Sunday, October 25, 2009

230. The Baseline Scenarios -- part 6: The Musical Picture

In the last two posts I focused on HBP as a particular population that arose in a particular place and time, concentrating on the genetic evidence and certain morphological characteristics, especially stature. While there is a good deal more to be said regarding such issues, I am neither a geneticist nor a physical anthropologist and my principal interest is not with genotypes and phenotypes but with culture. So from now on I'll be concentrating for the most part on the culture of HBP, i.e., HBC (the Hypothetical Baseline Culture).

If certain Pygmy groups had languages that could be related to Khoisan, or even if they only had the clicks so closely associated with that language, then you can be sure such a commonality would have been taken very seriously, as it would strongly suggest a common origin for all such groups in the culture of our remotest ancestors. Realistically, however, the linguistic association is simply not there -- and the fact that Pygmies and Bushmen speak totally different languages has contributed to the general tendency among anthropologists to treat these two populations as though they had no more in common than any other hunter-gatherer groups anywhere in the world.

While the genetic evidence clearly reveals a very close association indeed, going back all the way to the deepest roots of modern humans, the full impact of the genetic discoveries has yet to be felt among the great majority of today's anthropologists, who feel more comfortable with linguistic, archaeological and ethnographic evidence. What makes them especially uncomfortable, when they are forced to think about it at all, is the musical evidence. At least as compelling as the genetic evidence, it nevertheless causes most anthropologists to simply throw up their hands, as if to say, "what do you expect of us, we are not musicians and are therefore not in a position to comment one way or the other." The fact that most are not linguists either, or even archaeologists, doesn't discourage them from considering that sort of evidence. But linguistics and archaeology are part of the anthropological tradition, while music is not.

The situation was neatly encapsulated in an email I once received from Roger Blench, a noted linguist and ethnologist who's done significant musical research: "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." This is very unfortunate, because music has a great deal in common with language, and can even be considered a kind of language in its own right. The relationship between the two has been expressed by a great many different thinkers, from ancient times to the present, in many different ways. The following, by a cognitive scientist, strikes me as especially clear and to the point: "Like language, music is a human universal in which perceptually discrete elements are organized into hierarchically structured sequences according to syntactic principles" (from Language, Music, Syntax and the Brain, 2003, by Anniruddh D. Patel).

I've never heard of anyone making such claims for pots or stone tools, though I suppose one could. Clearly a great many thinkers, from ancient Greek philosophers to modern cognitive scientists have attached considerable importance to music, as is evidenced by the enormous number and range of books and other writings devoted to this topic over thousands of years. The literature on pots and stone tools doesn't come close. So why are musical traditions neglected in favor of pots and stone tools? Why isn't music considered at least as important to the study of culture as language? Old habits die hard, I suppose, and old prejudices even harder.

Returning to the topic at hand: just as the various phylogenetic trees represent the clearest and most compelling physical evidence for a deep connection between WP, EP and Bu, the most compelling evidence of a cultural connection can be found in their music -- or, more precisely, the highly distinctive stylistic and structural qualities of what is clearly a shared musical tradition. I've already written a considerable amount on this matter, so need not repeat myself here. See the Table of Contents, above, for a guide to what I've written here -- most of my published writings on this topic can be accessed from the post Articles Now Available for Download. My latest treatment of this topic, in the form of a paper entitled "Concept, Style and Structure in the Music of the African Pygmies and Bushmen," has just been published in the latest issue of Ethnomusicology. You'll need a subscription to read it, but if you contact me privately I'll hopefully be able to supply you with an offprint at some point in the near future.

What I want to do now is simply offer a selection of relevant recorded clips that could serve as a useful guide for anyone with the patience to listen with an open mind and decide for her or him self whether such comparisons are meaningful or not. Most of these clips have already been posted elsewhere on this blog, but I'll link to them again here for your convenience:

From the CD "Chants de Bushmen Ju'hoansi," recorded by Emannuelle Olivier: The Eland -- Girl's Initiation

From the CD set "Musical Anthology of the Aka Pygmies," recorded by Simha Arom: Divining Music

A !Kung Bushmen Giraffe Medicine Song, recorded by the Marshall family, from Gilbert Rouget's 1956 LP, "Bushmen Music and Pygmy Music."

An Mbuti Elephant Hunting Song, recorded by Colin Turnbull and Francis S. Chapman, in an old LP, now available as a CD entitled "Music of the Ituri Pygmies."

From another Ju/’hoansi Bushmen group, in the village of Dobe, in northern Botswana: //Kaa (from the CD Mongongo, recorded by John Brearly).

Yet another Bushmen group, the Qwii, also from Botswana, but considerably farther south: Mantshwe (from the CD "Bushmen: Qwii – The First People").

Finally, a Song After Returning from the Hunt, with two pipes, from Africa: The Music of the BaBenzele Pygmies, recorded by Simha Arom.

As you can see, there are different sub-styles represented here, with different types of instruments accompanying the vocals. It would take a considerable amount of research to sort out all the details. But for me the fundamental stylistic unity is very clear, as I have gone to some trouble to explain, both in this blog and in several papers. And of course, I am not the first to have noticed the striking similarities in the music of so many Pygmy and Bushmen groups, scattered over such a vast territory in SubSaharan Africa.

(to be continued . . . )

12 comments:

German said...

"Why isn't music considered at least as important to the study of culture as language?"

Victor,

One of the principles of comparative linguistics is that non-linguistic aspects of culture or biology can't be used to drive linguistic classifications. This was done in the past, when, say, Muller in mid-19th century would classify African languages in families on the basis of the differences in the skulls of their speakers. In those days linguistics was thought of as a fuzzy science compared to the science of biology (not to mention physics and mathematics). This is not done anymore. This approach has been abandoned, to a large degree because linguistics perceive their historical classifications based on linguistic factors alone sufficient in and of themselves. In your approach to comparative musicology, you use population genetics studies as a template onto which to map your musical evidence.

This is one of the reasons why music isn't treated as seriously as linguistics in the study of prehistory. It needs to report only what can be borne out by musical facts. I'll leave it to you and other specialists in music to decide whether Khoisan and Pygmy music is sufficiently close or sufficiently distinct from each other. But your belief in the importance of Khoisan and Pygmy music for the evolution of human musical styles as a whole is overstated. And you willingly admit that without population genetics you wouldn't push this argument very far. I demonstrated on a number of occasions that popgen phylogenies are likely wrong.

So how am I supposed to treat musical evidence on a par with linguistics or kinship studies if you built a grand theory of music on the strength of evidence that has nothing to do with music and that, according to some scholars, hasn't been proven beyond reasonable doubt?

Would it be possible to read on your blog a couple of posts discussing other evolutionary interpretations of musical styles and to get a sense where these older theories got it wrong and what formal reasoning they used?

DocG said...

German, what I'm arguing for is the general principal that the musical evidence should be taken much more seriously by anthropologists. Whether my own particular approach is suitable or not is not the issue as far as the overall problem is concerned. Music was being ignored long before I came on the scene.

There is a huge body of excellent ethnographic research on musical traditions from just about every corner of the world, but this research is hardly ever addressed in the anthropological literature. That's not my fault, it's a very old problem.

A big part of the problem is that ethnomusicologists have for some time now been reluctant to address the larger implications of their own work. This is a very serious problem that I am now trying as best I can to make up for. And at the moment I'm feeling very lonely because so few ethnomusicologists have an interest any more in doing broad-based comparative research.

DocG said...

German: "linguistics perceive their historical classifications based on linguistic factors alone sufficient in and of themselves. In your approach to comparative musicology, you use population genetics studies as a template onto which to map your musical evidence."

It's important to understand that Lomax, Berkowitz, Erickson and myself worked very hard together to produce exactly the sort of intrinsic musical classification that you've ascribed to the linguists. It took the form of a factor analysis designed by Berkowitz and Erickson, based solely on the Cantometric data, and was published in Lomax's "Cantometrics: An Approach to the Anthropology of Music." This factor analysis, which demonstrated that, for the most part, musical style families are consistent with well known and generally accepted cultural and geographical boundaries, is an important part of the background on which my current work has developed.

It was not a phylogenetic study, however, and did not posit any historical root that could be seen as a musical baseline. However, Lomax, with the assistance of Berkowitz and Erickson, did work very hard on an evolutionary approach which attempted to correlate an intrinsically musical "timeline" with a parallel ethnographic timeline based on the Murdock Ethnographic Atlas. This is probably the sort of thing you're talking about, because as I understand it, the musical evidence was in fact analyzed separately, and only then correlated with the ethnographic data.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a deeply flawed project, which produced an old fashioned evolutionary scheme that very few took seriously. I summarized this sad tale in post 225. If you want to learn more, I suggest you download the critique by Erickson that I linked to in that post.

It's partly as a reaction to the problems encountered by Lomax's failed effort that I decided long ago that a different approach was necessary. And when I read about the new genetic research, I realized that this was the "missing link" needed to rejuvenate comparative musicology.

The genetic research is, if not fully definitive (what is?), then at least highly systematic and thorough, with a very healthy dose of self-criticism and flexibility built in. I have no problem linking my musical research with that of the geneticists, and when I do I get results that make a great deal of sense.

German said...

I read Erickson's paper. Of course, no cultural data can be put in a cause-effect relationship with economy. Erickson's paper showed it for music, contra Lomax. But this works for genetics as well. The mistake some comparative ethnologists continue to make involves selecting a "perfect science" (be it economy in the case of Lomax, genetics in your case or archaeology in the case of Berezkin) and then trying to map their data onto some of the models coming out of this "perfect science."

Instead of leaning onto this crutch, I would try to integrate patterns found in music with patterns observed in myth, language and ritual (not to mention kinship) and use this body of patterns as a test against the current models coming out of genetics and archaeology. Otherwise, it looks like comparative musicology supports out of Africa, while in fact it simply emulates it. In the same vein, population genetics creates an illusion of correspondence between archaeology and its own results. Instead, population geneticists should have established a better rapport between their frequency maps and haplotype trees and linguistic stocks. Cavalli-Sforza et al. published a couple of papers trying to correlate mtDNA trees with worldwide linguistic classification. But they used Greenberg's classifications which have been showed by linguists to be flawed. This casts a shadow of doubt on genetic phylogenies because, if a theoretical object is correlated with another object but the latter is flawed, it's likely that the former is flawed as well.

You may be the Greenberg of comparative musicology: lots of correlations between unrelated bodies of knowledge, but not enough authentic substance.

From Lomax's map of global music style areas with two possible roots, I would move into exploring the intrinsic connections between music and language (just along the lines of some of the recent quotes you posted), between music and ritual and then see where there's a good fit and where there's none. But your reliance on mtDNA genetics is confusing and distracting because if there're no worldwide distributional correlations between music and language, how come there's one between music and genes?

This brings me to a final point. Comparative linguistics actively uses common descent, borrowing and convergence as tools to explain observable reality. Common descent is the hardest fact to prove. In haploid genetics, scholars tend to establish common descent and build trees on a global scale way before possible gene flow and homoplasy have been sorted out. Older genetic research was more of a demographic study, with patterns of variations interpreted as first as a sign of population size fluctuations, rather than as a sign of recency vs. antiquity of a population.

Since you rely on mtDNA as a guiding hand, you tend to interpret musical evidence in the same methodological vein, as a direct mirror of the earliest stages in human evolution, rather than as a complex mix of borrowings and independent innovations. However, in the minds of people who aren't musicologists (and probably in the minds of many musicologists) music is an area of culture that's especially prone to borrowing. It's hard to dispel this notion by simply referencing a homology between the distribution of the supposedly earliest forms of music and the distribution of supposedly earliest mtDNA haplotypes.

DocG said...

German: "So how am I supposed to treat musical evidence on a par with linguistics or kinship studies if you built a grand theory of music on the strength of evidence that has nothing to do with music and that, according to some scholars, hasn't been proven beyond reasonable doubt?"

As I see it, in order to make any real progress toward understanding "cultural evolution" (or what I prefer to call "cultural history") it is necessary to develop a historical baseline, however hypothetical it might be, and work out from there. Such a baseline was in the past out of reach, because there was no solid evidence pointing to any part of the world as an origin point for modern humans. However, the new developments in pop. genetics have opened up that possibility. (This development represents a RADICAL departure from what came before and forces us to think in a radically new manner.) And since the baseline so strongly suggested by the genetic evidence coincides so strongly with what has for some time already been so strongly suggested, to me at least, by the musical evidence, I feel confident that I am on the right track in looking to the Pygmies and Bushmen for answers to some of the deepest riddles of human history.

I am attempting to build "a grand theory of music" in association with an even grander theory of cultural history, based on very solid evidence from genetics. As I see it, they all fit together quite nicely, so there is no incentive for me to return to the methods of the past, which went nowhere.

"Would it be possible to read on your blog a couple of posts discussing other evolutionary interpretations of musical styles and to get a sense where these older theories got it wrong and what formal reasoning they used?"

I've already discussed Lomax's evolutionary scheme, and provided a reference to a thorough examination and critique of that scheme, by his former collaborator Edwin Erickson.

There have been many earlier schemes proposed, the most notable being that of Curt Sachs, based on his ideas of "logogenic" vs. "pathogenic" music, which is an interesting dichotomy despite the fact that it led nowhere. (See his Wellsprings of Music for the details: http://www.questia.com/library/book/the-wellsprings-of-music-by-curt-sachs-jaap-kunst.jsp)

Other have also worked in this area, notably Mieczyslaw Kolinski, who you can look up on Google. Kolinski concentrated on the careful analysis of melodic types, on a note by note basis, another interesting approach that went nowhere.

You can also look up Alan Merriam who developed an interesting scheme but never followed through on it, so didn't achieve much with it.

What most of the evolutionary schemes had in common was the idea that the baseline must represent something simple, which then evolves over time into greater and greater complexity. Since almost all musical traditions contain simple music with one or two tones, the search for a starting point on that basis produced ambiguous results, to say the least.

German said...

"Such a baseline was in the past out of reach, because there was no solid evidence pointing to any part of the world as an origin point for modern humans. However, the new developments in pop. genetics have opened up that possibility."

I agree that popgen added lots of great stuff to the study of prehistory, including some methodologies. In fact, comparative method in linguistics can and should learn from genetics. In some way, popgen can serve as a useful tool to challenge some orthodoxies within, say, Indo-European historical linguistics, which has led to impasses in etymological research.

I have no qualms with the nature of popgen data, like I have no qualms with evolutionary economics (foragers to agricultulturalists, etc.), or the typology of tools in archaeology. And cantometrics in your presentation makes a lot of sense as a way to process some of the global musical data. But if Erickson's analysis were applied to your inferences, would the connection between the various forms of monophony, heterophony and polyphony and mtDNA haplotypes be as strong as you seem to advocate?

dziebelg said...

I'll definitely keep an eye on the theorists you've mentioned, Victor.

My quick reading of some of them made me come across a couple of statements:

In his The Rise of Music in the Ancient World: East and West, Curt Sachs wrote about "the plain truth that the singsong of Pygmies and Pygmoids stands infinitely closer to the beginnings of music than Beethoven’s symphonies and Schubert’s lieder."

Later, he writes: "The songs of Patagonians, Pygmies, and Bushmen bring home the singing of our own prehistoric ancestors..."

In my mind, this statement suggests that there's a strong continuity between your thinking and classical evolutionism. Similarly, Cavalli-Sforza was influenced by the same stereotype of thinking which created a niche into which he could fit his otherwise ambiguous genetic data.

The difference between your version of evolutionism and the earlier one seems to boil down to the exclusion of all other hunter-gatherers (such as "Patagonians" in Sachs) from this putative earliest stage in the development of mtDNA and musical styles. Otherwise, it seems to be the same old song.

Although I, like you, have a strong dislike for revisionism (or "negative constructivism" as I sometimes refer to it), I don't dismiss all of constructivism. We're definitely driven by some long-term stereotypes of thinking that make us serve old wine in new bottles and create an impression of "science" where in fact constant and systematic backpedaling of data into pre-existing stereotypes is taking place.

DocG said...

"Otherwise, it looks like comparative musicology supports out of Africa, while in fact it simply emulates it."

I'd say that it's CONSISTENT with it. It certainly doesn't simply emulate it, because I've presented a great many arguments based on the musical evidence alone. The musical evidence is consistent with the genetic evidence and makes sense in the context of the overall genetic position, i.e., Out of AFrica.

"In the same vein, population genetics creates an illusion of correspondence between archaeology and its own results."

Actually that's not correct. Pop. genetics challenged what was the prevailing archaeological position, namely multiregionalism. And some archaeologists are still up in arms about that, though most have been forced to take the genetic evidence more seriously than they might wish.

"if there're no worldwide distributional correlations between music and language, how come there's one between music and genes?"

There ARE distributional correlations between music and language, in fact a great many. But not in all cases, because, as I've argued, musical style tends to be much more conservative than language. The reason music correlates better with genes is that both music and genes tend to be passed on from generation to generation with minimal change, while language can change much more easily and for many different reasons.

"However, in the minds of people who aren't musicologists (and probably in the minds of many musicologists) music is an area of culture that's especially prone to borrowing. It's hard to dispel this notion by simply referencing a homology between the distribution of the supposedly earliest forms of music and the distribution of supposedly earliest mtDNA haplotypes."

German the mistake you make continually in assessing my work is your assumption that my musical research is based on assumptions. It is not. My conclusion that Pygmy and Bushmen music has not changed for tens of thousands of years, and has not been borrowed from neighboring peoples, is based on evidence and logical inferences drawn from that evidence, it is NOT an assumption. I realize that such an approach might seem strange to you since so much in anthropology and archaeology, at least when it comes to the study of deep history, IS based on assumption. My work on Pygmy and Bushmen music is NOT. It's not even based on the genetic research -- though it IS consistent with it.

DocG said...

German: "But if Erickson's analysis were applied to your inferences, would the connection between the various forms of monophony, heterophony and polyphony and mtDNA haplotypes be as strong as you seem to advocate?"

I was very pleased to see that Erickson's conclusions were very close to my own view of what Cantometrics was telling us:
From his abstract: "The results of these tests provide considerable
support for a diffusional-historic, as opposed to a functional-evolutionary, explanation of song-style variance."

German: "In my mind, this statement suggests that there's a strong continuity between your thinking and classical evolutionism. Similarly, Cavalli-Sforza was influenced by the same stereotype of thinking which created a niche into which he could fit his otherwise ambiguous genetic data."

Once again you are making the mistake of assuming that my work is based on assumptions. Any resemblance between my ideas and classical evolutionism is the result of logical inference based on evidence and this process is made very clear in everything I've written on this topic. Evolutionists such as Sachs had no choice but to make assumptions since the data was at that time very incomplete and there was no way of determining the origin point for modern humans. Now there is.

And by the way my view is completely different from that of Sachs, who assumed the simplest music was necessarily the earliest.

The ONLY assumption I make is the assumption that the population geneticists, such as Cavalli-Sforza, are on the right track. Even mathematics has to be based on certain givens that are assumed, such as axioms. All science is based on certain basic assumptions of this kind. But aside from that assumption, I am working strictly on the basis of evidence, and if you can find any statement I've made that is not based on evidence, please let me know and I'll correct my mistake.

If the population geneticists are wrong and we did not emerge from Africa then of course I am on the wrong track too and I'll have no problem admitting it.

German said...

"Pop. genetics challenged what was the prevailing archaeological position, namely multiregionalism. And some archaeologists are still up in arms about that, though most have been forced to take the genetic evidence more seriously than they might wish."

Okay, I admit the relationship between archaeology and genetics is somewhat tangled. And very few genetic publications actually acknowledge problems that out of Africa faces when archaeology is considered, namely the absence of traces of a founding migration out of Africa as well as the lithic continuity in Europe and Asia. But geneticists were driven, from the very beginning, by two ideas: 1) that the record of hominin fossils in Africa from 100,000 K onward demonstrates modernization and increasing continuity with modern human populations everywhere; 2) that the absence of secure archaeological finds in America guarantees the relative recency of the peopling of this continent and that this peopling must have occurred from Asia based on the fact that there're archaeological sites in Siberia dated to some 40,000 years ago.

Out of Africa was originally developed in the late 1970s -early 1980s by archaeologists/paleobiologists such as Richard Klein who was based at Stanford next to Cavalli-Sforza and other early mtDNA geneticists. Geneticists picked up the idea and evolved it into out of Africa the way we know it now. Once geneticists saw a recurrent pattern of high genetic diversity in Africa and low genetic diversity in America, they quickly connected the dots. Too quickly, in my opinion, too parsimoniously.

"The musical evidence is consistent with the genetic evidence and makes sense in the context of the overall genetic position, i.e., Out of AFrica."

Consistency is a tricky term. It may just mean genetics and musicology are making the same mistake. And this mistake stems from the same source, namely apriori ideas about who came from where, lack of a necessary focus and thoroughness when dealing with peripheral regions apriori perceived as recently populated and consequently miscalculations in the analysis of the data.

Phylogeography, namely the distribution of genetic lineages between continents, contradicts out of Africa (you can't say humans exited Africa if African lineages L1, L2, L3 aren't found outside of Africa, while Africa is home to only some derived lineages from non-African M and N clusters). In our private correspondence, I suggested why P/B musical style may not be the most marked on a worldwide scale (dual social structures are associated with polyphony in America and Papua New Guinea but not among Bushmen or Pygmies). As my understanding of musical evidence remains impressionistic, I won't insist on this argument but it does make me think that the consistency of inference between genetics and musicology regarding the antiquity of all things African may be flawed on both sides. Geneticists also jumped on the apparent specificity of African genetic makeup (many mutations unknown outside of Africa laddering up to long branches) and assumed a particular order of mutations to connect these lineages to non-African lineages. In reality, the mutational order is likely wrong and the specificity of Africans is due to the several consecutive migrations of populations that went through bottlenecks but then expanded in situ.

German said...

"Evolutionists such as Sachs had no choice but to make assumptions since the data was at that time very incomplete and there was no way of determining the origin point for modern humans. Now there is."

What I was trying to say is that certain perceptions, namely that African Pygmies and Bushmen must be the earliest human beings, haven't changed between evolutionism/diffusionism and modern research in genetics and musicology. You think that exactly the same idea was first an assumption and now a fact. I think this idea is still an assumption. Sachs used his own reasoning to justify it, you are using your own. But this makes no difference from my perspective because I can see very specific, highly technical difficulties with accepting genetic phylogenies. If geneticists allow these ambiguities to exist but out of Africa is paraded as almost a proven fact and Pygmies and Bushmen continue to be placed at the root of these phylogenies, then it stands to reason that out of Africa is an assumption. If it weren't an assumption, then we would have seen many articles discussing the difficulties with phylogenies and suggesting alternatives. This is exactly what I'm doing.

German said...

"Music has a great deal in common with language, and can even be considered a kind of language in its own right. The relationship between the two has been expressed by a great many different thinkers, from ancient times to the present, in many different ways. The following, by a cognitive scientist, strikes me as especially clear and to the point: "Like language, music is a human universal in which perceptually discrete elements are organized into hierarchically structured sequences according to syntactic principles" (from Language, Music, Syntax and the Brain, 2003, by Anniruddh D. Patel)."

Have you ever considered (or come across any opinions to this effect) connecting Bushmen clicks with Inuit and Ainu "throat singing" (kattajjait, rekkukara)? The latter is described in the following way: "[N]one of the phonetic distinctions utilized in the katajjait – voiceless vowels, pulmonic ingressive airstream, or tone – occur as contrastive features in the Inuktitut language on which the vocal games are based. Thus, one cannot consider the occurrence of these elements in the katajjait as the result of transfer from the spoken language, the way, for example, a language with distinctive ejectives would carry these segments over into the text of a song. The only conclusion is that, at least on a phonological basis, the katajjait represent an independent linguistic system" (Bagemihl, Bruce. 1988. The morphology and phonology of katajjait (Inuit throat games). Canadian
Journal of Linguistics 33(1), 1–58.)

The main difference between click consonants and other consonants is the ingression of air that occurs in the moment of pronouncing a click vs. the egression of air in our "normal" consonants such as k or t. As the quote above indicates, ingression is one of the phonetic features that is absent in Inuit speech but is present in their throat singing.

In light of the fact that Khoisans have epicanthic fold, Mongolian spot, light skin and shamanism (sorry for a mixed-bag description), I wouldn't be surprised that there's a kinship between clicks and throat singing.