Thursday, May 24, 2007

13. Understanding the Tree

The only way for me to fully explain the Phylogenetic Tree and Evolutionary Map would be to present a full semester (or better, full year) course on world music. To really get it, one would have to do a lot of listening and also a considerable amount of analysis, both traditional and Cantometric. For now, the best I can do is explain in very general terms how the tree works and some of its basic elements. Here, again, is the link to the Tree, which I recommend you download on a separate page (right click on the link and select "Open in a New Window") and keep handy for easy reference.

If you scroll to the lower left, you'll find the "root" of the tree and some of the earlier branches. Since it is customary when designing genetic trees to root the tree in the lineage of the closest primate (usually the Chimpanzee), I've considered that possibility for music and discovered that in fact there might be some basis for rooting my tree in the "musical" culture of certain primates. This aspect is of course an extremely speculative, but also, I think, quite interesting, feature of my tree -- but I'll leave further discussion of primate vocalizing for a future post.

Moving upward and to the right, we find the human root of the tree, labeled, appropriately, "A1." You'll note that in addition to such purely indexical symbols I have provided descriptive titles, in this case "Shouted Hocket." A more complete description of each style family (or musical "haplogroup") is provided in the abbrevitions located just below each label. The key to these abbreviations can be found in the rightmost column. Under "Shouted Hocket," we find the following "haplotypes": Hk CV It Y N RT. Hk stands for "hocket," a musical procedure in which an idea, usually a brief motive, is broken up between two or more parts, often but not always dovetailed with one another. In my view, this practice is one of the keys to an understanding of humankind's earliest music, as will be evident as we proceed. CV stands for "continuous vocalizing," i.e., the production of a continuous stream of sound, with no pauses and no coordination between breathing and any aspect of musical structure, e.g, phrasing. CV tends to sound like the musical equivalent of a run-on sentence. Where more than one performer is involved, the breathing is usually staggered and we hear no pauses. (If there is only one performer, the musical flow is often interrupted by audible gasps for breath that appear to come at arbitrary points in the melody.)

"It" stands for "iteration," where the same note tends to be repeated, while sung vocables either repeat or change. Y stands for yodel, a well known type of vocalizing, centered in the glottis, characterized by rapid and very fluid alternations between head and chest tone. Yodel is very common among Pygmies, Bushmen and certain other indigenous peoples. N stands for the frequent use of "nonsense" vocables. Since in many cases we can't be sure if any given vocable has a meaning or not, Cantometrics defines "nonsense" largely in terms of repetition. (If the same vocable or set of vocables is regulary repeated it is coded as "nonsense" regardless of whether or not it carries some meaning.) RT stands for "relaxed throat." While vocal tension (line 33 on the Cantometric coding sheet) is not always easy to assess, it would seem that relaxed, "open throated" singing is characteristic of just about all Pygmy and Bushmen vocalizing -- and tends to be associated with yodeling wherever it is found.

These six traits are by no means the only ones that characterize shouted hocket, but they do seem among the most prominent and easily identified. However, I still need to explain why I call this "shouted hocket" in the first place and why it's located at the root of our musical tree. Since there's no substitute for actually listening, here's an example, from the CD set "Musical Anthology of the Aka Pygmies," recorded by Simha Arom : Aka esime.

This is a brief example from the end of a much longer track, of a type of Aka vocalizing called (according to Michelle Kisliuk) "esime," which, as she describes it in her excellent book Seize the Dance, functions as a kind of interlude between songs. As such, it is often overlooked and has, in fact, only rarely been recorded. What particularly interests me are the places where the shouting is tossed rapidly, and rhythmically, back and forth between the "leader" and the group. Compare with an example of a similar practice from the Dani people of the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea: Dani Hocket. This is, in fact, a type of vocalizing found quite commonly among certain indigenous groups, in Africa, New Guinea, Island Melanesia and elsewhere. I think it could be important, first because of its worldwide distribution among so many peoples whose ancestry might well go back to the original "Out of Africa" migration; second, because it's easy to see how it could be the prototype for the more intricate varieties of contrapuntal hocket we find so often among the same groups; and third, because of its striking similarity to certain types of primate vocalization (more on that in a future post).

At this point, please follow the vertical line upward to the list of tribal groups at the top. These are the groups for whom I have examples, either in the Cantometric database, or from my own listening experience (usually both), which vocalize in some version of the "shouted hocket" style. That style may not be the most important or most commonly found in those groups, but it is known to be at least present among all of them.

Let's now move up to the next branch of the tree, "A2. Interlocked Hocket." You'll notice that one of the "Shouted Hocket" traits is missing: It, or iteration, which is characteristic only of the simplest type of hocket, which lacks any melodic structure. Instead, we have, in addition to all the other traits, some new ones: Int, for "interlock," WI, for "wide intervals," and P, for "polyphonic." I won't go into any more details for now, but this should give you a good idea of how the tree works in terms of musical families (the "haplogroups," such as A1 or A2) and the individual style traits ("haplotypes," such as Hk or Int) that characterize them.

Looking more generally at the tree as a whole, it's important to recognize that it is broken down into two different segments, the first labeled "Unaffected by Bottleneck," the second "Affected by Bottleneck." This fundamental break makes my tree very different from any other I'm aware of. We have a strong tendency to think of evolution in terms of gradual change, but there are very good reasons to see the evolution of early music in a different light. For more on this I must again refer you to my essay (which as I stated in one of my earlier posts I will be happy to share with anyone who emails me with a request. The address is:, though I hope to cover this extremely interesting question in a future post as well.

Note, by the way, that all the African groups are located in the leftmost section, "Unaffected by Bottleneck." There are no African groups in the rightmost section. In my view, this is an extremely important aspect of this tree. Note also that there are many non-African indigenous (or "folk") groups along with the African ones listed at the top of the leftmost section. As I see it, the close connection of these groups with variants of Pygmy/Bushmen style (haplogroups A1 through A4) is possibly of great significance, as they may well represent survivals from the musical practice of the original "Out of Africa" migrants.

No comments: