Monday, October 26, 2009

231. The Baseline Scenarios -- part 7: The Musical Picture

Now that you've had a chance to listen to some examples of Pygmy and Bushmen music, I'll regale you with some quotations from writings of mine on this same topic, beginning with a slightly edited list of distinctive features from my yet to be published paper, with the long title, "Some Notable Features of Pygmy and Bushmen Polyphonic Practice, with Special Reference to Survivals of Traditional Vocal Polyphony in Europe":
1. An underlying rhythmic cycle of from 4 to 16 “beats.” 2. A repeated melody or phrase that serves as a mental referent, sometimes expressed, but often only implied. 3. Continually interlocking parts, producing a “contrapuntal” effect. 4. Hocket. 5. Part-crossing, technically known by the German term, Stimmtauch. 6. Resultant effects. 7. Additive structure (with potentially as many independent voices as people present). 8. Pitch displacement. 9. Temporal displacement, resulting in echoic or canonic effects. 10. Repetition, often producing ostinato effects. 11. Improvisation, resulting in frequent variation from one cycle to the next. 12. Disjunct melodic lines. 13. Continuous flow of sound, with each section smoothly dovetailing into the next. 14. Vocal polyrhythm. 15. Polyrhythmic percussion, usually handclapping. (Certain Pygmy groups have adopted the use of membranophones from their Bantu neighbors). 16. Emphasis on meaningless vocables, mostly vowel sounds. 17. Little to no embellishment. 18. Open throated, relaxed voices. 19. Smooth and tight vocal and instrumental blend. 20. Precisely defined “tempo giusto” rhythms. 21. Yodeling. 22. Polyphony. 23. Heterophony. (Many voices typically draw pitch classes either from the theme or one another, with varying degrees of temporal displacement). 24. The conflation of polyphony and heterophony. 25. Little to no distinction between melodic and harmonic intervals. 26. Secundal dissonance. 27. The encoding of multiple parts in monodies, and, conversely, monodies derived from multipart models.
What we have here is not simply a list of stylistic and structural commonalities, but powerful evidence of a shared musical language, with a high degree of complexity and sophistication.

Some excerpts from "Concept, Style and Structure in the Music of the African Pygmies and Bushmen" (as recently published in Ethnomusicology, Fall 2009):
Studies by Gilbert Rouget (1956), Alan Lomax (1959, 1962, Lomax et al.
1968), and the present author (1965), dating from the mid-1950s through the 1960s, pointed to striking similarities in style and structure between the musical traditions of certain groups of African Pygmies living in the tropical forests of central Africa, and certain Bushmen groups based in the Kalahari desert far to the south. In 1971, ethnomusicologist-ethnologist Charlotte Frisbie, after a thoroughgoing review, concluded as follows: “The comparative analysis of Bushmen and Pygmy music shows overwhelming similarities . . . In 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." [my emphasis]
When we add the very compelling genetic evidence to the long list of musical affinities among so many Pygmy and Bushmen groups, it is difficult not to conclude, with Rouget, Lomax, and Frisbie, et al., that both traditions might well stem from a common root, dating to a period deep into the Paleolithic, when the ancestors of both may have formed a single band. As such a conclusion strongly suggests, all the many shared stylistic, structural, conceptual, and cultural attributes enumerated above may well have been present in the ancestral model. [my emphasis.]
From "New Perspectives on the Kalahari Debate: A Tale of Two Genomes," published in Before Farming:
When we look at the relationships between musical styles and languages in various parts of the world, we see many instances where a language has changed, but a musical style persists, suggesting that music may indeed be far more conservative than language.
Since the genetic evidence so strongly suggests that both the Biaka Pygmies and !Kung (Ju/’hoansi) Bushmen stem from the same ancient ‘founder’ population, it is not difficult to infer that the almost indistinguishable musical practices of the two groups may well date to at least the time of their divergence from that same population – a period that could, according to the aforementioned genetic research, date to at least 76,000, but possibly as much as 102,000, years ago (Chen et al 2000:1371). Such a conclusion, if corroborated, would totally transform our notion of cultural evolution and the role of tradition in its history
From "Echoes of Our Forgotten Ancestors," published in The World of Music:
The narrative I have presented above is intended as more than simply history, as it raises questions of some consequence for our understanding of some of the most fundamental aspects of human existence. The notion that we might all be descended from a single band of “modern” humans who once lived in Africa has certainly had an enormous impact, especially on the media and the public, but does not seem, as yet, to have had much influence on students of culture. It should. Among other exciting possibilities, the new paradigm suggests that music—not as I have already argued, one particular style, but music itself—may also stem from a single source – associated with the invention/discovery of certain basic principles of communication/expression, dating from a particular time, stemming from a particular place, somewhere in Africa, between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.
While it's not possible in the present context to get into the detailed analyses of both the note by note structures of particular songs and the Cantometric data representing them, I urge anyone with musical training to study the papers themselves and come to their own conclusions regarding the claims I've been making.

In addition to the many purely musical relationships, there are also compelling ethnographic relationships, very difficult to explain on any other basis than a common cultural heritage. An especially compelling example is the transmission of songs via dreams or during trance. From "Concept, Style and Structure . . . ":
[According to Emmanuelle Olivier,] [t]he “supernatural energy-songs” representing almost half of the Ju|’hoansi repertoire are given to healers in dreams or during trance, where the spirits of dead ancestors, sing “in the three tessituras” while the healer sings a melody along with them “in the principal tessitura” (1998:366). Upon awaking, "he/she sings this melody to his/her spouse without variations (repeating it identically) and the spouse follows the healer’s vocal line, but tries to avoid an identical reproduction of what he/she is singing. Once the principal vocal line has been memorized, the healer then elaborates two other melodies in the secondary tessituras. The principal vocal line is then transmitted to the other members of the village who try in turn to imitate it without exactly reproducing it . . . Once the melodies have been memorized in the three tessituras, each singer begins to elaborate variations."
Significantly, dreams through which spirits transmit songs to the living, as described above . . . are a part of Aka culture as well. Kisliuk recounts a story told by an Aka woman about the dream origin of an eboka (a performance combining song and dance), transmitted by a deceased man to his sister, who is expected to teach it to her husband, who will then teach it, in turn, to the young men of the group. According to Kisliuk, “an eboka can emerge as a mystical, dreamed gift within a family, transferred across genders and across the threshold of death” (Kisliuk 1998:177–78). In a personal communication, she has additionally called my attention to the striking resemblance between the Aka practice of cross-gender transmission, from male spirit to female dreamer to male spouse, and thence to the other males, and what happens among the Ju|’hoansi, where the (usually) male shaman will transmit the dreamed song to his wife, who then teaches it to the other women (personal communication, Kisliuk, 30 October 2007).
There are interesting differences between these musical cultures as well. Ju/'hoansi and Aka yodeling styles are remarkably similar, strongly emphasized and almost etheral in effect, but yodeling among the Mbuti tends to be less pronounced, more subtle, ephemeral and difficult to spot. The Bedzan Pygmies have a style essentially the same as that of the other groups in almost all respects, but they apparently do not yodel at all. According to Olivier and Furniss, the Ju/'hoansi appear to employ a wider variety of different types of rhythm than the Pygmy groups, and in other respects their music appears to be somewhat more complex as well. The ritual context in which many of the songs of both groups are performed appears to be somewhat different, with the Bushmen more heavily involved in formally defined shamanistic rituals involving healing, often by several shamans at once, while Pygmy rituals appear to be less formal and less shamanistic in nature, though trance and healing are important aspects of both cultures.

Clearly a good deal of additional research will be necessary before all the details can be sorted out, but the overall picture seems clear. If we employ our "triangulation" method, it's not very difficult at all to conclude that Pygmy/ Bushmen style, as practiced by so many EP, WP and Bu groups, must have been an essential element of HBC, because no other explanation could, as I see it, account for such an array of striking similarities. If the linguistic affinities were even half as strong, they would be almost universally accepted as clear evidence for common cultural ancestry.

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