many "Bantu" groups whose ancestors are thought to have branched off from the Western Pygmies roughly 18,000 years ago, we see not only loss/simplification in terms of vocal interaction (freely interlocking counterpoint vs. call and response antiphony) but also a considerable and very important gain when it comes to the development of instrumental music, which is hardly developed at all among the Pygmies and Bushmen.

What we see in such an "evolutionary" process appears to be not only a loss of spontaneous vocal intricacy but also a movement away from a cultural ideal based on group solidarity and egalitarianism toward one with more of an emphasis on individuality, leadership, specialization and, as far as music is concerned, instrumental virtuosity.
(to be continued . . . )

No comments: